Chef of the Week: Istvan Ulmann, Head Chef at Hattusa Restaurant, Berwick Lodge in Bristol

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I started six months ago as sous chef and was promoted in September to head chef.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My mum. I’ve always been passionate about all things food related and spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mum at a very young age. As a child I loved going to a market to buy ingredients and helping her prepare meals in the kitchen. We’d spend hours making Sunday lunch together. There was nothing I loved more than making custard though, it was a firm favourite and still is to this day. I trained in Budapest in Hungary and learnt skills along the way, working in kitchens across Scotland, Ireland and England.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love everything about it. If I had to single out a couple of things, I’ve always enjoyed the buzz of a busy service and the opportunity to be creative in my flavour combinations.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Butter, herbs (particularly rosemary and thyme that we grow in our own herb garden) and garlic.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
A super sharp Wusthof chef’s knife. Ever since my dad bought me a set of Wusthof knives when I finished college, I haven’t used anything else.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
There appears to be a heavy Asian influence around at the moment. I don’t mind a bit of an Asian twist but I prefer more classic cooking styles. 

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Putting too much on a plate. I believe that less is more and if you concentrate on the main ingredient and add a couple of other flavours to balance the dish out, there’s no need to over complicate it. 

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn. I love the strong flavours of game, particularly hare, pigeon and venison. Nothing beats a hearty game dish as the weather turns colder.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
There haven’t been many I’m not proud of but a standout dish of mine is hare with red cabbage, salsify and shallots.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I find inspiration from all over the place – holidays, magazines, social media – then adapt either a method or flavour to what’s available and in season. I try to find a balance by cooking each component in a dish using different methods, for example a slow cooked piece, a pan-fried piece and a roasted piece.

Who was your greatest influence?
Big influencers were chefs Gordon Wood and Greg Nelson who I worked with at the 2 rosette restaurant, Meall Reahmar in Perthshire. As well as Graham Neville at The Residence members club in Dublin.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Thomas Keller, Tom Aikens and Simon Rogan. All of whose style of cooking is up my street.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Jamie Randall and Olivia Barry of Adelina Yard in Bristol and Ross Gibbens of Wellbourne in Clifton Village.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Tare at Cargo2, Bristol.