Monday, 12 August 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Phil Howard

We are lucky to live in such an exciting time when it comes to food, with an unprecedented level of innovation and creativity, as well the convergence, fusion and evolution of culinary traditions, philosophies and conventions. There are so many new approaches and techniques, both favourable and otherwise, that it can be quite the challenge to keep abreast of the near constantly emerging trends and crazes.

It is for that reason that I have such an admiration for those who commit to the fundamentals of elegant and refined gastronomy. The art of using beautiful, seasonal ingredients, preparing them with technical excellence and presenting them precision, yet imagination takes true mastery and one such master is Phil Howard.

Phil Howard is head chef and co-owner of The Square in London. He is a brilliant chef, with his restaurant rightly rewarded with two Michelin stars for refined, yet relaxed dining and food that is both thoughtful and thought provoking. He is one of the great British chefs of our time and an inspiration to both developing chefs and home cooks alike, so it was with great interest that I asked him a few questions…

You have a somewhat atypical education, studying microbiology at university. How did you become involved in the food industry and what impact (if any) have your studies had on your cooking style?

I started to cook for the simple reason that my mother could not come to uni to cook for me! I knew immediately that it was something I loved and it became very clear that this was what I wanted to do professionally.  My route in was with the Roux brothers, as a junior cook at Kleiwort Benson - where they had the F and B contract. I have a logical and scientific mind maybe this has contributed to my understading of the process of cooking but I am certainly not inqisitive and overly experimental.

Despite a relatively unorthodox background, you have become one of the leading chefs in the country. What qualities do you think it takes to be a top head chef?

Top chefs come in many shapes and sizes so to speak but good old fashioned hard graft is the common link between all. An ability to multi task, to have an honest perspective of ones own work, to see things from the diners perspective and above all to be able to communicate
well to the team who are going to make your dream a reality!

What inspires you and what keeps you motivated?

Produce is my biggest source of inspiration. Wonderful ingredients never fail to stimulate and these in turn are driven by the seasons, which, thank God, keep the wheels of creativity turning. 

How has the restaurant industry changed during your career and how have you changed as a chef?

The restaurant industry has changed tremendously over the years and the nett result is that it is finally home to a vast spectrum of restaurants which offer wonderful food at any given price point and in a myriad of different styles. Great food no longer equates to fancy and expensive food. Modest and wonderfully eclectic and innovative places are now two a penny. Personally I have changed little - i still cook with the same goal - to deliver pleasure and my personal belief in how to achieve this has remained unchanged! 

You are well known for nurturing and developing some of the UK’s most promising young chefs. What advice would you give to those looking to start a new career as a chef?

Learn the basics. The classical basics. Thoroughly. Stay for two years in any given job - as long as it continues to offer growth. 

What are some of the most common mistakes that developing chefs make?

Running before they can walk - and allowing ego to rule the creative roost! Remember that above all else food is to be eaten and enjoyed. Trying to be special and different will almost certainly yield unenjoyable food. 

How would you describe the dining experience at The Square?

The Square offers wonderful food in contemporary surroundings delivered with fine, yet professional hospitality! 

What is your favourite dish from each course on the current menu?

Saute of Scottish langoustine tails with parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle
Breast of duck with glazed endive and a croustillant of the leg with foie gras and cherries
Brillat savarain cheesecake with gooseberry and elderflower. 

How do you relax when you’re not in the kitchen?

Relax? Spend time with the family, eat in lovely restaurants, run, sit on the beach and ski. 

What do you enjoy cooking and eating at home?

I eat incredibly simple food at home - usually an indulgence in something seasonal. 

What one dish should everyone learn to cook?

Roast chicken. 

What’s next for you?

What's next? Make my life more efficient so I can be more effective at doing what I want -  continuing my journey with The Square and ticking the boxes of life that I want to tick to ensure there are no regrets...!

For more information about The Square or to make a reservation, please visit

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