My Life In Food: Jason Atherton


Atherton was the first British chef to complete a stint at El Bulli in Spain in 1998. He has worked under Pierre Koffmann and Marco Pierre White, eventually joining the Gordon Ramsay Group, for whom he opened Maze in 2001. Last year he opened Pollen Street Social, to great acclaim.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

In my kitchen at work the Thermomix is the most used thing. It's like a high-powered blender that heats things as it liquidises them. It is unrivalled when it comes to making purées or flavoured oils or fresh hollandaise. My least used piece of kit lives in my kitchen at home: a pizza slice, one of those silly little sharp circular wheels. We hardly ever eat pizza and when we do, it's from a take-out, ready cut.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I'd make a good English breakfast. I'd get sausages and bacon from The Ginger Pig, some San Marzano tomatoes for grilling and some Heinz Baked Beans. Eggs are a must, too, and the bread would be sourdough from my restaurant. I'd have it with HP sauce (tomato doesn't cut it; I'm firmly an HP boy). I'd be heaven with that.

What do you eat for comfort?

Pork pies. I absolutely love them. I always have a stock of them, which I replenish from Waitrose or Selfridges or the Ginger Pig. They're just so savoury and you can leave them in the fridge for a few days and the pastry doesn't spoil.

If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

I'd say bread. Potatoes are very much a Western staple, and that limits them in a way. Bread is global and has become hybrid with local flavours and ingredients. Go to Vietnam and you have the most amazing croissants. In the Philippines you have empanadas with sugar, butter and cheese on them – they don't sound great but they taste amazing. The only thing I'd miss would be mashed potato – it's been on every restaurant menu I've been involved with.

What's your desert island recipe?

It would be my vinaigrette. It's based on a recipe from the Philippines, where my wife is from. You take some crushed sugar cane, crushed garlic, chopped Birds Eye Chilli, shallots, soy sauce and lime and mix it together. You can use it on everything from fish to braised pork, to salad. It has a pleasing umami kick.

What's your favourite restaurant?

When I'm over visiting my restaurant in Shanghai, I go to a place called Jesse in the French quarter – the Shanghai dumplings they make are wonderful.

What's your favourite cookbook?

I like The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, it is so well produced and good-looking. Each time you open it there is something to inspire right there on the page.

Who taught you to cook?

I think every chef I have worked for has inspired me in some way. But the person who really taught me to cook was me. You have to drive yourself and set your own standards. I say to all the young chefs who come to work for me that to succeed you need to take pride in everything you do – even if it is just making a slice of toast.