Interview with an Innovator

Hawksmoor’s Richard Turner: ‘We all eat too much meat and it’s not sustainable’

The man behind Pitt Cue and Meatopia UK is back with a new restaurant, Gridiron. He talks to Food Spark about the appeal of live-fire cooking and how Asia is influencing his food.

9 November 2018
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Turner on Paper – CV

  • Got his start under the Roux brothers, before working with Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffmann
  • Joined steakhouse Hawksmoor in 2009 as executive chef
  • Has a hand in numerous meat-centric ventures, from restaurant Pitt Cue and butcher Turner & George, to annual festival Meatopia

Richard Turner may have got his start in fine-dining haunts, but it’s with the simple tools of smoke and flame that he’s made his reputation.

His latest project, Gridiron, is described as a modern live-fire grill with a theatrical open kitchen. Turner oversees the menu with Colin McSherry (formerly of The Fat Duck), serving up dishes like whole-roasted turbot and smoked eel with braised shin of highland beef. His proudest creation, though, is his bone marrow XO sauce, derived from a trip to Hong Kong.

Asia is playing an increasing role in his cookery. In fact, Turner originally considered opening Gridiron in Bangkok, though the logistics led to a postponement of the plans – at least until 2019.

“I’m very keen on opening up in Asia,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Europe, but things are going a bit Pete Tong over here!”

As well as looking east, the meat maestro is also looking west – he will be part of the Hawksmoor team launching the brand into the American market, starting with New York next year.

Here, Turner talks to Food Spark about the ingredients he’s playing with and how the Meatopia festival has helped live-fire cooking to flourish.

 

My cooking has evolved. I cook much more simply than I did before. I used to try too hard, I believed Michelin was a thing – it’s not, it’s rubbish.

Because I worked in all these three-star restaurants, I kind of wanted to cook that way. Then I sort of grew up and came to terms with the fact that actually that’s not the way that people want to eat. So that’s when I started to cook simpler, in the Hawksmoor, Blacklock, Pitt Cue style of cooking.

At Gridiron, we make our own sausages and we do our own butchery. The duck sausages are fantastic.

The scallops with XO bone marrow sauce are superb. I went to Hong Kong earlier this year and did a whole XO sauce thing, where I went round the markets and bought all the ingredients, made XO sauce and brought it all back.

I like Asia.I like the flavours, I like the smells. There’s a little bit of Asian going on in Gridiron actually. Sneaky little touches.

Live-fire cooking is popular now because things like Meatopia and books by people like Francis Mallmann, Lennox Hastie and myself have captured everyone’s imagination. And it’s bloody tasty! You can’t beat a piece of meat or a piece of fish cooked over wood or charcoal, you just can’t beat it. It’s not hiding behind anything. It’s simplicity itself. No silly sauces or foams, or any of that malarkey. It’s just properly cooked over live-fire barbecue. And everybody loves barbecue, especially when cooked by a master or an expert.

Dexter rib on the bone

At Meatopia, we’re flying people in from all over the world, so it creates a kind of culture and community of live-fire cooks who all stay in contact with each other afterwards, talking to each other. It’s become a centre point for people to hook up and meet and talk about their live-fire lives. And it’s changed things.

The skill levels are just growing and growing every single year at Meatopia. When we first started, people were cooking a bit of steak and maybe a bit of sauce, but now they’re doing all sorts of outrageous stuff. We had Lennox Hastie cooking octopuses slowly over a period of hours from a height, and he was serving it with nduja, which is like a sausage from Italy. And the flavours were just immense, so much technique, so much interesting cookery – and it gets better every single year.

What creations am I proud of? The anchovy hollandaise is one of my creations. It’s often copied. It’s pretty special. At the moment, I like my XO bone marrow garnish. It’s a new one that I’ve just done recently. But also things like stilton hollandaise, there was no reference anywhere to stilton hollandaise until Hawksmoor did it nine years ago. Maybe someone had done it, but I couldn’t find it.

Matt Brown is a genius. He has pretty much taken over my role at Hawksmoor and is I think a better cook than me – he’s certainly more creative than me.

If you look at the latest Hawksmoor cookbook, that was a collaboration between me and Matt bouncing ideas around in the kitchen in Borough. Things like chicken juices with turbot and crispy chicken skin – this all comes from conversations between us.

We all eat too much meat and it’s not sustainable. We should eat less, better quality meat.

If vegetarians don’t eat meat, that means that there’s more good meat to go around – so I’m quite happy for vegetarians to carry on eating vegetables.

Sardines on toast

I like vegetables as well, so I’ve got no problem with it at all. I don’t think I could be vegan. But each to their own.

I make a lot of vegetable soups… We do all sorts of stuff at Gridiron with vegetables actually. We use squashes and pumpkins and celeriac. Vegetables are a bit more of a challenge but it’s great fun creating something out of vegetables. And Colin [McSherry], the head chef at Gridiron, is an absolute genius with vegetables. Some of his vegetable dishes are better than meat dishes, I’d say.

Ingredients I’m playing around with at the moment: miso and Madeira. When combined together, they make a really savoury flavouring for things. I’m working on that at the moment, playing around with it in my head. And, dare I say it, Marmite. All three ‘m’s. I haven’t quite worked out where it’s going to go.

My favourite meat is a bird, it’s goose. Then pork. Goose is savoury, rich, decadent. I only have it like once or twice a year, so it’s not an everyday thing, it’s a special occasion, like Christmas.

Highland cattle is the finest cattle in the world, pure bred, from the Isle of Mull. There’s a fold up there called Torloisk.

Favourite cut? I like rump. A good rump. If it’s hung properly and it’s from a good animal, it’s not tough at all. Sometimes it’s not far off a fillet.

Anything Fergus Henderson cooks, or his guys cook, in St. John’s blows me away time and time again. Other dishes that I think are fantastic: the bread and butter at Coombeshead Farm is pretty much everything you want in life, isn’t it? Tom Adams’ makes his sourdough himself – and he makes his own butter. It might sound a bit boring but it’s amazing. If you want something more exciting, then the scampi at Hawksmoor, which is crispy langoustine in batter. It’s just delicious. I could snack on that all day long.

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