What influenced you to be a chef and when did you realise that’s what you wanted to do?
My mother is a fantastic cook and while growing up, the family dinner was the highlight of my day. I’ve always loved eating and even as a child, there was nothing I wouldn’t eat. Loving to eat so much and wanting to know how to cook was a completely natural progression and, with the advice of my father, I started my career at the age of 19.
Your restaurant The Ninth Restaurant is based on French-styled cuisine. Why did you decide to do a French menu and how do you add your own British touch to the food?
When I started my career, I only wanted to work in Michelin star restaurants and 25 years ago, they were all predominantly French. Once I began my training in French cuisine, I fell in love with the techniques, recipes and seasonality of ingredients. So at The Ninth, we cook French-styled cuisine with Mediterranean influences.
Since you have Japanese heritage, were you ever interested in putting in a Japanese style into your cuisine or experimenting with Japanese dishes?
I grew up eating Japanese food so it’s very familiar to me but, I consciously made a decision not to introduce Japanese-style dishes at The Ninth as I am not a fan of fusion cooking.
Do you think television appearances have shaped your confidence as a chef?
I think cooking on TV gives you confidence in presenting and explaining recipes in a simple and relatable way. But the only way to gain confidence as a chef is hard work and training.
What is the most difficult aspect about being such a widely known chef?
I don’t think of myself as a “widely known” chef, but being a chef, I find that no one wants to cook for me! Or if they do, they’re super apologetic even before I sit down to eat. It’s a shame, because I actually love being cooked for!
You say you believe anyone can learn to cook like on Cooking It. What advice do you have for aspiring chefs on how to improve their skills?
Be organised. When cooking a recipe from a cookbook, read it from start to finish and understand the recipe. Then make sure you have all the equipment you’re going to need and have all the ingredients laid out in front of you. Once you’ve done that, prepare all the ingredients and finally begin the cooking. By approaching the recipe this way, your focus is only on one stage of the process and this will make everything simpler – and the end result will definitely improve.
You endeavoured to join the street food scene. It’s quite different from your traditional menu, why did you decide to take an interest in it?
Mark – my business partner – and I started our street food business seven years ago when British street food was only just beginning. At the time it was an innovative idea and we wanted to challenge ourselves to use our skills and knowledge of working in Michelin star restaurants and create the best takeaway dishes at street food prices.
What is your favourite kind of street food?
Definitely Thai. I visit Bangkok every year and some of the best food you can eat there is out on the streets!
Do you think the Michelin star rating of the restaurant is really important?
It was never our goal to gain a star, as The Ninth is not your typical Michelin star restaurant. But, being awarded one has definitely been one of the highlights of my career and I’m happy for all the staff that have worked so hard over the past year. Now that we have one, it is essential that we maintain our standards and retain it.
What about hole-in the-wall places or lesser known local establishments – do you think they have lesser value because they might not have that quality rating?
Not at all. In fact, some of my favourite restaurants in London (and elsewhere) don’t have a Michelin star. Michelin has a specific rating system, and just because a restaurant doesn’t have a star doesn’t mean the food isn’t of a high standard.
Working in Le Gavroche was your first job. Do you think working in a high-end restaurant shaped you and your style rather than starting off somewhere small?
Yes. It taught me discipline and respect for ingredients.
What kind of kitchen culture do you prefer – or is it professional only?
Throughout my training years I’ve worked in some hard and aggressive kitchens and this culture was definitely something I didn’t want at my restaurant. Before we opened the restaurant, I sat down with my head chef and restaurant manager and we all agreed that our number one priority is looking after the people who work there and create an environment where the staff are happy.
Did you have any role models who inspired you in your career?
Eric Chavot. I was a sous chef at The Capital and he taught me the importance of flavour above all else.
Food and drink news
Food and drink news
1/31 Gluten-free diets 'not recommended' for people without coeliac disease
Avoiding wheat, barley and rye in the belief that a gluten-free diet brings health benefits may do more harm than good, according to a team of US nutrition and medicine experts
2/31 Starbucks launches two new coffee-based drinks
Starbucks is launching two new coffee-based drinks in the UK, as it strives to tap into consumers’ growing appetite for healthy beverages. The Cold Brew Vanilla sweet cream and the Cappuccino Freddo, will both be available in stores throughout the UK from the start of May
3/31 Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Tiffin is making a permanent comeback after 80 years
The Cadbury Dairy Milk Tiffin, first produced in 1937, is making a permanent comeback to the UK. The raisin and biscuit-filled chocolate bar is being launched after a successful trial last summer saw 3 million chocolate treats – at the cost of £1.49 for each 95g bar- purchased by nostalgic customers
4/31 Pizza restaurant makes ‘world’s cheesiest’
'Scottie's Pizza Parlor' in Portland Oregon has created the world’s cheesiest pizza using a total of 101 different cheese varieties.
Facebook/Scottie's Pizza Parlor
5/31 A pizza joint in Portland Oregon has created the world’s cheesiest pizza using a total of 101 different cheese varieties. Why not eating before a workout could be better for your health
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology by researchers at the University of Bath found you might be likely to burn more fat if you have not eaten first
6/31 New York restaurant named best in the world
A New York restaurant where an average meal for two will cost $700 has been named the best in the world. Eleven Madison Park won the accolade for the first time after debuting on the list at number 50 in 2010. The restaurant was praised for a fun sense of fine-dining, “blurring the line between the kitchen and the dining room”
7/31 Why you crave bad food when you’re tired
Researchers at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago recently presented their results of a study looking into the effects of sleep deprivation upon high-calorific food consumption. Researchers found that those who were sleep-deprived had “specifically enhanced” brain activity to the food smells compared to when they had a good night’s sleep
8/31 Drinking wine engages more of your brain than solving maths problems
Drinking wine is the ideal workout for your brain, engaging more parts of our grey matter than any other human behaviour, according to a leading neuroscientist. Dr Gordon Shepherd, from the Yale School of Medicine, said sniffing and analysing a wine before drinking it requires “exquisite control of one of the biggest muscles in the body”
9/31 British dessert eating surges after people ditch healthy eating in February
: In heartening news for anyone feeling guilty about quitting their New Year diet, it seems lots of us have given in to our sweet tooths once again. New data from nationwide food-delivery service Deliveroo reveals there was a surge in Brits ordering desserts in February compared to the first month of 2017
10/31 US congress debates definition of milk alternatives
A new bill has been created that seeks to ban dairy alternatives from using the term ‘milk’. Titled the DAIRY PRIDE Act, the name is a tenuous acronym for ‘defending against imitations and replacements of yogurt, milk, and cheese to promote regular intake of dairy every day’. It argues that the dairy industry is struggling as a result of all the dairy-free alternatives on the market and the public are being duped too
11/31 Cadbury’s launches two new chocolate bars
UK confectionary giant Cadbury has launched two new chocolate bars, hoping to lure those with a sweet tooth and perhaps help combat some of the challenges it faces from rising commodity prices and a post-Brexit slump in the value of the pound.The company’s new products will be peanut butter and mint flavoured. They will be available in most major super markets as 120g bars, priced at £1.49, according to the company
12/31 You can now get a job as a professional chocolate eater
The company responsible for some of your favourite chocolate brands – think Cadbury, Milks, Prince and Oreo – have officially announced an opening to join their team as a professional chocolate taster. The successful candidate will help them to test, perfect and launch new products all over the world.
13/31 MSG additive used in Chinese food is actually good for you, scientist claims
For years, we’ve been told MSG (the sodium salt of glutamic acid) - often associated with cheap Chinese takeaways - is awful for our health and to be avoided at all costs. But one scientist argues it should be used as a “supersalt” and encourages adding it to food.
14/31 Lettuce prices are rising
Not only are lettuces becoming an increasingly rare commodity in supermarkets, but prices for the leafy vegetables seem to be rising too. According to the weekly report from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a pair of Little Gem lettuces had an average market price of £0.86 in the week that ended on Friday, up from an average of £0.56 in the previous week – that’s an almost 54 per cent increase.
15/31 Food School
Kids celebrate Food School graduation with James Martin – a campaign launched by Asda to educate young people on where food comes from. New research has revealed that children across the UK just aren’t stepping up to the plate when it comes to simple facts about the food they eat – with almost half of children under eight not knowing that eggs come from chickens
16/31 ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant
To encourage more people to cook and eat together, IKEA has launched The Dining Club in Shoreditch – a fully immersive ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant . Members of the public can book to host a brunch, lunch or dinner party for up to 20 friends and family. Supported by their very own sous chef and maître de, the host and their guests will orchestrate an intimate dining experience where cooking together is celebrated and eating together is inspirational
Mikael Buck / IKEA
17/31 Ping Pong menu with a twist
Gatwick Airport has teamed up with London dim sum restaurant Ping Pong to create a limited edition menu with a distinctly British twist; including a Full English Bao and Beef Wellington Puff, to celebrate the launch of the airport’s new route to Hong Kong
18/31 Zizzi unveil the Ma’amgharita
Unique pizza art has been created by Zizzi in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. The pizza features the queen in an iconic pose illustrated with fresh and tasty Italian ingredients on a backdrop of the Union Jack
19/31 Blue potatoes make a comeback
Blue potatoes, once a staple part of British potato crops, are back on the menu thanks to a Cambridge scientist turned-organic farmer and Farmdrop, an online marketplace that lets people buy direct from local farms. Cambridge PhD graduate-turned farmer, Adrian Izzard has used traditional growing techniques at Wild Country Organics to produce the colourful spuds, packed with healthy cell-protecting anthocyanin, which had previously disappeared from UK plates when post-war farmers were pushed towards higher-yielding varieties
20/31 France plans to usurp Scotland as the home of the world's best whisky
France is planning to usurp Scotland’s reputation as the home of the world’s best whisky, fired by a growing national obsession with the drink. According to a study by retail consultants Bonial, the French drink more whisky than any other country – an average of 2.15 litres a year, compared to 1.8 litres in second-placed Uruguay and the US in third on 1.4 litres
Bloomberg via Getty Images
21/31 The price of an avocado is set to rise
Britain’s avocado lovers are facing a significant increase in the cost of their favourite salad food because the so-called superfood is becoming too popular. High demand from health-conscious consumers has led Peru to triple its avocado exports since 2010, with exports to the UK up 58% over the past year
22/31 Eating cereal may not be the healthiest way to start the day
The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so many of us do as we are told and grab a bowl of cereal before we head out the door. But an expert has warned that while many cereals boxes claim their contents are the perfect start to the day, many are packed full of sugar and carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Even some seemingly-health muesli cereals have a lot of added sugar in the form of honey, malt, molasses, dried fruit or “even fruit juice”
23/31 Crisps made with real ingredients
Michelin starred chef, Simon Rogan in action cooking a menu inspired by the provenance ingredients in the new Chef’s Signature range from Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips, the nation’s favourite premium crisp brand, has launched the new range of crisps with exciting new seasonings, made with the highest quality food ingredients rather than chemicals or artificial flavours
24/31 Japanese whisky crisis
Suntory’s chief blender Mr. Fukuyo San blends component whiskies to create Suntory Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, a blend of young and old single malts. Japan’s warm climate and varied seasons makes it perfect environment to age and blend whiskies, creating subtle, refined and complex expressions.The recent trend for Japanese whisky has put the spirit on the verge of a global shortage
25/31 Non-alcoholic cocktails are seriously chic
We are living through a new era of creative, non-alcoholic drinks that go way beyond a coke or sweet mocktail. The world is becoming more health conscious. There's the war on sugar, and teetotalism is on the rise, with more than one in five not drinking at all (especially young adults), according to The National Statistics for Adult Drinking Habits. This abstinence is even more pronounced in London, with almost one in three turning away from alcohol. An increasing number of mixologists are applying their talents to the creation of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good as their boozy alternatives
26/31 'Heat map' shows which areas of Britain enjoy the spiciest curries
After Bradford was named the Curry Capital of Britain for the fifth year running, a map has been released showing which regions of Britain enjoy a spicy curry and which prefer the milder variants. According to the map developed by Hari Ghotra, Kent, Essex, West Yorkshire and Lancashire are the heat-handling kings of Britain, while Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all prefer milder curries. The data was collected by monitoring the location of social media posts that mentioned names of curries. These were then given a spice rating and were then collated to give each area a score out of 1000
27/31 Guinness to become vegan-friendly
Guinness is set to become vegan friendly for the first time in its 256-year history, as the company announced its plan to stop using fish bladders in its filters
28/31 Why the salmon on your plate might not actually be salmon
Salmon that ends up on the dinner table may not be salmon at all, a study has suggested. The problem of salmon mislabelling has become an increasing issue in the US in the winter months, according to American research published by Oceana. The findings show that 43 per cent of the salmon tested was mislabelled – the most common instance of this being when farmed Atlantic salmon was sold as wild salmon
29/31 How dangerous is a bacon sandwich
A recent WHO report warning that processed and red meats can cause cancer may have left you thinking a little harder about whether to pick up that bacon butty for breakfast or ditch a beef-filled Bolognese for dinner - but how worried should we be? The review of 800 studies for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prompted global health experts to cast processed meats - including bacon, ham and sausages - into the ominous-sounding list of group 1 carcinogens, where they joined formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon - a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded
30/31 New Zealanders are behind a lot of the interesting food and drink stuff happening in the UK
Dark beers are more suited to cold months, so the thinking goes, but in one part of the world they're always popular. "Lots of breweries in New Zealand have got stouts and porters among their best sellers," says Stu McKinlay, one half of the duo behind Wellington brewing company Yeastie Boys. McKinlay recently swapped Wellington for west Kent in order to launch Yeastie Boys in the UK, and he's joined forces with four other breweries (8 Wired, Renaissance, Three Boys, Tuatara) as part of the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, to promote his country's finest over here
31/31 Additives in popular chicken nuggets
Ingredients, a new book co-created by photographer Dwight Eschliman and food writer Steve Ettlinger distils 25 products, including popcorn, Red Bull and chicken soup, focusing on 75 of the most common food additives and revealing what each one looks like, where it comes from and why it is used. McDonald’s chicken nuggets were found to contain 40 different ingredients. These included dextrose, a sugar also used by shoe makers to make leather more pliable, and corn starch, used for thickening food as well as also being a substitute for petrol
Do you believe in eating healthy or treating yourself more – and can you balance the two?
I’m ashamed to say that “healthy eating” is not in my vocabulary. But I hardly ever eat fast food or junk food. I believe in eating great food that you enjoy and balancing it out with exercise. It’s worked for me so far!
Did you have any turning points in your career? If so, what were they?
Having the opportunity to work at Le Gavroche. I was so fortunate that that was the first place I ever worked in, because at that time it was regarded as the best restaurant in the UK and that opened up doors to all the other restaurants I’ve worked in.
The Ninth has a variety of dishes for all kinds of customers on its menu. How important is it to you to cater to all kinds of dietary needs?
I never create a menu based on dietary requirements. I have a variety of dishes on the menu because when I go out to eat, I personally like to have a choice. I always have a good selection of vegetable dishes, not for the sole purpose of catering to vegetarians, but personally I think vegetables are underrepresented in many restaurants, and at The Ninth I wanted to make them more than just sides.
What exciting projects have you been involved in recently and what’s coming up next?
I recently gave a talk at La Maison Rémy Martin – an innovative private members club, now in its third year. La Maison Rémy Martin celebrates multiple talents, encouraging members to celebrate their passions and skills and to be defined by many things rather than the one that that they do.
I'm also looking forward to being a part of Auction Against Hunger, which takes place on 24 May, where some of London’s most exciting chefs are getting together at Street Feast in Canada Water, south-east London to cook Michelin-starred quality street-food style dishes in aid of Action Against Hunger.
What is your favourite dish to eat out?
It’s impossible to narrow it down to just one dish, but if we’re in a restaurant and there’s offal on the menu, I tend to gravitate towards it. There’s an amazing dish at a restaurant in Paris called Benoit, which has pasta, foie gras, veal sweetbreads, cockscomb and truffle in it that I frequently dream about!
What are your favourite ingredients and cooking utensils to use?
Any ingredient that’s in season. And I do like my Japanese mandolin!
Do you have any kitchen disaster stories?
When I was working at Chez Nico, I was passing the chicken stock in the morning, and I slipped and poured the stock all over myself. I still worked the entire day until midnight because I was too scared to leave in the middle of service. I finally went to A&E after work, got seen at four o’clock in the morning and came back into work at 8 with half my body bandaged up!
Where else would you want to open restaurants?
Maybe New York. Although that would be seriously intimidating!
Is there any kind of cuisine you haven’t tried but would like to?
No. But I’ve never tired fugu [blowfish] – which is a Japanese delicacy – and would love to one day.
If you’re starting up a new restaurant, how do you give it a reputation for being original?
I don’t think your primary focus should be on originality, as you’re then likely to make the wrong decisions, based on trying to be different rather than focusing on the most important thing, which is to serve good food and provide great service.
What’s your go to meal when you’re in a rush?
Anything with eggs.
Is there anything you would still like to improve on?