Chef Q&A: Oliver Smith at The Sun, Northaw

Oliver Smith of The Sun at Northaw on life out of the city and how it is reflected in his menus

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The Sun at NorthawJudge’s HillNorthawPotters Bar EN6 4NL01707 655507http://www.thesunatnorthaw.co.uk/

Oliver Smith of The Sun at Northaw on life out of the city and how it is reflected in his menus

Which dish on your current menu do you most enjoy preparing and why?Whole roasted turbot with buttered alexanders and surf clams. An alexander is an old English vegetable which is gathered by our forager; it starts to flower in May. It gives a beautiful mild fragrance and tastes like a mix of parsley and celery. It goes beautifully with the fish and is offset by the salty clams – a great balance of flavours and textures.

How do you decide your menu?We are bang into local produce and cooking only what’s around at the moment. Everything we use within reason comes from the east of England – we have suppliers on the north Norfolk coast for fish and we have added more farms where we can buy meat direct. It’s not rocket science, it’s basically what our suppliers have in seasonat the time.

Who did you train under and what did they teach you that you’ll never forget?I went to college in Torquay, then joined Quaglino’s in London when it opened. The head chef was Martin Ware who had been in Australia and earned three Chef’s Hats there, the equivalent of our stars. I went straight from college to doing 1,100 covers a day – a bit of an eye-opener but a good setting and there was lots to learn. I started as a commis chef and left as a sous chef. What I learned was that this business works on organisation and if you’re not an organised person you’ll never succeed. You can’t turn your back on things. Deal with the problems there and then.

What is your prediction for the next food trend?We are going to go more and more towards wild and local food, keeping it real, keeping it honest. People have had enough of foams and jellies and all that. We are going to see a total reversal, where the ingredient is king again.

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What has been your best culinary idea?We have designed our appetisers to be particularly interesting, to give people a chance to sample something different and draw them into the main dishes. Examples are battered cod’s tongues in tartare sauce, salsify fritters with home-made ketchup and crispy pigs’ ears with a green sauce. They are just little nibbly bits, but using interesting stuff. It’s like English tapas, and it’s become really popular.

What is your favourite ingredient and why?Kohlrabi, a lovely fresh ingredient for summer with a nice radishy flavour. Paired with fennel and capers and stuff like that it’s a really refreshing thing to use and a little bit different at the same time.

What do you think of the cult of celebrity chefs?Each to his own as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not something I set out to do – I think chefs should get back in their kitchens. For me, the restaurant is what I’m all about and if I’m not there, if I’m off filming or something, it means I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not for me.

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