Chef of the Week: Mark O’Brien, Head Chef at Samphire in Whitstable, Kent

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have been the Head Chef of Samphire for just under a year now.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I was always enthusiastic about food. But it really grew during my teenage years cooking for friends and family.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the collaborative, team sport essence of it. Everyone pulling together each day to make the restaurant happen. It can be really exciting.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
I love the smoked prawns we get from PH Fish. They’re the go to make the smoked prawn butter on our Mussel dish. Dashi powder is used a lot here to season our stocks and sauces. But at home I can’t go long without spring onions. I put them in everything!

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Our Portico Grill from Country Fire Kitchen is amazing. It totally revolutionised how we cook here. We couldn’t do what we do with our meat and fish specials without it.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I think people seem to be moving away from the long menus of small sharing plates into preferring large format main courses that are split between two to three people. Big cuts of beef on the bone or flat fish like halibut or turbot.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Not realising that what makes a great dish is the sum of a lot of good decisions not just the final seasoning on the plate. Good ingredients, well treated, well stored, everything cooked and prepared and seasoned properly all coming together.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I love cooking in late spring, early summer. Everything is fully in the growing swing. There’s a huge abundance of everything at the market. Everything is brightly coloured and tastes great. Grilled food goes so well with everything that’s in season now. Vegetables, meat, it’s just so easy to make incredible food around then.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Our Creole mussels at Samphire are probably my proudest dish. It is a real example of my time spent cooking in the USA and of how I like to cook. The finishing prawn butter is a really great touch if I can say.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I tend to look at what meat we are breaking down at that time and build a vegetable garnish around that. Whether that is sprouting broccoli to go with confit hogget or haricot vert with grill flank of beef.

Who was your greatest influence?
My greatest influence is most certainly Robin Gill and all of the chefs I worked with during my time in his restaurants.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
The three chefs I admire most would have to be Angie Mar, David Chang and Christian Puglisi.

What is your favourite cookbook?
The book I return to again and again for techniques and ideas is Relae by Christian Puglisi.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I think Tomos Parry’s new Restaurant Mountain is going to be a great addition to London and to his other two Brat sites.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Manteca is an incredible restaurant and one that I think we really stand the test of time.