The Native at Browns chef in Mayfair for taking a zero waste approach to food, championing closed-loop cocktails, and receiving a McDonald’s shutdown and disclaimer after creating a popular variation of his famous fish burger.
Describe your first food memory….
Most of my culinary memories are with my mom when I was young. She hates cooking but we seemed to do quite a bit together. We once cooked some pan-fried vegetables and served them with pasta and cheese on top. I was sure I had the idea for this complex dish on my own.
Did you dream of becoming a chef or did you fall into it?
I fell into it from a great height. Food was not a major focus growing up, with the exception of the occasional trip to Pizza Express on special occasions. I studied business at university with the intention of finding a job in the city. Saying that I would come home from school a lot and make peanut butter on toast and pretend I was on Ready, stable, cook, explaining to the audience how to do it, so I guess it was still there somewhere.
What inspired you to make Native a zero waste champion?
It has always been at the heart of everything Native does and what we believe in as people, striving to make conscious decisions. When you are part of the process of growing, foraging, or rearing, it breaks your heart to see all of your hard work wasted, and so it is with running a business. What has helped is that all aspects of our mission to become a zero waste restaurant are accessible to the people at home and everything can be replicated.
What was the most difficult part of operating in this way?
It has been very difficult to get the ear of some of the bigger suppliers who deliver our products because we don’t have the purchasing power of the big restaurants. Asking them to deliver smaller quantities or have them reduce the amount of packaging that comes to us is a major problem, but slowly suppliers are starting to make changes, especially after the lockdown.
Can you give me some examples of how you reuse food that would usually be thrown away?
We mainly highlight this with our zero waste snacks, which we offer to guests at the start of their meal. This is a series of small bites that include things like fish toast with apple hoisin – a set of sesame shrimp toast, which we make using the garnish and cuts of fish. in portion. Our deerstalker pie is a small pie filled with braised venison filling. We also serve crispy fish skin bites, coffee-dried scraps, and pakoras made from leftover vegetables and bark.
Do you serve zero waste drinks?
We do indeed. There’s the Compost Cordial, made from leftover fruit from the bar, and this summer we had a Cucumber Gin and Tonic made with the juice of cucumber chunks from one of our dishes. A mainstay of the menu is the Waste Coffee Espresso Martini. In order to justify the service of the coffee, we make sure to get the maximum use of it in the restaurant. At Christmas we served mulled wine made from lost wine syrup.
Would you like to see other restaurants adopt your zero waste philosophy?
There are already a surprising number of restaurants that operate this way. It makes sense for small businesses to reduce food waste, but for me, it’s also about thinking outside the box and trying to reuse as many products as possible. We use leftover vegetables and onion peels as an attractive layer to serve food on top. The vines of the wine producers are cooked and we made taco racks from old menus and tallow candles.
What dish have you created that you‘are you the most proud
It must be a mix between our soft dish and our fish fillet. The marrowmel was one of the original zero waste concepts that we came up with. Back then, we could only order huge amounts of bone marrow from our supplier, so we always had a surplus. I decided to use it as a butter substitute in as many recipes as possible, including a white chocolate ganache, which we serve recessed into the bone.
Native Fish Fillet is a sustainable take on the famous fast food burger, made with terrine fish cheeks, leftover focaccia breadcrumbs and brown crab rarebit served with a marinated seaweed tartare. We sold 4,000 in five months and received a cease and desist letter from McDonald’s.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
This is a pretty low-key pairing that was discovered during the lockdown and was kind of a light bulb moment: Shin Ramyun Instant Noodle Soup with Orange Wine Podere Pradarolo Vej Bianco Antico Malvasia 2019 by Emilie- Romagna. Make sure to spice up the ramen.
What is the most memorable meal that you‘ve ever had in your life?
Hand picked mussels from Oldshoremore beach in Scotland, picked and eaten within an hour. I cooked them with onions and white wine, and drank the rest of the bottle. The pleasure was greater than the sum of the parts of the meal. With every bite came the excitement of eating a mussel that I had found myself. I used to come back to the same place to pick mussels, but they are no longer there, which makes the memory all the more special as it can never be recreated.
What‘is the strangest thing you have eaten on your travels?
This is a difficult question, as what we may consider strange might be a staple diet in some cultures. Most of the weirdest things I ate were in my elementary school dinners! I once had leftover rice and tomato ketchup salad, but we hadn’t been served rice the night before, so I’m not sure where that came from.
Who is your culinary hero / heroine and why?
Anthony Bourdain – he’s influenced more people than he’s ever known. I don’t think I will ever miss someone I’ve never known as much as Anthony Bourdian. Another of my heroes is Brazilian chef Alex Atala (right). I had the chance to cook for him at Native’s. All the chefs were super nervous, me included. He came into the kitchen to say hello and had this magical aura around him. He greeted us all like old friends and everyone was immediately relaxed and calm. I’ve never seen anyone do this in a crowded room before. I must not forget Ainsley Harriott, ma Ready, stable, cook muse!
What is your favorite season for food?
Autumn for its root vegetables, game, squash and especially wild mushrooms.
What ingredient do you rely on the most in the kitchen?
It must be yeast. We bake bread every morning as it is the basis of our menu.
What is your guilty pleasure food?
Hash browns with smoked cod roe or sour cream and trout roe – I love them.