Chef Mark Sargeant: 'I like unfussy food. I can't stand fine dining restaurants'


After stints working at Aubergine and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Sargeant became head chef at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's from 2001 to 2008, earning a Michelin star in 2002.

He has since opened two restaurants in Kent, Rocksalt and The Smokehouse Fish and Chips, and has designed the menus for Royal Ascot this year.

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

It would have to be my chopping knife. We're glued to knives like writers to laptops. People say, "it amazes me how you can chop so quickly," but to chefs it's like driving a car or writing with a pen – second nature. The ones I use, which are brilliant, are by Zwilling Henckels. Least used, I'd say a bread maker. It such an art and the machines just don't do it justice. I mean, we don't even make bread ourselves at Rock Salt. You can always tell when a restaurant does – it is usually awful (there is the odd exception, of course).

What do you eat for comfort?

The ultimate comfort food for me is baked beans on toast with a fried egg on top. The bread needs to be good quality white farmhouse which has been "medium" toasted. Then you need to put loads of salted butter on there, then a full tin of baked beans crowned with two fried egg.

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

Definitely potatoes, as long as I had the full spectrum of them to choose from. There are so many types and so much you can do with them. I would miss my farmhouse white, though, I like those soft and crunchy loaves with lots of butter on them.

What's your desert island recipe?

Well, if you think logically, you would be eating lots of fish. So what I would do is take a stash of chillis, ginger, soy sauce and spring onions with me. I know that isn't a recipe, but those few ingredients would allow me to give the fish I caught some punchy Asian flavours.

What's your favourite cookbook?

My favourite cook book of all time is Marco Pierre White's White Heat. When I started cooking at college it came out – it would have been 1987 – and it was a slap in the face to all the other cookbooks. I'd wanted to be a chef from the age of eight and got hold of the book and its aesthetic and the food was just amazing. Everyone says it is rock'n'roll but that is silly. Chefs are never rock'n'roll, but it did lend a bit of glamour to things.

What is your favourite restaurant?

I like unfussy food, like Hix or Caprice or even Pitt Cue Co and Hawksmoor. I can't stand fine dining restaurants. Ironic, because that was my career for a long time. The days of Meccas of food are over for me. It is all too formal, that nervous tic of waiters filling your glass, the seriousness – it isn't for me.

Who taught you to cook?

I've been working in kitchens since I was 13, so since then I've been able to cook. But when I started working with Gordon Ramsay I unlearnt all of that and learnt things anew. Gordon was successful at drawing out the skills I had. But learning about food, and learning to cook is different. I didn't actually learn about food until well into my 30s. I spent 10 years busting my nuts at Claridge's but I'd go out and have Kebabs and Burgers at the weekend. I only learnt about seasonality and locality and sourcing in a serious way much later.