Chef Profile: Yes Chef
Richard King, new head chef at Cambridge’s Hotel du Vin, tells Alice Ryan about his lifelong love of cooking (and crisps)
Let’s start at the beginning: did you grow up in a foodie house? Tell us about your earliest memories of food and cooking.
The earliest memory that really sticks in my head is every September, after harvest, mum would start the Christmas cake. That smell - and eating the cake mix - still reminds me of Christmas. And boy, did my mum add a lot of alcohol. But not everything my mum cooked was good; I have joked that’s why I became a chef.
What made you want to pursue a career as a chef?
At the age of 14, I was doing home economics at school and loved it. I wanted to be a chef then and was also driven by the thought that my aunt, who was on the board of directors at The Savoy, had offered me a place there. But two years later my parents wanted me to go to Oaklands College to get my qualification in agriculture, so I gave up cooking.
Tell us about the first pro kitchen you cooked in. Was the famous ‘baptism of fire’?
In 1998 I left CRC in Cambridge and needed a job. I had eaten at The Cricketers at Clavering so phoned to ask for a job, but Trevor said no. The next week I phoned again; again he said no. On the third time of asking he gave in and offered me a trial. What can I say? It was an amazing experience. At one point we went from six chefs to three. But I learned a lot and still have fond memories of the food and one-liners. Raymond Sexton was an amazing chef who inspired me and made me laugh.
Can you share some of your stand-out memories from your career thus far?
Being a private chef to Ken and Barbara Follet. I just love the buzz of cooking for people, be it in their homes or in our bistro.
What brought you to Cambridge Hotel du Vin?
I wanted to work for a larger company, with room to grow. Plus I love a change, and the offer of head chef to me was amazing.
How would you describe the hotel’s culinary style, since you took the helm of the kitchen?
I want a kitchen that is fun to work in. Plus I want any of our guests to feel they can request to change an item to suit their taste or dietary needs.
We know sourcing locally and seasonally is really important to you. Tell us about a couple of your favourite autumnal ingredients.
Local French partridge pan-fried and roasted with garlic and thyme, served with game chips and quince compote. I also love using The Cheese Plate in Buntingford: Toby has an amazing ability to make you spend money on great cheeses, local or not-so-local. He pairs them with great biscuits, beautiful chutneys and relishes, and adds amazing wines and spirits to finish off a taste sensation.
If our readers haven’t eaten at the hotel before, what should they order?
Scallop with Suffolk chorizo and samphire, followed by chateaubriand with peppercorn sauce, with the cheese trolley for dessert. Followed by a rum from the bar, then a stay in one of our wonderful rooms for the night to finish off a great evening.
Within the culinary world, who inspires you?
Justin Sharp at Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmunds. His food has always amazed me. He experiments with some amazing ingredients and isn’t shy at putting them on his menu.
What are the key ingredients to being a successful chef, would you say?
Knives. Plus you need to be willing to learn and to teach, to be enthusiastic and want to make people happy when they eat. Also I want our chefs to be able to enjoy eating in amazing places, that way they can experience food as it should be.
Do you have any guilty food pleasures to confess?
Crisps! I will leave at that. . .
Hotel du Vin Cambridge is at 15-19, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1QA. For more information and to book, visit hotelduvin.com/cambridge or call (01223) 928991.