Chef of the Week: Gareth Daw, Head Chef at The Church Inn in St Mellons, Cardiff

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’ve been at The Church Inn for just over a year.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I didn’t have any formal education in cooking, everything I’ve learnt has been on the job, either things I’ve picked up from chefs I’ve worked with or things I’ve discovered through trial and error.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Definitely the creative freedom, I love that no two days are the same. It’s very liberating being able to just show up and create something that other people enjoy. I also enjoy the comradeship that comes with working in a tight knit unit, some of the best friends I’ve made have been in kitchens.

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

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Having worked in some really basic kitchens over the years, I’ve learnt that there’s nothing I couldn’t live without. There’s always a workaround for whatever you need. Having said that, my knives come everywhere with me.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Sustainability and locality has become a big focus over the last year, but the biggest trend post Brexit and Covid has been the focus on staff: welfare, retention and remuneration. The hospitality industry as a whole is undergoing a long overdue change in its culture and practices. Even things that would have just been accepted only five years ago are now being forced to change, hopefully  for the better. There’s also been an increased focus on mental health (you’ve got organisations like The Burnt Chef project massively raising awareness).

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
For the youngsters it’s thinking they know everything; for the more experienced guys, it’s trying to do much.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why? 
Autumn; the produce I love to work with is abundant at this time of the year.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I wouldn’t say I have one dish that I’m especially proud of. I have certain dishes which I always come back to but I’m always tweaking the recipe or the way it’s plated. There’s always room for improvement.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Sometimes it’s trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take some inspiration for something I’ve eaten or seen around. Sometime so I’ll just see what’s in the fridge or dry store and put together ingredients that I think will work.

Who was your greatest influence?
Arnold Schwarzenegger. The guy has been at the pinnacle of everything he’s ever done

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Two that come to mind are Sergio and Pasquale Cinnoti at Gem42 in Newport. What they’ve got going on there is truly special, the passion for what they do with a unlike anything I’ve experienced in hospitality. Also, a young lad who’s worked for me for a while who’s on a crusade/mission to change all the negative aspects of working in this business.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Either White Heat or Kitchen Confidential.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Simmie Vedi, really promising young chef making a bit of noise in Cardiff. Also Lee Skeet, never heard of him before a couple months ago but the guy can seriously cook!

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Not really a restaurant, but the best new food on the scene in Cardiff has definitely been the Bones Supper Club by Lee Skeet.