Londonist loves to eat. And we like to cook as well. Hey, we just like food. But we thought for a change it would be nice to catch up with some of the dudes and dudettes who really feed London - its chefs.
It's easy to be dismissive of American cuisine, but a quick chat with the amicable head chef of All Star Lanes will show you that a lot of care and consideration has gone into each one of his recipes. As a chef trained in classical French cuisine who has worked his way around a number of Michelin-rated venues in London, Stephen's attention to detail is perhaps unsurprising and his passion for his new, radically different job demonstrates his ambition and versatility. We're pretty sure he'd never serve Freedom Fries though...
What made you want to be a chef?
When I was at school I chose subjects to study or go into a job in engineering, but as the time went on I realised that I had made a mistake as I had no interest in it.
I had always been a fussy eater (I didn't eat potatoes until I was about 12 and there are still lots of thing I won't eat, I will always try though) and liked to cook things for myself which I really enjoyed ... I think that's what made me choose this line of work.
Tell us about your career before All Star Lanes.
Well I have worked all of my career in London, starting at the Portman Intercontinental (as it was then) under a very demanding Chef called David Dorricott; it was great training in all the aspects of a kitchen especially because I experienced a restaurant with a then Michelin Red M for 2 years. Then it was onto the Royal Garden Hotel in the Royal Roof Restaurant under Executive Chef David Nicholls and the Roof Kitchen Chef Mark Paige for a couple of years and then a move across to the Ritz Hotel when David Nicholls moved there.
After another year and a half I moved over to The Mayfair Intercontinental under Executive Chef Michael Coaker where I stayed for a year. I then had a chance meeting with an old colleague who I'd worked with in the roof kitchen: I told him what I was doing and he said I should come and have a look at Quaglino's, (it had only been open 6-7 months) so I did and moved there for three years, working under the likes of Martin Webb, the then Executive Chef, John Torode and Paul Wilson. In general I had a really good time and although it was hard work - I can remember working on the sauce section double shift and turning out over 1100 main meals per day to Michelin Red M standard - I started as a chef de partie and left as a Sous chef, so who says hard work doesn't pay? I also made a lot of genuine friends which is hard to do in a kitchen.
Then I moved to one of my favourite jobs ever at the brand new Circus Restaurant in Golden Square as the Senior Sous Chef with Richard Lee as my Head Chef- our ethos was on good clear flavours, uncomplicated, unpretentious food, and it was also a brand new opening. I even had my wedding reception here!
Next up was a difficult job: my first Head Chef position at a restaurant called Six-13, a fully Kosher meat restaurant. We had a "shomer" in the kitchen (Jewish food priest) who checked all the food that we were using was fully Kosher and prepared in the correct way. Being non-Jewish some of the methods seemed very strange, like not being able to turn on the stoves or fryers - I remember having to throw tons of oil away as one of my guys would have forgotten that they weren't allowed to turn on the fryer! It was a nightmare...I stayed a year, then it was onto Atlantic Bar & Grill as Head Chef: all I can say about here is I stayed a year and that was a mistake...The only high point was when I left...
Then it was back to Quaglino's for three years, which I loved, before I made another mistake and moved to Living Venture, where a lot was promised but never delivered. I found that the people had no feeling or passion for the food- anyhow the less said the better... I hung in for a year, then was off to St. Germain, a French Brasserie in Farringdon. Again it was hard work from the off in setting up a new restaurant. I enjoyed cooking the classic French food again and really enjoyed my 2 years of hard work there: I actually enjoyed it so much I invested money in it as I believe it to be a really good product.
What prompted you to make the move to ASL?
I was approached by a head hunting agency. At first I was unsure about the American dining thing but the more I looked into it the more appealing it became, that and the two MD's passion for their restaurants and wanting the best for them really sold it.
Has it been hard to adapt?
Not really, it's about imagination: taking the cooking methods you know and doing research to develop dishes. When you use quality ingredients to achieve a quality product then you’re more than halfway there.
Is there anything you miss from your previous style of cooking?
I suppose it would be nice to be able to do whatever you wanted but then that's why I cook at home...
What's your favourite thing to cook?
I like all sorts of dishes especially slow cooking; braising I really enjoy at the moment and I'm slightly obsessed with cooking Chilli!
Any favourite restaurants in London?
Not that I could say favourite because it also depends on the people you're with but I enjoyed the food at The Hawksmoor- great steak cooked on a charcoal grill.
Do you have a recipe/cooking tip to share with our readers?
A tip when cooking always cook with love and respect for the food that you have, if you don't take care of what you are cooking then it will not taste good, it's as simple as that......
STEPHEN'S RECIPE FOR SWEET POTATO PIE:
• 900g cooked drained sweet potato puree
• 4oz unsalted butter
• 4floz milk
• 3 large eggs
• 454g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoon vanilla flavour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 table spoon ground cinnamon
• 1 table spoon ground nutmeg
1. Beat eggs
2. mix all ingredients
3. put into blind baked tart shell
4. cook at 115 degrees centigrade for 1 hour