Neil has recently taken on the role as head chef at Pétrus, havingpreviously worked alongside Clare Smyth on dish development at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and as Senior Sous Chef at at Claridges. Prior to joining Pétrus he was SeniorDevelopment Chef at The Fat Duck. Similar toMarcus Waring, Stuart Gillies and being amongst the older generation of chefs trained by Chef Ramsay, Neil is very much part of the newest generation.
What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
As a child I always remember we used to have a fish and chip van that would come to the small village in Buckinghamshire every Thursday evening. I’d always get excited about getting a bag of “scraps” these where all the little bits of crispy batter that would float off the fish while frying. I remember trying to get as much salt and vinegar on them as possible before they became saturated and soggy. The trick was to eat them quickly. Looking back, I was always found it fascinating how you could make something so plain be really rewarding to eat just by finding the right ratio of salt to vinegar versus the saturation rate.
What kind of experience do you aim to give guests at Pétrus?
A joyful one. I hope to be able to share the sense of pleasure and joy that I get from eating good gratifying food with others.
What chef would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
Clare Smyth. Her undying passion for good food that comes from fantastic produce combined with her undeniable talent in the kitchen and staggering work ethic drives me to be a better chef on a daily basis, I have a long road to travel but to be able to have food comparable with the standards she sets for herself would be a fantastic achievement for me.
How does Pétrus fare up compared to the likes of the Fat Duck?
It’s a different beast. What has achieved at the fat duck is incomparable to anywhere else, he’s managed to combine his brilliant imagination, palate and drive with exactly the right timing in exactly the right place with exactly the right people. The fat duck is something special in that respect and dining there is almost a once in a lifetime experience. Pétrus is a restaurant where our guests can return and have a new experience when they do and as we grow as a team and build on the platform of stability and consistency which we have now laid down we aim to grow the dining experience that our regular guests experience.
Describe how you see your own culinary style and how it has evolved over the years…
I think I have been through the phases of cooking that most chefs go though, as a younger chef I went through a phase that I now spot in almost all young chefs now of over complicating food in an attempt to express myself as some kind of “artist” luckily I grew out of that a long time ago now. I think that after completing an honours degree in graphic design that I was able to learn and recognise that the difference between art and design is that while design can be as beautiful and emotive as art the fundamental differential is that design has a function and with cooking the function that some chefs manage to forget is eating. As a chef the goal is to make something that excites and rewards the palate.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
Having the opportunity to work so closely alongside Heston as his senior development chef and bounce ideas and cook with and for someone that would fill me with awe as a younger chef was quite special.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
Buy shares in google and facebook!
What’s been your most embarrassing kitchen moment?
Getting fat whilst in the development kitchen.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
El cella de can roca.