Interviews

George Barson, Kitty Fisher’s

We talk to the head chef at Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair.

What attracted you to Kitty Fisher's?
I was instantly drawn to the unique space and intimate setting – it creates a great atmosphere in the restaurant. I was also really interested in the opportunity to cook primarily over a wood fire. While this can be challenging, it also acts as a great source of inspiration when creating new dishes.

How much pressure is there taking over a kitchen that has already gained a reputation and wowed the critics – what's the challenge for you?
To be honest, I’ve barely had time to stop and worry too much about this, and excitement has outweighed any concerns throughout. It helps that owners Tom, Oliver and Tim have been so welcoming and supportive. I guess the only real pressure is furthering the wonderful reputation that the restaurant has already gained, but right now I’m just focusing on developing the menus and building a strong team in the kitchen.

How are you approaching the menu, and will you be adding many new dishes?
Cooking with the seasons is a big focus for me, and this means the menu is constantly evolving. It has been great starting at Kitty Fisher’s just when all the wonderful spring produce is coming in. At the moment, we have a great dish with Iberico pork and wild garlic, and a dessert with rhubarb and blood orange, and I’m already looking forward to getting ingredients such as wild strawberries, courgettes, wood sorrel, Jersey Royals and elderflower into the restaurant.

Name one ingredient you couldn't cook without
Butter – there are very few things that aren’t improved by the addition of some good, salty butter. At Kitty Fisher’s we use a whey butter from Somerset, which has undergone the initial process of cheese making. This gives it a great nutty, sweet and slightly tangy flavour.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
It’s having that initial inspiration for a new dish, then seeing it right through to completion. There’s also something very addictive about the buzz of a busy service. It can be a high-pressure environment, but when you’ve got the support of a great team, and you finish a busy night with happy guests, there’s nothing quite like it.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I really love that so many restaurants are now designing their menus around small plates and sharing dishes – a great way of trying loads of different things, and a really sociable way of eating. It’s also great to see many restaurants celebrating vegetables, rather than meat, as the main ingredient of a dish – with chefs giving a cabbage the same respect as they would a steak.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Sometimes you try a dish that looks and sounds incredible but doesn’t quite deliver on flavour, and it seems the chef may have become caught up in the techniques used, rather than the taste of it. Often the simple things are the best.  

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I love the autumn because there is such a bounty of fresh produce available, and everything left over you can preserve for future months – dig out the Kilner jars and go crazy pickling, jam making, fermenting. I also love that, as the nights draw in, you start to crave hearty, comforting food.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I do a take on rollmops as one of the snacks on the menu. We cure the herrings in salt, sugar and spices, then pickle them and serve them with a piccalilli ketchup and dill salt. It is a really simple combination that just came together so well the first time.

How do you come up with new dishes?
It can be anything really. I find a lot of inspiration in seasonal ingredients, but it can also be an idea triggered from a great meal out, a memory of a dish I had as a child or a reinvention of a classic.

Who was your greatest influence?
One of them is definitely Tim Maddams, who was my head chef at River Cottage. He taught me the importance of provenance, how to make the most of wild ingredients, and also that having a restriction in the kitchen, in this case using solely seasonal and local produce, can often be the greatest source of inspiration. Nuno Mendes was also a great inspiration when I was working at Viajante. He is incredibly skilful and creative when it comes to pairing unusual flavours on a dish, and he taught me a great deal about using modern culinary techniques to create dishes that are full of intriguing flavours and textures, and that are also visually very impactful.

Tell us three chefs you admire
David Kinch (Manresa in California), Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken in Sweden) and Tom Kerridge (The Hand and Flowers in Marlow).

What is your favourite cookbook?
At the moment I love Gather by Gill Meller. We used to work together at River Cottage, and it is great to see everything he has achieved. Gather is a beautifully shot book, full of honest recipes, and it really reminds me of cooking back home in Devon.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Barrafina has always been one of my favourite restaurants in London, so I am really intrigued to see what Nieves Barragán Mohacho’s next project will be now that she has left the group. Also Leandro Carreira (ex-Viajante and Lyle’s) is an old friend, and having worked together for many years I have no doubt that his upcoming restaurant will be one to watch.

What's been your favourite new restaurant opening of the past year?
A restaurant called Norn in Edinburgh. I went late last summer, not really knowing what to expect, but every dish was delicious and intriguing, and celebrated the most amazing Scottish produce.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion for food and base skills in the kitchen came from my grandfather. He was a great cook, and would often spend all day in the kitchen. I would wake up to freshly baked bread rolls every morning – it was as if he never slept! He liked big flavours and simple combinations. Traditional dishes that you just can’t beat – steamed treacle sponge, baked ham and eggs, liver and bacon, Queen of Puddings. When I was finding it tough in kitchens after I first moved to London, he would say ‘it’s only cooking’, something that I find incredibly grounding to this day. 

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