The kids are all right – if they're in the kitchen

Experience is useful in the restaurant trade, but it's the whippersnappers who really shake things up in the kitchen

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The Independent Online

The new president of Mexico is younger than me; the new governor of the Bank of England is the same age as me; the man who delivered the Autumn Statement yesterday would have been quite a few years below me at school. It's not just the policemen looking younger, it's the entire ruling classes being younger. I feel like a dinosaur.

There's only one aspect of life that pleases me to see the young do brilliantly, and that is food. No-one more, for the next week at least, than Oli. Oli is a semi-finalist on MasterChef The Professionals. He's 22, with all the attendant attributes – a bit cheeky, a bit scruffy and a bit bemused by the idea of work.

But behind his lackadaisical demeanour is, obviously, steely ambition and a bags of talent. I love Masterchef – the portentous music, the drama of an overcooked chocolate fondant, Michel Roux Jr's facial expressions – but it's watching stars in the making that is thrilling (in a way that watching victims of the star machine that is X Factor go from nobody to one-hit-wonder to has-been in no time at all isn't). You can see the hunger (no pun intended) in the young twentysomethings that have the time and energy to think of six different things to do with a rabbit.

I feel slightly sorry for the head chefs and caterers in their thirties and forties on the show; how can they compete? Experience is useful, of course, but in the restaurant trade right now, all the most exciting cooking is being done by whippersnappers. And while I want the man in charge of, say, benefits to have a solid grasp of society's needs, for an exhilarating food I want someone not restrained by old-school ideas of what goes with what. Or who's more interested in their TV tie-ins than thrilling the customers.

Two of the best meals I ate last week were (both in London, sorry) the beautifully relaxed Quality Chop House, where the chef Shaun Searley is 26, and the extraordinarily inventive John Salt, where head chef Ben Spalding is 25. He's got more mind-blowing dishes on his menu than tattoos on his arms – and that's saying something. It also happens to be where, whisper it, Oli works in the kitchen. I didn't know that when I went there, dammit, or I would have tried to get the scoop on who wins… and given him a clip round the ear for being so bashful on the show. Well, being old does have its benefits.