Chef of the Week: Steve Smith, Head Chef at Woodkraft in Cheltenham

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’ve been at Woodkraft since start of February 2019.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I worked in kitchens as a spotty teenager whilst doing my GCSE’s & A-levels. I worked full time as a Commis whilst at university and when I finished there was nothing I wanted to do more than continue learning about food. I spent 2 years working in Hampshire under a very tough ex-MPW chef and he really gave me my taste for great food presented in a simple manner.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Working with young people, teaching them new skills, watching them grow as chefs and human beings, sharing my passion for our industry, it is so rewarding.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Garlic, thyme & onions.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My Wusthof fish slice!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Veganism is here to stay so chefs need to get with the programme! Even though I’m trying to learn as I go, there does seem to be few resources for chefs of my generation to develop new skills for this massively growing market.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
That if they weren’t there the place would fall down around their ears! No-one is irreplaceable, chefs would do well to remember this.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn because you still have all the summer fruit and veg available, but winter veg & game is around and you can finally stop thinking of new salads and start braising again.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Any dish that comes back from the customer spotless, they probably enjoyed it I think!

How do you come up with new dishes?
Firstly, what’s in season, then which of those elements complement each other. Once I have done that I think about textures and the visual impact the ingredients will have on the plate.

Who was your greatest influence?
Chef called Andrew Clarke, a tiny, angry, northerner who I still call chef and who still terrifies me.

Tell us chefs you admire
Phil Howard – the chefs chef, David Chang – I wish I was that cool!

What is your favourite cookbook?
Mrs Beeton’s complete book of household management or French Provincial cookery by Elizabeth David. I have over 500 cookbooks so I could debate this for a while!

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I’m not really part of that world anymore, 3 kids will put the kibosh on anyone’s desire to work 70 hour weeks, but I do really like Joe McCarthy’s food at the Wychwood Inn.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
The Looking Glass in Charlton Kings (Cheltenham), has been open about 6 months and I finally ate there 2 months ago. Its lovely to see in this age of increased chains and casual dining a proper local bistro/brasserie!