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  1. Wealth
August 31, 2012

Q&A With Jason Atherton

By Spear's

Emily Rookwood talks to Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton about his new venture, Snaxs in Singapore, Britain’s culinary scene today, his best restaurant picks and what he couldn’t live without in his kitchen at home.

Emily Rookwood talks to Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton about his new venture, Snaxs in Singapore, Britain’s culinary scene today, his best restaurant picks and what he couldn’t live without in his kitchen at home.

As a chef, how do you see the culinary scene in the UK at the moment?

It is great. London is great. There is a gang of British chefs in the UK at the moment cooking amazing food — Sat Bains, Claude Bosi at Hibiscus, Simon Rogan. This band of chefs are cooking in a very modern way but using totally British ingredients.

The fact that our country has had a massive influx of immigrants over the past decades means that Britain is a very multicultural society and I find that fascinating. To be able to bring that in to my cuisine and use seasonal ingredients is really important.

Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy behind the restaurant?

Our philosophy is that we base our cuisine on deliciousness. Food should be delicious first and foremost. If it is not delicious there is no point in cooking it. No matter what you do to it or how fancy you make it, if it is not delicious then what is the point? We try to be very creative here but at the same time we are not molecular. We do use a few fancy techniques, our cuisine is progressive —it’s modern, progressive, British cuisine.

Having spent many years working with Gordon Ramsey and running the hugely successful Maze, what made you want to branch out on your own with Pollen Street Social?

I was with Gordon for a decade, which is a long time to be working with somebody. I really respect Gordon and I have a lot of time for him as a chef. He is one of Britain’s best ever chefs but it was just time for me to give it a go. I got to the age of 38 and didn’t want time to pass me by. I really wanted to make a mark on British gastronomy.

I have sacrificed a lot in my life, friendships, not going to people’s weddings and birthdays. I’m hardly ever home, I’m always in work, so surely if I am going to sacrifice all that I had better do it for myself. Being able to control my own destiny and being able to produce a restaurant that I’m proud of is key.

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We went up to 9/10 in the Good Food Guide the other week and that puts us in the top three or four restaurant in the country. I’ve never had a prouder day.

Given that you have had to make so many sacrifices, is there any part of you that feels the need to cut down on the hours you work?

No. I don’t consider my job a chore. We’ve just changed some dishes on the menu and we’ve got some new dishes coming on for autumn. It is just so exciting. I’m 41 in a few weeks and I get more excited about food now than ever before. Obviously it is not easy for my family but I love what I do.

Does your passion for food mean that you cook a lot at home?

I don’t tend to because in the very little, precious time I do have at home we tend to go out to eat or spend time together as a family. I do cook from time to time: I cook a lot of Asian food at home. My wife is from the Philippines so I cook South East Asian cuisine to familiarize myself with her culture and what it is all about. There is no better way to familiarize yourself with any culture than to cook the food.

You already have two restaurants in Singapore and one here, what is next?

I’m opening up a place in Singapore on the 18th September called Snaxs. It is based around gourmet junk food. So you’ll have pork ribs cooked in English ale served with pickled cabbage, you’re going to have burgers, Jason’s very, very hot dog and instead of fish and chips you’re going to have fish and oysters cooked in a tempura and served with tartar sauce. Everything is snack sized.

The idea is that you go in to this cool snack bar — and it only seats 20 so it is very intimate — with a small wine list and so you sit with a cool bottle of chardonnay eating all these little snacks. It is not a formal meal —it is almost like a Macdonald’s for posh people! You pop in and out but [unlike lots of other snack joints] it has a cool design and you have passionate professional people serving you and passionate people in the kitchen. It is also going to be really good value.
   
The hidden extra here is the shop next door is also owned by Atherton. A high-end sex shop at the front but after you navigate a password exchange with an old Chinese lady, a secret passage way and a magic vending machine, you’ll end up in a hidden bar run by his bar manager from Pollen Street Social.

As Atherton says, ‘cool, eh? My restaurants are about coming in and having a good time’ — I don’t think you could ask for more than that.
 
Jason Atherton’s Restaurant Picks:

Sat Bains in Nottingham: ‘I think it is the best restaurant in the UK at the moment Heston’s Fat Duck – the guy is one of Britain’s only food geniuses’
The Ledbury: ‘amazing’
Hibiscus: ‘a fantastic restaurant’
For fast(er) food:  Pizza East, No Soya Sauce in Kensington, Yauatcha for good Chinese food, Koya for noodles, Barrafina for tapas and Arbutus for bistro food.

Things he can’t live without at home and in a professional kitchen (thanks to our twitter followers for the question):

At home: ‘good sea salt and a non-stick frying pan’

In the kitchen, his suppliers ‘Without these guys I don’t exist’ and his ThermoMix ‘it is like having an extra pair of hands, blends and purees cooks, it does everything, it is so goddamn cool’
  
 
Read more Food Fridays

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