Chef of the Week: James Purcell, Sous Chef at Morrisons Market Kitchen in Manchester

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
One year. Market Kitchen is possibly the most awesome thing I’ve done in my career to date as I never stop getting excited about the food we cook and I always look forward to what is coming next.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I spent a lot of time from an early age living in my imagination. Which was fed by loving to draw, write, build and I did a lot of cooking with my mother and grandma

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
It could be one of the oldest and most important skills that humans have ever developed. To cook for people means that you are looking after them, you are treating them as individuals and as a group. It’s very tribal. I like that I can help people to try new things, bring something back from their past or just give them something they need to cheer them up on a bad day.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Butter, salt and starch. One of the lessons I was taught was to “educate your palet”. Yet I find these three old school ingredients are building blocks in many successful dishes through history.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
The cook’s knife! Dice an onion, chop parsley, skin a salmon, use it as a flat head screw driver to access the back panel of an combi oven because it’s broken right before service starts.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
There was a point when we didn’t care about trends. We did what we wanted and you pushed boundaries. Now that I’m in the world of retail I’m beginning to understand and embrace it more than ever. Street food is huge and that is a whole world within itself. Styles of cooking you would never have thought of are making their way into the mainstream. People’s desires change constantly and we have to match this. It’s a new and exciting challenge. As a cook, it’s what you strive for.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
As a cook, you give everything you have. Your sleeping and waking hours, your body, relationships, your mind. It’s very hard. The biggest mistake is to let it define you or you lose everything. You must make time for other things that are important to you like the time you spend with your family.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn. You’ve got the best of the harvest. Especially the fruit in Great Britain, I have an early memory of apple trees, cinder toffee, blackberry picking with my grandmother. Game season is still in and as I love Halloween, pumpkins are a big part of the season.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
The three dishes I did for the woman who is now my wife. That’s a story for another day.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Accidents. Dropping a piece of coffee cake into a tray of roasting beef bones. A sauce going wrong so you adjust it and it turns out totally different and better than you first thought. Lying awake at night wondering if beetroot would work with goats cheese…

Who was your greatest influence? 
There have been many, many people who have influenced me. The person who took the time to show me how to fry an egg or took me through the process of how to prepare a rabbit, how to dice an onion, pluck a pheasant… if someone takes the time to teach you something, I’ve always found that to be the most valuable thing.

Tell us three chefs you admire
-Grant Achatz, for showing the world that nothing is set in stone.
-A very talented Head Chef who in his words “saw something” within me.
-And Keith Floyd for being my earliest memory of a passionate person around food on tv.

What is your favourite cookbook?
The Flavour Thesaurus – it was for me like discovering the philosophers stone. So many things were unlocked.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
The person who has never been in a kitchen before, yet listens and learns and really wants to be there. Also, Morgan Mole of ‘That Secret Ingredient’. A skilled pastry chef I once had the privilege to work alongside.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Dust Dogs Mcr they do absolutely filthy hot dogs. Great ingredients, skilled cooks, awesome street food.

Market Kitchen