Darwin’s Head Chef answers our questions.
How did you decide to pursue a career in food?
I’ve been interested in food ever since I was young. I used to help my parents in the kitchen, and during school I worked at my local hotel restaurant as a kitchen porter. I took great interest in watching the chefs in service, and I then decided to make this my career. I studied at Cambridge Regional College for three years, and my background before Darwin was restaurants and hotels. I also had a spell at a two Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair.
How long have you been Head Chef at Darwin and what makes it a satisfying role?
I’ve been at the helm for seven years. Every day is a challenge to create the best food we can, within a strict budget. The team and I love it when Derek calls the kitchen to say there’s a queue down to the Porters’ Lodge waiting for lunch – there’s a real sense of achievement.
How do you keep the food at Darwin varied and interesting?
When I’m not actively working in the kitchen, I’m constantly researching trends in the food industry. I do this by reading books and social media, as well as talking to other chefs. I feel it’s important to keep our menu fresh and up-to-date, and be able to alter it as dining trends evolve. We buy seasonal and local produce, and have a great relationship with local suppliers, who understand the needs of Cambridge Colleges.
Darwin takes its commitment to sustainability very seriously, and has taken a pioneering approach to the position of plant-based food in College catering, including a vegan May Ball and making vegetarian meals the default option at Formal Halls. What challenges does this create for you as a chef?
Sustainability is an important part of our day-to-day running of the kitchen. Creating vegan versions of a dish can pose a few challenges, particularly when it comes to replacing meat. However, substituting dairy has become considerably easier in recent years, with a wide array of vegan alternatives readily available.
To replicate meat-like textures, numerous options can be employed, such as jackfruit for burgers, and a combination of lentils and pulsed mushrooms or walnuts for a spaghetti bolognaise. These alternatives not only provide a satisfying texture, but they are also dense in nutrients, making them excellent choices for plant-based dishes.