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Q&A: Tom Pemberton

The chef, in Hong Kong to prepare dinners for the members-only Amateur Gourmet group, talks to Vanessa Yung about being an old rookie, his London restaurant and why he loves offal

 

When did you start cooking professionally? "When I was about 25. I had been to university and done a degree in history, which is something I really like, and then I went to law school. But I wasn't really sure what to do when I finished studying, so I began working in a kitchen and loved it. I wasn't sure how long I would stay, but I'm still here, 18 years later."

So you were older than other cooks starting out - was that difficult? "In some ways. The hard thing is when you start - you feel silly because you're 25 but have no experience. Some of the guys that are helping you are 17 or 18 years old. I don't really mind that. I'm not a particularly proud person. But there's something strange about starting a bit later."

Where have you worked? "The first place I worked was the Anglesea Arms, in west London. I worked at St John [in Smithfield, London] and I was the head chef of St John Bread and Wine as well."

Who influences you? "My first chef, Dan Evans, and Fergus Henderson at St John. They are brilliant chefs. Dan inspired me with his energy and the way he thought about food. Fergus inspires me with his incredible ability to know what's good and how to do it in a simple way."

How would you describe the cuisine at Hereford Road, your London restaurant? "It's British, simple, well sourced and, hopefully, tasty. The dishes people associate with me might be sweetbreads - I cook a lot of sweetbreads - with green beans and mint. Sometimes we braise a whole ox tail - we don't chop the tail up like most people do."

So, you're a fan of offal? "I've loved offal all my life, even when I was a boy. It's a traditional English thing. My father likes offal. When I was a child my mother cooked offal for my father and I used to like to have it because I wanted to be like my dad. I found it delicious - I liked kidneys, livers and tripe. Some people don't like it because they're squeamish. They're scared to look at it - it's got blood, it looks like part of the body and frightens people. I don't have one favourite offal recipe. I like sweetbreads a lot and I like calf's liver with bacon and mashed potato, and calf's brain sautéed with black butter."

How has British cuisine changed? "It's fair to say British cuisine is not as refined as, say, French cuisine. There's simplicity to British cuisine, although there are British chefs who are incredibly refined. British food can be delicious. When I first started cooking, it was popular for London restaurants to offer an eclectic menu, with things taken from around the world. So you might have French and Italian dishes and maybe some from the Middle East - so the chef can show he can cook lots of styles. Gradually that became less fashionable as people liked to go to restaurants with a definitive style. But now people are going for things being more eclectic again. Not me. I prefer to be more specific."

 

 

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