What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
That’s a tough question. My mother always said, that as a 6-month-old baby, I would be happy so long as I had a crust of bread and I was in my bouncy chair. Does that count?As a child I was very passionate about fishing, and when I was about 6, I was being taught how to prepare and cook a trout, poached, with a little lettuce, salad cream and butter brown bread, delicious. I think this was one of my earliest memories.
What, or who, would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
I have had different inspirations throughout my life, but I think my appreciation and respect for food came from my mother. As a family we were raised to eat food that had been made from scratch, with care and attention. We were all pushed to learn how to cook basic food from a young age by mum.And as a professional, inspirations change almost weekly, but the most consistent one has to be the area in which I am lucky enough to cook. The sea, the fields and the fresh air. It’s just beautiful here in Cornwall.
Describe your culinary style…
Simplistic, with methods and flavours of Britain, France and Asia.
What would you say is the main focus/concept for your menu at The Idle Rocks?
The most important thing is for a guest to be able to understand the menu. I want a guest to know that if they order fish, meat or vegetarian then it has only come from the local area, 20/30 miles tops, not from the other side of the world. Connecting the guest to the romance of the local sea and land.
In what way does the braised beef dish, your course at the South West Chef Night, fit into your food philosophy?
It uses the best of Cornwall, the beef from our butcher is just superb. They are based in Launceston about 25-30 miles up the road. And we use the vegetables grown in small holdings around Falmouth. Even the flour we use is Cornish. And I hope that when a guest is presented that dish they know exactly what they were eating and understand where the ingredients have come from.
When you go foraging on the beach right in front of your restaurant, what do you usually find at this time of year and what do you use it for?
As winter draws in, plants obviously die back a little, so it’s not as plentiful at this time of the year. You will still find certain seaweeds, Dulce and Sea Lettuce are the most abundant. You will also find rock samphire, seabeet, German Chamomile and rock cress. Edible seafood, such as cockles and limpets are all over the place, and on certain rocks you will also find mussels.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Salt.People get carried away with saying an onion, or a type of meat, nothing works without salt.
You are just starting to get produce from The Lost Gardens of Heligan – what produce will you be getting and what are you most looking forward to in this partnership?
Yes we are.They are amazing people to be working with. We have just taken delivery of some medlar, which are so hard to get hold of in the current market, as they aren’t really in fashion so to speak. So I waited patiently for them and am delighted to now have them to make a jelly for our cheese. My junior sous chef, Lawrence Snowden is also going to use them for a mackerel dish.
What changes have you witnessed in the fine dining scene in recent years?
There has been an enormous boom in the fine dining scene recently. I think it peaked about 4/5 years ago, chefs are now looking more specifically at the ingredients used and in essence, the food has simplified.This has made it harder in other areas, as if you are only going to put three elements on a plate, they all have to be immaculate and there is no room for error.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
It’s hard to pick one, two stand out for me. The first moment was when I walked into Gordon Ramsay at Claridges restaurant for a job.It was my first insight into a high quality London kitchen and I was blown away.
The second time would be when I was sous chef, under Chris Eden at the Driftwood Hotel and he won his Michelin star. It had been the most brutal work year of my career, we were all a bit battered and bruised, and then the news of the Michelin star came through at 12.05pm on the 6th March 2011 and it was just the most amazing feeling.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
I’d only say one thing to myself. ‘No chef would waste their time pushing someone who isn’t talented’. People take things too personally sometimes, I was guilty of this when I was a naïve young chef.
What is your guilty pleasure?
There are so many. For me, the greatest singular food item ever invented was the burger. So many people make a burger badly but when you get a good one…OH YES!
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
I could never answer this with just one restaurant, there are several.The Seahorse, Dartmouth – Mitch Tonks and Matthew Prowse – They cook simple but beautifully balanced seafood.Ynyshir Hall, Wales – Gareth Ward – My sous chef has been and was blown away, and she’s very hard to please……so I have to go!Rock Fish, Plymouth – Dave and ChantelJenkins – ridiculously good, simple food.Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Matt Abe – He was a mentor for me when I was training and is still the best chef I have ever met or will ever know.
Learn more about Chef Owen’s culinary creations, as well as The Idle Rocks, here |idlerocks.com