Chef of the Week: Paul Askew, Chef Patron of The Art School in Liverpool

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
We reached 8 proud years in September 2022 at The Art School, also which was the end of my 40th year in gastronomy. It’s been an incredible journey so far and there’s still much more to do. Just recently we have been named the city region’s only restaurant to make the prestigious Harden’s 100 Best UK Restaurants 2023 which is a fantastic accolade, following on from last year’s inclusion. We keep ourselves very busy at The Art School and we are always seeking new heights here, alongside some wonderful external projects which have been brilliant to be involved in and proudly fly the flag for Liverpool; just over a year ago in December 2021 myself and my team cooked for the G7 delegation and almost a year later we had the immense honour to cater for The Turner Prize which took place in the spectacular St George’s Hall in December 2022. Last year also included debuting at The Grand National in April and bringing fine-dining to Topham House where The Art School was lovingly recreated, to myself helping launch Taste Liverpool. Drink Bordeaux in June as its patron whilst running the Bordeaux Bar de Vin in the spectacular Martins Bank Building during the festival. We’re going back to Aintree this April – we do like to keep busy!

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I started off washing pots and peeling vegetables in my early teens at Thornton Hall Hotel on the Wirral to becoming Chef Patron at The Art School. And a lot has happened inbetween! I was born in Sunderland and moved to Merseyside at the age of 4 and soon became an adopted Scouser. As I grew up I fell in love with the region and its culinary ambitions and realising what was possible for me as a chef if I dedicated myself to it. Always seeking out the biggest challenges, I worked for 2 years as a sous chef in Herbert’s in New York after being turned down by London’s eateries. Later, living in Singapore, I experienced a profound cultural influence on my cooking which by the time I returned to Liverpool had brought me to a new chapter in my gastronomic journey. I worked at The Philharmonic as a chef and catering manager for 7 years from 1995 and then as founder and director at Hope Street Hotel and London Carriage Works from 2000, where I worked until 2014. Then the truly pivotal chapter of my career began with The Art School, which we opened in September 2014 and we now are regarded as the leading fine-dining experience in the region. This is wonderful after all of our hard work and as a team we aspire to take The Art School even higher.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I still enjoy working with new talent in the kitchen and training up the next generation of chefs and key hospitality staff. After what we’ve been through these past few years, finding and nurturing these new people is essential for the entire hospitality industry. I also relish taking Liverpool to new gastronomic heights and celebrating all that’s good about this brilliant city.

I’m deeply passionate about using seasonal and sustainable ingredients from around the Liverpool City Region – from the Rhug Estate inward to the amazing produce on our doorstep, in a radius of around 35 miles. What’s growing within this space is mind-blowing. Part of my work is to champion what many farmers, artisans, cultivators and more are all doing and how we use what they grow. I’m also inspired by the new seasons of asparagus and Jersey royals each year to the first large halibut carried into the kitchen from the North Sea and what each change of season means, how our menus change with this.

And still now, after over 40 years of being in kitchens around the world, I still get that incredible rush from the challenges of managing 100 covers to our high standards, maintaining the quality of service we’re known for on a bustling Saturday night at The Art School. I have to think that if I didn’t have that buzz then I wouldn’t still be doing it – especially at my age! – and sharing that experience each service with my wonderful team is special and how we grow and learn as a team, too.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without?
Maldon sea salt, butter and freshly milled pepper.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Maybe this is obvious my knives are essential and I’m very attached to them. I would be lost without them.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Well, the biggest is the ongoing growth toward plant-based cuisine. We’ve already embraced this with our vegan menu running since 2014 at The Art School and it’s a popular choice. Also many of our customers – and I know from speaking to other chefs too – that the wider population are eating healthier overall, more pescatarians for example.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
The biggest mistake I still see is chefs trying to do too much, using too many ingredients and cramming over thought ideas on the plate. I feel we’re blessed with amazing ingredients all across the UK and really they should be used as the focal point of dishes and do the talking if used correctly. They can be used for very well executed dishes which is totally different to over complicated dishes.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
The autumn. It’s the harvest festival and also the beginning of the game season. I love wild food – wild fish, wild game, foraged mushrooms, what grows in fields and forests. It’s the autumn where all of these cycles come into life. All seasons are special as they represent change, new beginnings and old chapters fading until the next year.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My experience cooking on Great British Menu and getting a 10 for my main course which was called Memories with Marjorie, based around an assiette of Hebridean hogget. This was closely connected to me and the emotional memories of my mum. But it’s also inspired by the incredible rare breed Hebridean hogget that we get from Callum Edge at Edge and Sons on the Wirral. And it’s hard to get 10 out of 10 from Daniel Clifford, so I was very happy with that!

How do you come up with new dishes?
Well I’ve been doing this for a long time now – I reached my 40th anniversary last year in gastronomy, so there’s been a lot of trial and error during this time. But at The Art School we’re always inspired and motivated by the ingredients that come through the front door. And that’s what inspires me to try new things too in the kitchen. We’re always looking at new techniques and flavour combinations, many of which end up on the menus here. And I still get new ideas based on my travels and cheffing in Singapore, Dubai, upstate New York and many other countries and locations – I had so many pivotal moments during those years of travel which still inform my cooking to the present.

Who was your greatest influence?
I will have to name two if that’s okay please – my parents. My dad was Captain Barnacle Bill Askew and he sailed the world on the Blue Star lines – it was his travels which inspired me when I was young for what I do at The Art School and also Barnacle, both in Liverpool. His travels and the places he saw, the things he ate, the ingredients and ideas he brought back to Liverpool on great sea-faring ships. And my mother who was also a huge influence in how I see hospitality and how everyone should be treated in a restaurant – we named the Moriarty Room after her, a beautiful private dining space at The Art School.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
I could easily list 100s here. Three of my absolute favourites and dear friends are Steven Doherty at La Gavroche and Simon Rimmer from Greens and of course the Roux Brothers are icons for me and so many others.

What is your favourite cookbook?
New Classic Cuisine by the Roux Brothers. That book took me in a totally new direction and was one of the pivotal reasons I became a chef.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Harry Marquart, Kieran Gill and Jake Lewis all from Barnacle in Liverpool. They are all doing wonderful things in the kitchen there.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
This would have to be Barnacle in Duke Street Market. I should confess I’m proudly one of the founding quartet of chefs there, along with the supremely talented young trio of Harry Marquart, Kieran Gill and Jake Lewis. We launched Barnacle in December 2021 and there we tell the story of Liverpool’s culinary odyssey, from its seafaring port days and the global ingredients which came to the city on great ships, to the cuisines and inspirations which have made the city the gastronomic destination it is now. Liverpool’s food and drink scene is in great shape and Barnacle is offering a new perspective whilst we work with lots of independent suppliers from around the city region and celebrate what they are doing. It’s been brilliant so far. We’re up in Duke Street Market’s mezzanine if you’d like to come and visit us.