Chef of the Week: Manuel Monzon, Chef Consultant

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I am currently the interim Head Chef at The Hythe Imperial as consulting and development work has slowed down since the pandemic and there is a massive shortage of chefs throughout the industry.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
From the love of food and back in the mid 80’s watching a series on Channel 4 “Take Six Cooks” and the likes of Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis and Raymond Blanc on the programme just completely mesmerised me. So then I decided to enrol at Stafford College of Further Education and did my City & Guilds 706 1/2.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The freedom of creativity, self-expression, exploring different food cultures, trends, innovation, how you can re-create the classics.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
That’s a difficult one because there are so many. But basic fundamentals because of my upbringing in the Canary Islands until I was nine has to be… extra virgin olive oil, garlic and of course tomatoes as we grew them on my dad’s farm.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
I was introduced to a Konro Grill, a Traditional Japanese Hibachi BBQ grill about five years ago and honestly I absolutely love the flavour it creates on everything, equally if you would have asked me prior to that I would have said a Bradley Smoker as I still hold them equally as an asset in your tool kit.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Obviously the biggest one that keeps repeating itself is the whole vegetarian/vegan movement and when we had The Chefs’ Forum lunch at Chotto Matte with Redefine Meat that was a serious head turner and its going to be around for some time.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Forgetting to cook in the present. Doing too much and over complicating. Side tracking from your vision and original intention. Forgetting to enjoy what you do and becoming stagnant in your culinary journey.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
It has to be the summer because of the variety and the vibrant colours you have in your larder.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
After 37 years of being in the industry and you do tend to bank a few, but they also tend to evolve somewhat over time with different techniques and approach depending on your equipment. Roasted lightly spiced scallops, oriental pork belly, lotus crisps, tamarind ketchup and fresh turmeric butter bean puree stands out for me.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Through books, articles and client requests no matter how nutty they maybe!

Who was your greatest influence?
In the kitchen probably the chef at the time at the RAF Club Chris Watts and then David Cavalier, through media and books Raymond Blanc, Thomas Keller, the Late Charlie Trotter (RIP) to name a few. More recently I have worked a lot with Patrick McDonald and he has shown me a different approach to managing teams, constructing menus and designing kitchens.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton.

What is your favourite cookbook?
This is a really difficult one as I have nearly 2,000 books and I can’t just choose one, everyone from Thomas Keller, Alan Ducasse, Ramsay, El Bully, to “Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian” Sat Bains… I just can’t choose, sorry!

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Tom Booton at The Dorchester Grill.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
The Ledbury, but I’ve not been since it has re-opened and it’s on my list.