Chef of the Week – Nick St. Peter of Elmers Court, Hampshire

How long have you worked at Elmers Court?
I have been at the Elmers Court since April this year.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I used to spend my weekends with my grandparents, helping in the kitchen and garden. They grew their own vegetables and fruit, and my grandfather supported local fishermen and butchers by purchasing directly form them on a Friday. I would go with him and learn about the different cuts of meat and different varieties of fish available during the season. I honed my early skills at a 4-star hotel in Mudeford, near to where I grew up, starting in the pot wash at 14 and moving into the kitchen at 15.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the fact that no two days are the same. I love the creativity with produce, the seasons and making things work against the clock. I really enjoy being challenged daily.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Good oil (preferably cold-pressed rapeseed), demi glace (homemade of course!) and sea salt.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
I absolutely love my dehydrator and my smoker, but the best bit of equipment is my knife box. It’s my pride and joy!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Healthy foods continue to be the order of the day. Also vegan foods. Good quality vegan food is hard to find, I pride myself of having a bank of trusted recipes which I can interchange for the season. I think there’s a huge craze over fermentation at the moment which really interests me as I love to bring back old techniques to use in a modern way.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down? 
Complacency. Never rest on your laurels. Keep pushing. When you think you’ve nailed it, do it again. And again and again.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why? 
I would have to say late winter, early spring. The produce that is available in this area for example is phenomenal. Its also tough as a chef not to be able to use all the lovely summer veg etc to fall back on. You need to be able to do things with squashes, root vegetables and “lesser” vegetables and the staples. I find it rewarding and think that making a plate look great is a real achievement when you can’t rely on the natural colours and tones of summer to bring a dish to life. It shows real skill.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I would probably say my “Banoffee” dish, which is a real crowd pleaser. We have taken all the traditional elements and produced a stunning profiterole with banana mousse, salted caramel, chocolate ganache, caramelised banana, meringue and banana brittle. It really is a luxurious plate.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I like to think nothing I do is new, but it is different. I look at classic flavour combinations and try to bring an element of fun and nostalgia to the dining experience. We serve a whole roasted chicken for two, but we break it down to a truffle roasted breast on the crown, crispy chicken wing bon bons, crispy chicken skin, and a confit leg meat fricassee, with wild mushrooms and leeks, finished with a confit egg yolk. It really is a luxury roast dinner, and not what diners expect, but it surpasses their expectation of what can be done with a chicken.

Who was your greatest influence? 
My greatest influence to date has to be Gareth Bowen, formally Exec Chef/Proprietor of Hennessey’s at the Dormy. Also he was my Executive Chef at County Hall in London. He taught me to express myself and my personality on the plate and how to build a profile.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Andrew Gault at the Captains Club Hotel has been a favourite to follow since working with him many moons ago. His style of food is clean and has great flavour combinations-every time I see a dish I get hungry. Also Matt Budden of Schpoons and Forx. Matt was my mentor for three years and really pushed me to develop my management skills and understand social media. Truly a must in this day and age. He also has a unique cooking style which I find extremely satisfying.

Finally, I would say that I really admire a chef called Michael Langdon, he runs a new property in Pennsylvania, USA, called the Alter House. His cookery style is beautiful and the plates he produces are artworks, however I admire him more for his journey. A self-admitted former alcoholic who has turned his life around and is now a beacon for many young chefs, he has experienced a lot and is still pushing the boundaries in his field. I admire this greatly and feel chefs that have something else to offer than just food are equally important in the modern era.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I would say I don’t have one true favourite, I have so many. But if I had to take one with me anywhere, it would be Larousse Gastronomique. I’m sure its cliché, but to be honest if you need to know almost anything, it’s in there.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?

  1. Josh Donachie, Head Chef of The Frog in London. I’ve followed Josh for a while, but he is going further each year and now teaming up at the Frog with Adam Handling he is pushing new boundaries and also worth watching what he does.
  2. Jason Howard is currently running pop up restaurants around the world and he has been to the James Beard Foundation, Barbados and Jamaica all in the last six months. When he settles, watch this space. It’s Caribbean cuisine with a twist, really a true inspiration. His ethos is to get the first Caribbean Michelin star doing traditional Caribbean food.
  3. Andy Teixeira is a chef at a reputable vineyard and country club in Rhode Island. His farm-to-fork and nose-to-tail ethos is outstanding and he is pushing his team to develop new and exciting dishes using classic and traditional methods.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
CORE by Clare Smyth. Surely this is exactly what the modern trade needs? A great female Chef, possibly the best ever, and she has her own place. Clare has been inspiring both male and female chefs for some years whilst at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay’s, however we see her individual style being brought through and so far everything I’ve seen hasn’t disappointed. I want to see more female chefs coming through the ranks and lasting in the trade, it think its great for the kitchen. She is a super star chef, and I’m only envious that I haven’t been able to eat there yet myself.