Chef of the Week: Dougie Balish – Head Chef at The Grove of Narberth in Wales
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’ve been at The Grove of Narberth for one year.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
Growing up on the west coast of Scotland and a vegetarian mother led to enduring under cooked broccoli as a staple dinner. My family had no interest in food and still don’t to this day so it was a bit of a mystery to them when I was obsessing over what the next meal was or associating holidays with the food we ate. I worked a few shifts in the local pub over summer and fell in love with the idea of being a chef. I quickly moved to the Michelin-starred restaurant, Bohemia, in Jersey in order to learn as much as possible.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
There’s many things to enjoy about being a chef. I love creating something new, something unique and in our own style at The Grove and I love when the seasons change and you have a host of new ingredients to play with.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt,garlic and chilli.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Thermomix – such a handy thing to have and takes the risks out of many recipes
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I think there’s been a few around for the last couple of years, with Nordic and Asian influences, leading to some very exciting food. It’s brought an increase in simplicity for dishes and a lightness using fermentation, foraging and dashi stocks.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Two things, one is for young chefs not staying in one place for a few years and getting a good overall training rather than jumping around and maybe doing a garnish section in three different kitchens. The other is something I’ve been guilty of in the past. That’s adding too many ingredients to a dish, generally adding more doesn’t necessarily let the flavours shine.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Spring! By the time winter finishes up it feels like an eternity of root veg. The first signs begin with one of my favourite ingredients – wild garlic. That’s when you know Italian peas, nettles, early asparagus and morels are just around the corner. Unfortunately this year we pretty much missed it due to COVID-19.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My pigeon dish has become something of a signature. It’s not a meat that most people would pick as their favourite but it’s a dish that I’ve developed over the last six years to a point where I’m happy with it and wouldn’t want to change it.
How do you come up with new dishes?
I can’t really explain, I just look at whats in season and try to find something that pairs with the feel of the restaurant and does the ingredients justice. I like the guests to be able to distinguish each element of the dish which is reflected even in the way we plate them.
Who was your greatest influence?
Martin Burge. He was my chef at the two Michelin-starred Whatley Manor. He changed my thought process on everything without me even realising at the time. Challenging me to always taste and question if a little more salt or acidity or less cooking would improve a recipe. He is the picture of professionalism and would make sure everything from the deliveries to the front of house were to the standard he desired.
Tell us three chefs you admire.
Mickael Viljanen, Mark Birchall, Niall Keating
What is your favourite cookbook?
Bau – its incredible.
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
- Chris Eden at gidleigh park
- Fred Clapperton at Coast
- Tony Parkin at the Tudor room
- Gareth Ward at Ynyshir
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
I think Lovage by Lee Smith is going to be a real hit. He held a Michelin star and was on Great British Menu, now he’s opened his own place and stamping his personality on it.