It seems that, in this day and age, famous chefs are not hard to come by. They’re basically everywhere. You’ll find them starring in their own reality TV series, dazzling their fans in public book signings or preparing lavish dinners at award shows. They’re rock stars, the Jaggers and Bonos of culinary arts.
The unsung hero always pushing himself, responsible for entire experiences, rather than just fancy dishes. Tim Spedding does not think of himself as an unsung hero, but he’s undoubtedly extraordinary.
Finishing off his chef residency at London’s P Franco, the former sous chef of the Michelin-starred The Clove Club now sets his sight on a project of his own. Before that, he sat down with CHEVET to appreciate his past, acknowledge his mentors in the field and look forward to a bright future. Our palate just can’t wait.
Tim Spedding by Sam Hendel
How do you feel in the position you’re currently in, moving from a one Michelin star restaurant like The Clove Club, to P Franco?
P Franco has a great energy about it which is brought about by Phil & Mac who are two passionate guys that love to entertain and share interesting wine. Their enthusiasm is infectious and has made the transformation really enjoyable. I am just trying to enjoy everyday cooking for supportive locals and friends that pop by. I think most chefs that I have spoken to really like the idea of doing a really small place with lots of limitations that is just very relaxed and low expectation – where you can just cook what you like and not have to worry about staffing, long term projections etc.
With William Gleave’s leaving the kitchen in P Franco, did you feel some pressure coming into this new responsibility?
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for William, He’s an absolute gentleman and great Chef. He has also been very supportive of me even helping me prep the first menu together. I would not set out to compete with William just trying to do my own food which is actually very similar to his which is probably why we get on well.
What ‘style’ are you presenting to diners in Clapton?
I feel like one of the draws of P. Franco for me was that it would help me determine what style of food my restaurant might be. Due to the nature of P Franco being very small it forces one to be clever with how the menu is created.
I try to work with as many small producers as possible that l have a genuine affinity for such as Organiclea, a small social co-operative growing organic fruit and vegetables near by. That means I can be very seasonal.
There is a definite Italian flavour – brought on by a lot of my favourite winemakers and Japanese from my unique supply of Cornish Fish and Vegetables from a Japanese family in East Sussex.
You’ve been able to go from strength to strength, building your way up in Britain and abroad. What is the secret to the success and achievements of Tim Spedding?
Er – Think you must have the wrong person.
What was your first approach to food, or better yet, the first time you’ve been able to appreciate the makings of cooking food?
Surely it’s your mother’s cooking right ? Growing up in exotic places like Abu Dhabi, Nigeria and to a lesser extent Yorkshire my Mum, Sheryl, was very creative and would smuggle food onto planes and across checkpoints using my brothers as shields so we could have some home comforts.
Did you feel, in the beginning of your career, that it was all moving slowly or did you use persistence as an advantage?
I’ve never been particularly ambitious and am still taking a very steady rise to Head Chef. Some of the incredibly talented and driven young chefs I have been privileged enough to mentor make me realize how important a good start is in your career. At the same time, I’ve been fortunate to work for some great chefs that have persisted with me for which I’m very grateful.
Who can you name as mentors in your illustrious path? And who do you see yourself cooking along with?
Working for Brett Graham and Greg Austin at The Ledbury was a huge learning curve for me, The energy at The Ledbury was incredible , always pushing and striving to improve. They are still both very supportive.
At The Ledbury I also met Isaac who I immediately wanted to work with as he was (and still is) full of great ideas and always progressive and a lovely funny gentleman. Isaac [McHale, the “rarest of chefs, a creative risk-taker who never loses sight of the need to nail that all-essential deliciousness,” according to Marina O’Loughlin at The Guardian] gave me a huge opportunity, to be his Sous Chef [at The Clove Club], which made me step up a lot for which i will always be very grateful.
Most people see chefs as laborious people, or even reckless at times. What has been your relationship to your fellow chefs, then and now?
I’ve always tried to be respectful to my fellow chefs. Now, I work on my own so am even more grateful if one of my friends is helping me out. Ironically, as I am currently in a brigade of one, my most appealing aspect of a kitchen is the teamwork which is crucial.
As a chef, what do you think makes a really good dish? The kind you’d remember for days on end?
A Dish that is inventive yet seems effortless and tastes great. Often a perfect marriage of ingredients.
What is the dish you feel most proud of?
Like most chefs I’m more critical of my own dishes than anyone else.
“Here are some nice photos from a lunch we did at P Franco with the wine maker Gabrio Bini last year. It was the first time he had ever done a tasting of all his reserve wines outside Pantaleria.” Tim Spedding recalls.
In the mindset of an organic gardener, as you are, what items do you have in mind to add to your restaurant’s menu?
I just get inspired by the natural beauty of plants, for example the inside shell of Borlotti bean pod, the spots on bloody cos or fresh White Currants it’s as much hobby just for admiring the plants as to serve them in my restaurant one day.
What’s in the DNA of an organic gardener?
Hmmmm- Much to my parents disappointment Biology was never my strong point. You can get by with enthusiasm.
Few culinary capitals can compete with London. Do you agree or do you have a different vision on the city’s gastronomic scene?
I would love to travel more to be a better judge, I’ve never been to Japan, China or many other countries with rich food cultures.
I think there are exciting great restaurants in London but I don’t see it as a culinary capital compared to Paris, Bangkok, New York or Mexico City let alone Tokyo or Hong Kong. The grass is always greener mind you.
You’re a bright young man in the prime of your life. Are you focused on what’s happening at this moment or do you see a glimpse of what the future might bring?
That’s very kind.
I’m conscious of the future and more importantly the current political climate is most pressing for me. I’m looking to start a family and hope that we can create an environment that is safe for our children no matter what country they are from.