Chef of the Week: Leon Rook, Chef Proprietor at The Looking Glass in Cheltenham
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
We have been open for seven months.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I have three older brothers and two are chefs, so I was around cooking from the age of 9 really. I don’t remember ever wanting to be something different, I’m very lucky to have landed my dream job. I left catering college after a year and went to work under some great Head Chefs. I then met Lee Scott, who became a mentor & taught me a lot about his style of cooking. Most of what we do at the restaurant now I’ve picked up through reading.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Where to start? The hours are long, the days are hard and you will miss quality time with loved ones but, the creativity is endless, the people are incredible and the freedom to take a basket of ingredients and have it turn into a dish, with your signature on it.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, vinegar and black garlic.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Crumpets! I swear I’ve seen 10 different variations of a crumpet on different menus.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Not being in this for the long haul, I think a lot of young chefs want instant success. This is a skilled career, you need to work at it, you need to sweat, and you need to learn the craft. Everything else just fits into place.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Without a doubt, the season of abundance, June to September. We love this time of year as the whole restaurant changes with the colours of berries & tomatoes. We start preserving as much as we can to see us through the year.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Our low poached wild salmon in burnt fur oil with dittander emulsion. It encapsulates everything we are about at The Looking Glass.
How do you come up with new dishes?
We start backwards when creating dishes, we want the vegetables that we grow and are in season to be the main event, then we look at how we increase the depth of flavour, can we pickle something with our homemade vinegars or how do we cook it. Then we match it to the protein last.
Who was your greatest influence?
A man called Ray Hayden, he was the first chef who gave me my first interview at The Lowry Hotel and opened my eyes to fresh food.
Tell us three chefs you admire
Simon Rogan, Tommy Banks & Dan Barber.
What is your favourite cookbook?
Relae – a book of ideas. It opened my mindset up to letting the vegetables be the main event.
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Sam bowser at Dormy house, they’ve just opened a new restaurant and it looks incredible, Joe Francis of Wilder Restaurant in Nailsworth & Paul Foster of Salt – all three are incredible cooks.
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Is it bias if I say the looking glass? It has to be “Mo” at Dormy House.