Chef of the Week: James Greatorex, Head Chef at L’Ortolan in Berkshire

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have worked at L’Ortolan for 2 ½ years, 1 year as Head Chef.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion came from my childhood, all my family are very keen cooks and really enjoy cooking at home, when I first set foot in a kitchen I loved the environment and knew that it was for me.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the creativity and endless possibilities that you can create. We are constantly evolving menus and dishes and it never becomes tiring.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Butter, salt and alcohol.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Hands down this would have to be my tweezers, my fingers aren’t very delicate!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
When I look at the top restaurants, I see a lot of minimalist cooking. Many chefs seem to be putting less and less on the plate but focusing more and more on making the few ingredients really shine.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
From what I have seen, a big mistake chef’s make is panicking. During service it can be very hectic and stressful, and the pace (certainly at L’Ortolan) is very fast! If you can’t keep focused and begin to worry it is very easy to become lost and lose your rhythm.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I personally enjoy autumn the most. I am a fan of strong, bold and earthy flavours which are in abundance around autumn. We do a lot of our own foraging during this time for mushrooms but above all, the game at this time of year is spectacular.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My favourite dish is my John Dory with snails and parsley. This dish takes some classical French pairings (snails, parsley and garlic) and is presented in a completely new way. We have converted many of our customers into snail-lovers with this dish!

How do you come up with new dishes?
Most of my dishes come from studying the seasons. I get bored quite easily, so I am constantly jotting down ideas for when the ingredients are ready. I own a lot of books which I like to get stuck into and often inspire me with ideas for our menu.

Who was your greatest influence?
My greatest influence so far must be my Sous Chef. James is like a rock to me and a walking chef encyclopaedia! He has so much experience of cooking in top end restaurants and his skills and ideas have really helped to strengthen my cooking knowledge.

Tell us three chefs you admire

What is your favourite cookbook?
My favourite cookbook has to be Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. I think this book is phenomenal, the dishes and attention to detail is inspiring.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
It’s tricky to say at the moment as we are struggling to do any cooking! However the most interesting meal I had recently was at Trivet in London. I worked under Jonny Lake for a while at the Fat Duck and his ideas about food are very interesting.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
I have not seen many openings due to the current pandemic! However, one I have been watching keenly is Muse by Tom Aikens. I admire his cooking ability and his prior achievements at such a young age. I hope to eat there shortly when we are back to some sort of normality.