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Food & Drink

Kitchen Confidential: Valentine Warner

Debonair steps into the kitchen with the celebrity chef and fishing enthusiast known for his robust flavours

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little. ~Epicurus

What’s your earliest food memory? On holiday in the Seychelles aged 3 and being allowed to “seemingly” walk to the local shop to buy mangoes. My parents followed me hiding behind trees to make sure I wasn’t going to spend my holiday allowance on anything unhealthy.

How did you enter the industry? I was a portrait painter on leaving art college and was busy enough. One day in 1996, sitting outside a café I realised I spent far more time thinking about roasted goat and tomato salad than art. I realised I also needed more discipline in my life. The next day I walked into the Halcyon restaurant in Holland Park and said, “I’m very interested in food, can I have a job?” The head chef replied, “See you tomorrow at 8am.”

Overnight I put down the brush and picked up the spoon.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little. ~Epicurus

Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure? I’m born of an energetic nature. I move a lot and prefer standing to sitting down. So in a way it’s a perfect job or environment for me.

Bullying and stress doesn’t complement learning. I never worked for any of the brutes. I worked in small kitchens with a steeper, faster learning curve. Alistair Little, who I’d always describe as one of the most important British cooks of our time, was the man who really threw open the doors of what it was to understand food. It was too fun to be stressed anyway. 

How often do you cook outside the workplace? Every day. It is a necessity, essential, second nature. Changing geography always puts me near ingredients I want to cook with and experiment with new flavours.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable? Contramar in Mexico City is my favourite fish restaurant. I ate there every day for a week to complete the menu twice. The split grilled fish and half red chipotle salsa half green is not only a fine thing to look upon but delicious too. The tuna tostada is also epic! Epic — a word I use rarely.

Changing geography always puts me near ingredients I want to cook with and experiment with new flavours.

Conversely, what would you never eat again? White chocolate — it’s the only thing I won’t eat. I dislike it intensely.

Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home? I guess anyone who properly cooks in a world where we are required to less and less should get a brownie point — we should all cook. It’s a life skill, good for our minds and self-sufficiency. Most important of all it keeps us in contact with processes we’d be wise to remember and above all, the natural world (food, after all, is nature brought indoors). The more we are distanced from food, the closer we are to a catastrophic outcome for nature, the environment and ourselves. 

What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen? Keep it simple! 

What’s your one indispensible kitchen implement? My fishing rods.

What new trends are you seeing, and how do you feel about it? Japanese concentration and attention to detail is being noticed at last.

There’s also a lot of cooking over wood; long may it last. And less exhausting and pointlessly complicated fine dining, in favour of more paired-down offerings but done beautifully with deep understanding. Food is entering a kind of arts and crafts movement.

Then, lacto fermentation is riding a wave. And there’s far too many “high end” but second-rate barbecue ventures. It’s expensive junk.

Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table? My father — I miss him terribly.

If you could choose your final meal, what would it be? Plateau de fruits de mer, or a seafood platter, and a bottle of good, cold cider.

Why Taste of Dubai? I haven’t been to Dubai and this will be my first time. So, when the organisers got in touch with me I took the opportunity and I am very excited to be at Taste of Dubai. I am looking forward to meet all the chefs and exchange various culinary ideas.

Valentine Warner is among a host of international chefs confirmed for Taste of Dubai. Now in its 11th year, the event runs March 8-10 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre

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