Chef of the Week: Mamadou Sylla, Head Chef at The Hermitage Hotel in Bournemouth

How long have you worked in your current restaurant ?
I was here for 3 years, I left couple years ago and returned as Head Chef at the beginning of January this year.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
To be honest I never thought I would become a chef! In 2007, after 4 years at university studying English and American literature I came to the UK. I didn’t have any other qualification and the only job I could do at the time was as a kitchen porter but seeing my brother being a chef and living with him and watching him cook change my life completely.

I started having a passion of food. It’s very hard to say where I learnt my skills because I worked with different head chefs with different nationalities, from French, Italian, English to Canadian, all of them had their own style so basically I learnt from all off them.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
For me cooking is an art, a chef is an artist to create dishes and present them beautifully to give the dinner an experience. I enjoy the creativity and the freedom to express yourself and to make people happy.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without it?
Sea salt, thyme and rosemary.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without it?
My solid non-stick pan, I hate to see a fish skin stuck in a pan!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I think people are looking for healthy food, also dietary options such vegetarian and vegan, I always have them on the menu.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Rushing to be in an a higher position when they are not ready yet. Cooking is about progression and progression comes with knowledge. Gain skills and the money will come after.

What is your favourite time of the year for food?
It has to be spring when all fresh vegetables such as spring greens, artichokes, baby carrot, asparagus and morels. Spring lamb, John Dory, rhubarb and gooseberries are also coming into season.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
For me a chef should be proud in all the dish they make because. Your heart should melt with joy when you are plating food. I always say to the chefs if you won’t eat it don’t serve it.

How do you come up with dishes?
Planning – take your time, meet the suppliers ,checking what’s in season. Putting elements together with flavour,p ut your heart into it,love it, earn it and serve it.

Who was your greatest influence?
My first influence was my brother,  he made me love cooking. My second influence was my first Italian Head Chef Jose, at The George Hotel, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, who trusted me and built my confidence.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Philip Howard, Marco Pierre-White and Gordon Ramsay.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Philip Howard The Square – Sweet and Savoury.

Who do you think is the chef to watch over the next few months?
Robert Thompson, Chef Proprietor of Thompson’s on the Isle of White.

Where has been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Thompson’s on the Isle of White and Neo restaurant in Bournemouth.