Classically trained and with over 20 years’ experience, Ben started his career working with Michelin starred chefs, including Jason Atherton and Stephen Terry. He went on to head up Italian restaurant Al Duca in St James, London, and the Crinan Hotel in the West Highlands. Ben was most recently the Chef Director and Partner for the Salt Yard Group, a group of 5 modern Spanish/Italian restaurants in Central London serving award-winning food. During his 11 years with the group, he established himself as cooking at the forefront of Spanish/Italian modern tapas scene. Earlier this year, he was appointed Culinary Director of The Stafford in London.
How did you get into food and being a chef?
I became a chef before I was into food to be honest. I wanted to move to London and cheffing was an option for me to do so. After a couple of years and working at some good restaurants I slowly began to fall in love with it and become passionate about my life in food.
Favourite meat, why, best way to cook?
It varies - at the minute I love lamb shoulder and cooking it long and slow with garlic, vinegars, cumin and coriander seeds. The slow cooking makes for an incredible, unctuous and complex meat with layers of fat melting into the flesh and crispy skin.
Oven or barbecue?
Ovens are better for some things and are more consistent but you can’t beat the flavour that a wood fire barbecue brings to meat. I think beef and pork, in particular, work well and take on the sweetness of the smoke. Good quality charcoal and wood is paramount.
The best steak and how to cook?
I like sirloin and bavette. Sirloin everyone knows - I like to cook it in a roast joint- as opposed to steaks and then carve it - this way you get the best cooking degree and tenderness and can slice it thickly. Season the steak, rub with olive oil and brown all over in a hot pan or griddle and then transfer to an oven to finish cooking. Rest for a good few minutes before slicing.
The Bavette is more unusual - it has a livery flavour and a toothsome texture - it's a really beautiful and economical cut. You need to cook it rare or medium rare, otherwise it becomes tough. Season, rub with olive oil and sear on both sides for two minutes each - it's quite a lean cut with little fat, so I like to serve it with a garlic or cafe de paris butter.
Top four cuts of meat to cook with?
Lamb shoulder, beef bavette, pork belly, beef short rib.
Go-to recipe for a quick summer supper?
Grilled butterflied chicken breast with tomato and courgette panzanella.
Mix together some chopped ripe, juicy tomatoes with finely sliced shallots, peeled courgette ribbons, basil or marjoram and some ripped stale sourdough bread chunks. Season well and add a pinch of sugar, some sherry vinegar and good olive oil. Mix well and leave to soak for 20 minutes.
Take the butterflied chicken breasts, season well and rub with oil - cook them on a griddle pan or in a skillet for 4 minutes each side until golden brown and cooked through. Squeeze over some lemon and serve with the panzanella.
Favourite dish to cook for friends?
A Sunday roast with rib of beef, Yorkshires, fresh horseradish and all the trimmings - some people dread cooking a roast but I love it and relish the whole process whilst getting stuck into some nice wine!
Stay tuned for Ben's new book about Moorish cuisine and its influence in Southern Italy and Spain, published Spring 2019.