Why do chefs become chefs? Who are their culinary inspirations? What at their guilty food pleasures? Yes, these are the types of questions running through my head when I meet chefs. I never had an appreciation of cooking growing up, I always saw it as a chore and always wonder how so many people clearly love cooking from a young age.
Jamie Thomas started cooking at the age of 16 when looking for a path in life away from trouble. Fast forward to 2013 and he’s the Executive Chef at Drink ‘n’ Dine, heading up all six of their restaurants. Yes, six: The Carrington (pintxos and tapas), The Abercrombie (dude food), The Norfolk (pub food), The Forresters (pizza and more), Queenies (Jamaican) and Santa Barbara (Hawaiian). Evidently Jamie is an extremely busy man.
And although he’s busy running six restaurants, Jamie’s also a frequent Tweeter and more than happy to take restaurant reservations via Twitter (you’ve got to love social media). Jamie’s a family man, father to cute little Fox, and avid Arsenal supporter.
What goes through the mind of the guy who created a dish with Spanish blood sausage (morcilla) stuffed inside squid? For the latest instalment of “10 questions with…” Jamie was kind enough to spare some time to answer my questions. Here’s what he had to say…
1. What’s your favourite food story?
I’ve been lucky to work with who I think are some of the greatest, passionate and brilliant minds in the business. Working with Fergus at St John back in the 90s, he used to stop me in the middle of a busy lunch service with a gentle touch of my arm and say “Jamie, just stop, have a look at that pigeon you’re about to serve, just look at how happy it is.” I would be there with a smoking hot pan with pigeon and radishes and take a moment, and he was right, it was so important to him that every animal that had died to be on his plate had led the happiest life possible… you just have to love the man.
2. What made you realise you wanted to be a chef?
I became a “chef ” out of necessity, I was smart enough but hated school, was in a hell of a lot of trouble as a kid, a lot of my mates were getting sent to prison and there were drugs everywhere, I felt I had to do something. I started a YTS (youth training scheme) at 16 on $28.50 a week, cooking faggots & chips in a factory staff canteen and loved it. I started to read cook books, lots and lots of books, before I made the decision to move back to London and give it a real go a year later.
3. What’s your favourite guilty food pleasure?
It’s maybe the opposite of everyone else’s!! I eat a lot of fried food with work – a lot of burgers, a lot of pizzas, jerk chicken, ribs, Jesus you name it and I will be eating it, have eaten it, or will be on my way to one the venues and about to eat it. MY guilty pleasure is something healthy, a simple salad or sashimi fish. I can’t really afford to have guilt.
4. Who are your culinary inspirations?
The people I have worked for inspired me at a young age – Fergus Henderson, Dan Evans, Adam Robinson, Rowley Leigh, Alistair Little – all amazing blokes at the top of their game in the 90s in London. Nowadays it’s the people that come to eat. It’s tough right now, not many people have too much money, I’m happy every day that someone will come and spend their money in one of our venues when there is so much to choose from.
5. What’s your pet peeve?
This is a tough one. You better ask the boys that work for me! I suppose laziness and lateness wind me up the most. I try to be the first in and last out every day I work. I feel I lead by example and push myself harder and harder every day. I really can’t expect everyone to keep up with me all the time but I do expect them to try. Oh and stuffing up the glad wrap/foil so when I go to use it the friggin’ thing won’t unwind properly… the bastards.
6. I imagine suppliers would be extremely important to you. How do you select suppliers?
They are very important to me, I find it easy to select them to be honest, I just look for people with the same passion. There are some amazing people that are close to me – from Emile who sources my Spanish goods to Tony at Vic’s Meat – they are easy to deal with as we all want the same thing.
7. What sort of hours do you work?
I work 6 days a week, around 70-90hrs a week, every week. There is a lot that needs doing when you control 6 busy venues. Obviously I love what I do so “work” as other people know it maybe isn’t the same for me. I never look at the clock as I never actually finish.
8. What would your tips be to any young guns who want to become a chef?
Just shut up for the first few years and listen. Take it all in. Move around, don’t get stuck in the same place for more than a year. Try different cuisines. Work in high end places, work in some shit holes. Do whatever you can to broaden your knowledge – as they say knowledge is power and power is important in the brutal world of the kitchen.
9. If you could have dinner with 3 people (dead or alive) from any time in history, who would you invite and why?
My 2 brothers and my sister. I know it’s a bit weak but we never get to spend time together. We all met in England last year for my little sister’s wedding and it was the first time in 12 years that all of us had been in the same room. Pretty sad really but I suppose when we are all busy trying to raise and support a family that’s just life in 2013.
10. Would you cook for them? What would you cook?
Roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, horseradish and a bisto gravy. Just to prove a after all these years my roasts ARE better than mum’s :).