Chef of the Week: Gareth Daw, Freelance Chef in Wales

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’m currently working freelance, my last permanent position was for just over 2 years.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I was quite lucky early on in my career in that I had a head chef called Billy Mesquita who took me under his wing and said to me “your actually pretty good at this, you could make it a career”. He spent a lot of time with me and taught me a lot of the basic, and he gave me the biggest drive to pursue a career as a chef.  Most of the skills I’ve learned over the years though have been self taught.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the freedom to be creative with food. The lifestyle that comes with being a chef suits me down to the ground as well; the fact that it can be very regimented but with burst of chia give you a rush that few other jobs provide.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, butter and thyme.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
I’ve been asked this before and there isn’t one. There are always ways to work around not having a certain piece of equipment.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Veganism is definitely on the rise. A lot of people are definitely paying more attention the health implications of certain foods which has led to an increase in vegan menus, low calorie menu. I think the grip that a lot of chain companies have had on the restaurant industry is finally starting to loosen as well. People are becoming a lot more educated with regards to food and all of these “boil in a bag” and “microwave meal” places are losing customers to restaurant that can provide better food.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Spending too much time in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you have to do what needs doing, and if that means that you need to work 80,90,100 hours a week once in a while then it needs to be done. Too many guys (myself included in the past) do this week in, week out and long term it’s just not beneficial to anyone.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn time. I love working with game, and also mushrooms.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My chocolate orange and coffee torte was one of the first desserts I ever came up with on my own, and it’s been on my menu pretty much every place I’ve worked for the last 8 years.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I always check what’s seasonal finest when it comes to creating new dishes. After that, I take influence from everything; other chefs work, a dish I’ve seen on social media, pop culture, a dish I’ve done in the past that can be tweeted.

Who was your greatest influence?
As a chef, I’d have to say Billy Mesquita because he’s the only guy that really took me under his wing. In life, Arnold Schwarzenegger without a doubt. The guy had literally been the best at everything he’d ever done.

 Tell us three chefs you admire.
I admire every chef that works hard, but I couldn’t tell you 3 individuals that I particularly admire over everyone in the industry.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I’d say probably “Michel Roux Snr: The Collection”. One of the earliest books I bought but it covers pretty much everything in classical french cuisine.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Can I say myself! In all seriousness, there’s a place in Newport called Gem42 run by the Cinotti brothers, and quite frankly I think it’s one of the best restaurants in the UK.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
I’ve not tried it myself yet, but Cornerstone Hackney by Tom Brown is where I keep hearing I need to go.