Chef of the Week: Mike Greer, Head Chef at The Eden Project in Cornwall
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have currently worked at The Eden Project for just over 12 years. Starting off as a Chef de Partie then working my way up to Junior Sous Chef, Sous Chef and in 2021 I gained the role of the Head Chef.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
Growing up in Birmingham I was surrounded by different food and cuisines from all over the world. I loved going into different local shops seeing produce, smells and colours. I was always keen to try different food, different spices and different cooking techniques. At school we celebrated many different religious festivals and the food we ate reflected this giving me an insight to global cuisine.
I studied catering at GCSE and loved all the practical elements of it. I moved to Cornwall from Birmingham and studied hospitality at college for 3 years. Whilst at College I was also working part-time in a kitchen to help develop my skills.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I enjoy the creativity of being a chef. Having such wonderful produce to work with in Cornwall is amazing and now we have a state of the art nursery here at Eden, the produce is literally grown on our kitchens doorstep.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
This is a tough one as there are so many ingredients I enjoy cooking with but if I break it down to what I would use the most, it would be coriander, paprika and hake.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
For our scale of operation the piece of equipment that is most essential to me is our 180 litre bratt pan. On our busiest days we see up to 7,000 visitors so it’s a large scale to cater for. In this bratt pan we do the majority of our food preparation, whether its our organic Cornish pasta mac and cheese or our Eden grown vegetable summer curry it’s a great bit of equipment to cook lots of food.
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Vegan and plant based food trends has been on the rise for several years now and it’s great to see so many meat-free alternatives and plant based dairy replacements. We strive to ensure that we cater for every dietary and allergy requirement ensuring great taste and quality for our visitors. Also I am seeing that people are trying to make operations a lot more sustainable now. We have just created a food policy at Eden to ensure we are as sustainable as possible in all aspects of our catering and I think that sustainability will play a huge factor in a lot of restaurants.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Difficult one to answer but I think a big mistake in hospitality in general are working hours. We know it’s part of the job, long days and lots of hours but I believe in ensuring my chefs have 3 days off a week so they can enjoy a good work life balance. We want to ensure our visitors have a great dining experience and by allowing the team suitable time off allows them to be refreshed and focused in the work place.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
This has to be summer. I love cooking outdoors (although this year it’s been a bit damp). I love the summer produce especially the crops we are growing on site. Fresh, vibrant, colourful and tasty produce is delivered to our kitchen every day from our nursery and the quality is unbelievable.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
We had a beautiful Malaysian vegan curry on the menu using Cornish vegetables and our own grown lemongrass, chillies and curry leaves. The fragrance of this dish was amazing and being able to commercially grow lemongrass in Cornwall for this is a real treat. I am also very proud and passionate about our paella we cook and serve in our Mediterranean biome, visually it’s a masterpiece and the combination of local chorizo, Cornish shellfish and beautiful spices makes this a winner in our restaurant.
How do you come up with new dishes?
In our quiet period in January and February I invite the whole team to come up with dishes for the seasons for all of our venues. I feel passionately about involving all the staff in menu development so they have an input and feel invested in. We will do a week-long cooking and tasting development week, pick and choose dishes we like, which need a little more development and then feed this information back to our Horticulture team so they can grow the right ingredients for the right time of year.
Who was your greatest influence?
This would have to be my mum; she will say she taught me everything but I know better. She supported me all the way through college and my early years as a chef.
Tell us three chefs you admire.
Antonio Carluccio is definitely one I admire. I had the joy meeting him and assisting him with a cooking demonstration and he was amazing. His style of cuisine making simple, tasty fresh food using fine ingredients has made a huge impression on me especially when creating menus for our Med terrace restaurant. An incredible individual who’s passion for Italian cuisine was incredible.
Phil Vickery is another chef I admire. Again I had the opportunity to assist him on a couple of occasions and he was such a nice guy. His gluten free cooking and recipes are very inspiring, ensuring taste and quality are never compromised.
Angela Hartnett was one of the first celebrity chefs I met and she was incredible, so nice and down to earth and her cooking is sensational.
What is your favourite cookbook?
My favourite cookbook has got to be Antonio Carluccio’s Simple Cooking. Some of his favourite recipes in there using simple techniques to create beautiful food.
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
My favourite new opening has to be Kernow Street Kitchen in Mevagissey. A stunning little pop-up restaurant perched beautifully on the fishing harbour of Mevagissey. They serve up the most incredible street food using Cornish ingredients. The menu changes regularly with every dish as tasty as the next.