What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Essex, the only boy out of five children, and I wasn’t exactly a “boy” – I wanted to be in the kitchen cooking or brushing my sisters’ dolls hair cuz that was what they were doing. I even went to ballet because my sisters did! When I was 10, my stepdad – who was a scout leader – came into the picture, and he got me into camping and rock climbing. He told my mum, “Your son is too girly, but if he wants to cook, let him cook.” Mum would push me out the kitchen door and ask me to go in the garden and play, and dig for worms, but Papa would say, “If he wants to cook dinner for the family – God forbid what it tastes like – let him do it.”
What drew you to the kitchen in the first place?
When I was five, one of my sisters who is disabled and couldn’t go to school would stay at home and bake cakes and bread. Putting my finger in the bowl and tasting the cake mixes – that was my introduction to food. I would also watch Ready Steady Cook hosted by Ainsley Harriott and there was a segment with a mystery ingredient – and I would always imagine what dishes they could cook with it. Then my stepdad allowed me to get into the kitchen and he introduced me to the potato peeler. “This is how you use it. This is how much water you put in with the potatoes. Pinch of salt. Cook it.” That was the first thing I cooked – boiled potatoes. I boiled them dry because I got distracted watching cartoons on TV. I was so disappointed, I told myself “I’m going to be a chef”.