Interviews

Ben Chapman, Kiln and Smoking Goat

We talk to the man behind the food at London restaurants Kiln and Smoking Goat.

What is your favourite time of year for food?
When the weather is on the turn in April and our fishermen start talking about sightings of wild sea trout. We’ll usually have new-season fragrant jasmine rice from Thailand arriving around that time, too.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The moment when you see that a tiny embryo of an idea you had in your head a while back has grown and inspired someone sufficiently that they are willing to dedicate their time to perfecting it and teaching others how to do it.

What do you like most about cooking over a wood fire?
The honesty, the flavour – it’s just pleasure in the simplest terms. Truthfully, I don’t actually know how to cook any other way.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Making things too expensive. It’s a very significant part of the job to be creatively good enough to provide at least reasonable value without compromising on ingredients.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Perhaps something like the herbal curry soup of pork. It’s our version of gaeng om, a rural, very Thai dish with fermented freshwater fish – the type you rarely see in restaurants. We only serve it when we have the fresh lemongrass tops that are grown for us by Sean O’Neill of The Modern Salad Grower in Cornwall. It shows how dedication on the quality of each and every ingredient makes a simple, humble dish extraordinary.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Principally, we start with the best ingredients we can source or have grown for us. Then I’m looking for dishes that have struck me when eating with the team on research trips around Thailand.

Who was your greatest influence?
Certainly Andy Oliver at Som Saa showed me the righteous path with his wonderful knowledge of Thai food when I was first becoming interested in it. Then Matt Chatfield, who set up the Cornwall supply chains we work so closely with. Matt’s fixation on finding new ways to improve the quality of what we can grown here is very inspiring to us.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Tom Adams at Coombeshead Farm, Dylan and Bo at Bo.lan in Bangkok, and Ann at Bangkok Bold, also in Bangkok.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Thai Food by David Thompson is an extraordinary thing. There’s a lifetime’s cooking in there.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I’m biased, but I think Ali Borer, head chef at Smoking Goat, has a wonderfully natural understanding of the smoky Thai flavours we serve, and he’s particularly fantastic with fish. Also Chris Leach, the head chef at Sager + Wilde, who was previously sous chef at Kitty Fisher’s. A lot of people are excited to see what Chris will do this year.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening during the past year?
Som Saa, of course, but DUM Biryani is also fantastic.

What’s the secret of your success?
I suppose I try to make restaurants that don’t make sense and don’t make money. Not sure you can call that a secret, but it works for us.