We’d love to start by asking, have you always loved to cook?
Myself and my brother Michael – who I co-founded Rocket with – had a childhood that was all about food. We always cooked and ate as a family, and still do now when we go home. There are definitely dishes we learnt to cook from our mother, that are a part of Rocket’s DNA today, like our mince pies (which even feature on the Thomas’s Café menu), our jams and chutneys. In fact, Michael’s mark of a great pastry chef is whether or not they are as good as our mother. Our dad was a huge influence – especially in the way we like to celebrate simple ingredients.
How would you describe your cooking style now?
These days, my own cooking style is quite clean, with a dose of Mediterranean flavour, which stems from my time working for Formula One. It’s also very seasonal. You can see this in our food at Rocket – we’re obsessed with top quality, sustainably sourced produce, all of which is prepared with innovative precision.
Let’s get into the food. What’s your go-to, easy mid-week supper?
I love the readily prepped Merchant Gourmet lentils. Often, I’ll marinate lamb or chicken in the morning, so that after work I can throw it together with some chorizo and herbs, and serve it with cavolo nero and the lentils. Cooked with garlic, chilli and a squeeze of lemon, it’s such a simple, delicious meal. I tend to go for things that are on the table in less than 20 minutes.
Has lockdown changed the way you cook at home?
It’s certainly made mealtimes more of a family affair. We’ve been cooking and eating together more, which is lovely. It’s also completely changed how we buy our food. Before, I’d pop into a London market before commuting back to Oxfordshire for extra supplies. I’ve worked with incredible industry suppliers throughout my career, but never dreamed of having the best produce delivered to my home. Now, we have regular deliveries from top fish supplier Henderson To Home – I heard about their home box service via Instagram. In my opinion, lockdown has revolutionised the home cook’s relationship with ingredients. To have everything so accessible was a privilege once reserved for chefs, but now it’s completely democratised.
Which store cupboard buys do you always return to?
There are certain things I cannot live without, although I’m not sure how ‘undiscovered’ they are to the average kitchen cook. Off the top of my head, I’d say anchovies, capers, pomegranate molasses and mirin – to name a few. Oh, and olive oil. It’s always my cooking oil of choice.
When it comes to autumnal food, what’s an underrated ingredient?
Things like lamb neck fillets, or any other lesser-used meat, really come into their own during this time of year. Braised, slow-cooked… there are a million different ways to use the less obviously attractive cuts of meat and turn them into the most delicious stews and casseroles.
What's your ultimate comfort dish and why?
It’s a simple thing, but for me nothing beats a really good cheese, ham and chutney sandwich made with homemade sourdough. In the winter, I toast mine on the aga. So straightforward, but it’s a firm family favourite in our house. I also say, just keep things in balance. Removing every indulgence all of the time doesn’t do anyone any good.
Do you have a favourite homemade soup?
We always use leftover ham and chicken bones to make stocks for soups as they’re super flavourful and a great way to give these often-discarded dinner by-products a second life. Other quick and easy favourites include pea and ham, or a really good minestrone.
Are there any tips you can share for vegan cooking?
Really try and make the most of every ingredient. Whether it’s a pulse or vegetable, read and research the best ways to maximise its flavour. Vegan food is a fast-developing genre, and there are so many new ideas popping up all over the place. The Internet is an endless resource.
Tell us about your top three cookbooks…
There are so many, but when it comes to the one ‘can’t live without’ essential tome, it would have to be Ottolenghi: The Cookbook – it’s his original cookbook and the one I rely on time and again. Also, Today's Special: A New Take On Bistro Food by Anthony Demetre and last but not least, Arabella Boxer’s First Slice Your Cookbook.
What’s the key to cooking good Asian dishes at home?
Keeping salt, sweetness and acidity in harmony is the most important factor in Asian dishes, which seems like it might be a complex thing to achieve, but it isn’t. Start by following simple, well-written recipes and you’ll start to learn the nuances of Asian flavours. You’ll pick it up in no time.
Do you have any new food discoveries to share?
What’s really amazed me over lockdown is the concept of assisted cookery. Being a chef, I cannot say I’ve ever used Gousto or anything like it, but what I’ve loved are the premium delivery services coming from top chefs like Tommy Banks, Gary Usher and Rick Stein, where your supper feels like restaurant quality. Our soon-to-launch project A Cook’s Tour offers an at-home cookery class experience, where ingredients are posted to guests and they join a live-streamed cookery class each month. We do the majority of the prep, but you get to take away some key skills each time and at the end of it you have a real date-night, treat sort of dinner. The point was to offer something fun, yet delicious, for couples or families and friends at home – and being the travel lovers we are, we wanted to take people around the world with each menu.
What are some of your top dinner party menus?
Start off with something like our award-winning canapé, the Smoked Trout Royale, or an Oysterless Oyster for any vegetarian or vegan friends. From there, base your menu around local ingredients and seasonality. Whatever the time of year, prime cuts of fillet of beef and high-quality rump of lamb are failsafe dinner party winners – they just look and taste majestic.
Are there any starters you can prepare in advance?
Any kind of tartare is great starter to prepare in advance, as it requires zero cooking once your guests arrive, leaving you free to host in style. There’s nothing more important than being relaxed on the evening itself, with a glass of wine in hand, knowing certain dishes are already taken care of.
What’s a simple, seasonal pudding that still impresses?
At this time of year, you can’t beat a tart for its ease and simplicity. If it were me, I’d choose an apple tarte tatin during autumn or winter. In the warmer months, raspberries with geranium leaf custard is a personal favourite.
Are you a fan of a cheese plate?
In my view, it’s always a good idea to have cheese at the end of a meal – or what I like to call a ‘hero’ cheese. Something from La Fromagerie, maybe a good slab of comté (it always helps the red wine slip down), or their amazing truffle fougere if you’re after some pure indulgence.
Let’s finish up by asking what are your top tips for capturing a bit of dinner party magic at home with small numbers and social distancing in mind?
With fewer people – and potentially only your household with current restrictions – you have an opportunity to really go to town with your menu. There’s no pressure to make 12 perfect soufflés, so this is the time to challenge yourself and try some more complex dishes while the numbers are limited. Don’t forget to make an effort with your tablescape too – autumn leaves make a lovely centrepiece. If you really take time over these two things, they can be just as pleasurable as the dinner itself.