Interview with an Innovator

Holborn Dining Room’s Calum Franklin: ‘We are scratching the surface of savoury pastry dishes based on British food history’

Ahead of British Pie Week, the executive head chef and pie master talks to Sarah Sharples about how architecture influences his food, clean eating and selling hundreds of Scotch eggs a day.

1 March 2019
bakerybritishchefsfarmingmeatrestaurants

Franklin on Paper – CV

  • Began culinary training at Michelin-starred Chapter One in Kent
  • Went on to work at The Ivy, Indigo at One Aldwych Hotel and as senior sous-chef at Roast in Borough Market
  • Appointed executive head chef of Holborn Dining Room in 2014 and replaced the deli with the Pie Room in 2018

When pastry expert and chef Calum Franklin found some ancient pate en croute moulds in the basement of the Rosewood hotel, it started a journey into the tradition of pie making and the history of British food.

This history is driving some of the menu development at Holborn Dining Room, where he is the executive chef – particularly in its specially designed Pie Room. It’s here that he works with his team to create hundreds of pies each week, from hot eats like pork and black pudding pie, to cold counter options like pork and pistachio en croute.

Intricate lattices adorn these creations, inspired by Franklin’s appreciation of design. “I love the architecture that surrounds us in this city and I wanted to find an original way to link the two to my own work to give it a sense of place,” he says. “I’m also slightly on the wrong side of obsessive about things so can get easily fixated on elements of design in work and need to snap out of it.”

Revival of the pie is just beginning, according to Franklin, who predicts more British restaurants will feature the savoury delicacy on menus, while ye olde pie shoppe will make a comeback with better ingredients and a slightly higher price point.

It’s not all about pie for Franklin – though it mostly is – as he takes us through his recipe development, opinions on clean eating and the restaurant’s piece de resistance: curried mutton shoulder pie.

 

I ended up specialising in pies when I stopped looking at what other successful chefs were cooking and achieving, and just focused on cooking the food that made me happy. I was lucky that it was a good fit for the [Holborn Dining Room], but it was a calculated risk. We introduced more pies and savoury pastry over time to make sure that it was being well received first before just going all in.

My biggest highlight of my career so far has been developing Holborn Dining Room and the team here to the point we are at today, and I know it still has so much potential to improve further.

I have a brilliant senior team here at the restaurant, so generally there is very little admin for me to do. They take on those jobs so they are constantly learning what is required to be a successful head or exec chef, and when they are ready to leave they will be confident and professional.

The senior team and I will sit around a table and dissect the menu, what works, what we are bored of, what is going out of season, what is coming into season that we would love to put on, and then we brainstorm. I’ve got a huge amount of experience amongst those chefs at the table so it would be arrogant and counterproductive for me to just say: ‘This is what we are doing, now get on with it.’ We then go into a period of development on dishes till they are right; some tweaks can take a few weeks and some new items can take months.

Chicken, girolle & taragon pie

I like to run the pass in lunch service. I’ve always enjoyed being in the thick of things and am desperate to always improve how I do it – I’d love to run it in the zen-like manner I‘ve seen some chefs do it over the years.

At dinner, I like to be more hands off in the service and let the seniors run the pass. I like getting stuck in when I’m needed or helping on sections. This is very much a tight team here at the restaurant, reliant on everyone working well together, and I like the younger chefs to see me getting involved on their sections and showing them the right way to do things. I’ll leave around 10.30/11pm and be home by midnight most nights.    

We make hundreds of pies a day as we are creating for the a la carte, the retail and also special bespoke pies, so there is a huge amount of labour and craft going on in the Pie Room every day. I couldn’t pin a number on how many every week as the weather can affect sales throughout, but needless to say the chefs are always busy.

I love our curried mutton shoulder pie. It’s a good example of a combination of things that make me happy: bold flavours; well-sourced, immaculate ingredients; intricate design. It always reminds me of the day I got engaged, because I had a curried lamb pie for lunch that day and started to think about how we could refine that for our menu – whilst thinking about proposing obviously.

Curry mutton pie

I find often that at first a dish’s success lies in the hands of the front of house – if you can get them excited and enthused about a dish, they will sell it for you all day in the restaurant.

When we first put our Scotch egg on the menu, it was very simple, just good ingredients and well made, but was quite unusual to a lot of our team who have never seen it before in their food cultures and I guess it probably does seem a little odd at first. It really didn’t sell at all, and then we won best Scotch egg at the annual Scotch Egg Challenge and all of a sudden they got right behind it and we sell hundreds every day now.

I think we will see more pies across menus in British restaurants. Chefs are appreciating the craft behind them more in the last few years.

I see a move away from clean eating as the public is becoming more aware that it's a dangerous, unregulated market with alienation of important food groups in diets based on opinions of lifestyle bloggers without any dietary expertise or qualification.

Filipino cuisine has a big momentum in the cities at the moment, but in terms of influencing the whole of the country, I don't know if we are going to be seeing much change. We are turning this country into an insular little island and I think that's sad.

Farming is going to be a huge topic of conversation in the next year as we struggle to meet demands placed on us by Brexit and moves are made to import previously illegal, mass-produced, steroid-fed meats from the US. We will be looking very carefully at our supply chain in the restaurant and making sure that the ingredients we use are ethically produced British goods at whatever cost.

We work with lots of small producers who are very careful and protective of their goods. People who would rather risk phoning you to say that something’s not quite right and they can’t supply that day than compromise their product. What’s the worst that can happen? That I take a dish off for a day? I am very happy to work with people like that.

We are scratching the surface in terms of developing savoury pastry dishes based on British food history – that is something I’m extremely passionate about. We are not going to reproduce word for word recipes from the 1600s, but we are going to apply the skills we have now and the beautiful ingredients within our reach to show respect to that part of our culture.

Being too reliant on a gimmick to make a menu work, it’s a huge gamble and the success rate of places like that is minuscule, but those that do succeed are much more visible than the failures. It’s the rate of the latter that should be paid a little more heed.

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