Chef of the Week: Michael Dutnall, Executive Chef at The RAF Club, London

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I took the role as Executive Chef of the Royal Air Force Club in January 2016, and oversee a 74 cover fine-dining restaurant along with a vast private dining and events business in the heart of London’s Mayfair.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a chef or a pilot, and as I’m now managing a brigade of 30 at the RAF Club, there has got to be some destiny involved there. From a young age baking with my mother is probably what first introduced me to the idea of becoming a chef. I loved (and still love) anything sweet, but the magic in baking and creating delicious things to eat for the pleasure of the recipient… (and myself!)…. is still a joy all these years on.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Not easy to sum up in a sentence, it’s a whole culture of things, from no day being the same, to the development and mentoring of team members and getting out into the community to share my passion for the job for the benefit of the industry. The Club also has a particularly strong apprentice programme, which is extremely rewarding, as I get to help support and encourage those starting out on careers in hospitality, and watch them grow into the next generation of top chefs.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, eggs and pistachios – seasoning is essential, eggs are a building block for so many recipes, and pistachios, just because my team think I can’t do a dessert without them.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Jug blender/Thermomix.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I don’t like to call it a food trend as I believe it just common sense and good ethical business practice and something I’ve always tried to adhere to, “local seasonal produce”. The British Isles have such great regional variations and seasonality, let’s appreciate and celebrate its diversity.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Forgetting your audience and not listening to them. There is no merit in following food trends and whims, if it’s not what your core customer base is wanting to eat.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Spring, the produce comes to life with the season, there is such a varied choice of fresh, flavoursome ingredients. Spring is Mother Nature at its best and the menus write themselves!

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Soy glazed cured pork collar with charred leek puree & smoked Portobello mushrooms.

How do you come up with new dishes?
The senior chefs and I encourage the whole team to get involved with ideas and the creation of new dishes. They work together with their mentors (senior chefs) to ensure they end up with a seasonal, balanced and well thought out dish while not forgetting our audience (most importantly).

Who was your greatest influence?
Michel Bourdin, Head Chef of the Connaught Hotel, where I learnt the trade as an apprentice, his ethos on training, sharing knowledge and promoting the then modern apprenticeship is something I always (and still do) admire.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Raymond Blanc, his passion & enthusiasm is so inspiring.  Roux family (a little bit of cheating there), just a family of legends really. Marcus Wareing, so calm & measured, gives great advice.

What is your favourite cookbook?
So many, but for reference you can’t beat “Escoffier”, a classic “Nico” by Nico Ladenis, “Bread is Gold” by Massimo Bottura – a holistic look at minimising food waste and transforming discarded ingredients.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Tom Booton, Dorchester Grill – young, innovative with great international experience. Exciting to see the vibrancy he is bringing to one of London’s classic dining establishments.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
The Grill at The Dorchester!