Chef of The Week: Louise McCrimmon, Executive Head Chef, The Second Floor Restaurant and Bar, Harvey Nichols, Bristol
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I don’t really know where it came from, but from a very young age when staying at my grandmother’s I started reading her copy of Mrs Beeton’s cook book – the idea that you could make jelly from a calf’s foot fascinated me and from there on in I was hooked.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The actual process of cooking – I love the fact that a bunch of ingredients can be turned into so much deliciousness. Then to get feedback from customers that they have really enjoyed their lunch or dinner is what it’s all about, making someone’s day is a great thing to be able to do.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without
Onions, butter and chocolate.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
In the professional kitchen, our Thermomix is the thing – you really miss it if it needs repairing.
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
It has been on the horizon for a while now, but vegetarian, and now vegan, food is really taking hold along with the raw trend. Whether there will be a backlash to the more restrictive diets only time will tell, but at the moment we get more dietary requirements on our bookings than ever before.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Not giving themselves enough time to learn a really solid range of cooking skills, as well as people skills, and not really getting to know ingredients – how they work and what ingredients are ‘friends’ to make the best flavour combinations.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Oh that’s difficult, but I love late spring when everything starts to really come into its own and the colours are really vibrant, but also I love this time of year with warmer dishes, all the squashes and game. Every season has its highlights.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
It’s never really a dish that would make me proud – a team working well together and great customer feedback does it every time. Any dish cooked and executed well, when the chef cares, is what it’s all about.
How do you come up with new dishes?
It always starts with an ingredient, which comes from the changing seasons. It often starts with our veg supplier coming in with a box of ingredients that are coming into their own, from there on in it’s usually a discussion, trying to get input and ideas from everyone, taking ideas from dishes eaten on our travels, other restaurants and, of course, the internet and then making sure they suit our customers’ tastes.
Who was your greatest influence?
Prue Leith will always play a role. The training at Leith’s was such a great start – not only the classic practical skills, but also it was disciplined – we had a written test every week on the theory behind all the things we’d learnt, and every Friday afternoon we all had to clean and polish the copper pans we cooked with. It was a privilege to cook with great equipment and it taught us how to look after it, it really was a very rounded training.
Tell us three chefs you admire
I love Peter Gordon from Providores, his use of ingredients is phenomenal, fusion cooking at its best. Paul A Young for chocolate – again an ingredient-led, passionate, creative genius. And for the best use of seasonal, regionally inspired dishes, the menus of Vincent Arnould from the Vieux Logis in the Dordogne are some of the most delicious dishes I’ve eaten, with the ingredients absolutely singing of the region and season.
What is your favourite cookbook?
I always revert to the Moro series of books for delicious home cooking. For both great photography, food writing and recipes I love Greg Malouf’s books Saha and Saraban and Christine Manfield’s Tasting India is stunning – I love a book that combines both food and travel.
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Honestly, the pace of change in the dining scene is so fast, who knows what’s around the corner?
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Box-E has been a great addition to Bristol’s Wapping Wharf and Root in the same location reflects the current trend to eat more vegetables and to work more sustainably.