Michelin Star Chef Gary Foulkes started cooking when he was sixteen with a weekend job as a commis chef in a hotel from there he moved to work for Gary Rhodes, which was a huge learning curve for him. “ I then moved to work for Richard Neat, William Drabble at the Aubergine, John Campbell and for Phil Howard at the Square , which has the most influence on me as a chef- to finally ending up at Angler where I am now,” he shared. He was in India last week on a two-city tour of India with All Things Nice CEO and Sommelier, Nikhil Agarwal. Excerpts from the interview:
How has been your experience so far? What were the challenges that you faced?
While cooking you learn something new almost every day- that’s one of the reasons it’s so interesting. There are many challenges for a chef - lack of sleep, long hours, pressured environment but these come with the territory - it’s a career that you have to give almost everything too to succeed in. I learnt that pretty quickly and still decided it was the path I wanted to go down.
Tell us something about your culinary skills? Were you fond of cooking ever since your childhood? Who inspired you? Who is your role model when it comes to this profession?
I can’t really say it was a vocation for me ... I never cooked as a child growing up- I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and remember that my grandfather used to do all the cooking as my grandmother was terrible at it!! I never got fed junk food my mother always cooked with fresh fruit and vegetables - no matter how busy or tired she was.
Inspiration wise I kind of inspired myself to begin with as I was so hungry to succeed - I wanted to work and learn as much as I could but working at the Square was a real turning point for me in terms of how I cooked and thought about food - Phil Howard is a great chef and an even better man - he made time for the people who worked In his restaurant and also for his family which is vitally important- I like to think that I do the same.
In 2005 you joined The Square Restaurant and after spending almost five years, you had quit and chose to spend your time travelling and after a year or so, you joined The Square Restaurant again. Could you please elaborate as to what did you experience while travelling? What was your rationale behind quitting your job?
Answer : I’d always had this wanderlust and desire to travel - I’d just got married to my wife Sarah and we decided on a trip to Cuba that it was now or never really, so we packed everything up, quit our jobs and off we went. Initially we Intended to go for a year but after a year we just kept going- when you’re travelling you see so many different things, cultures, people it can’t help but change you as a person- in my case for the better. I am so excited to come back to India to cook this time thanks to Nikhil Agarwal and All Things Nice. I am looking forward to cooking with the Chefs here and giving a taste of my cuisine to our guests.
How do you manage to stand out of the crowd among a bunch of chefs scattered globally? Also, how do you ensure customer satisfaction and food hygiene?
I think it’s becoming harder to stand out now as a chef, social media plays a huge part in that, a chef or customer can post a picture of a dish from a restaurant that can then get regurgitated by many others just by viewing a picture. I try to cook food to the best of my ability, making sure it’s delicious and that In turn makes people happy- and that for me is what it is all about.
Please throw some light on the very first dish that you made and how was your experience? What were the reactions after people tasted it? Among all the variety of dishes , which one is your specialty?
It’s hard to put a finger on the first dish I made to be honest - I remember making shortbread at school and putting salt in it instead of sugar which resulted in a bit of a disaster all round!! The one standout dish I have now I would say is Cornish mackerel tartare with oyster cream, green apple and shiso. I think it’s an exceptionally elegant and tasty dish and something that I’m quite proud of.
How do you ensure that your dishes match according to the taste buds of today’s generation?
I don’t really think about that- someone’s taste is so subjective you can never please everyone I just concentrate on making sure whatever I’m cooking is delicious no matter who I’m cooking for.
How long do you spend your day in the kitchen? How do you spend it otherwise? Do you prefer experimenting with your food?
I generally start my day in the kitchen at 8.00am and stay there throughout the day until evening service has finished. When I’m not there I spend it with my family, travelling and eating in restaurants.
What are your goals going ahead? So far how many cuisines have you experimented with and which others would you like to jump into?
My goal is just to keep improving the food at the restaurant day by day, I look at progression in 6 month stages and each time when I look back there is progression, sometimes more than others but it’s always going in the right direction.
Cuisine wise I don’t really tend to stray far away from what I know and do best- my cooking will always have a deep rooted element of French technique- that’s not to say I don’t use technique and ingredients from other types of cuisine, as I do, which helps to define my style of food. I would though like to learn more about Mexican food - it’s so diverse.