Q&A with Jason Atherton

Eve O'Sullivan
13 March, 2015

We ask our authors ten questions about their life-long love of food. This week, Jason Atherton talks beans on toast, why potatoes are his favourite ingredient and the value of patience in the kitchen.

What is your first memory of eating?

When I was a young kid I was addicted to beans on toast, it was all I would eat, a real comfort food and I still love it to this day!  My taste buds may have refined somewhat, I like beautiful fresh bread now with creamy butter, and hot baked beans and brown sauce, it’s the ultimate comfort food.  Food memories don’t have to be foie gras and truffles sitting in a three-star restaurant in France, I think it’s about what makes you feel really warm, fluffy and comforted – at least that’s works for me.

What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself?

Pulmonary steak Diane. That’s steak with fried onions, English mustard, cream, cognac and sliced button mushrooms. You pour the sauce all over the steak and you flambé it in front of the guest. When I was 16 it was the first dish I learned to cook and I was pretty proud of myself for making it.


What single ingredient can you attribute to a turning point in the way you cook?

Probably the humble potato…  the reason why I say that is because over the years my cooking has become more sophisticated with lesson the plate but using more humble ingredients to really shine through and using proper British produce. I think the potato is one of the most humble ingredients, but there is so many amazing things you can do with it. 

To whom do you owe your love of food, and why?

To myself I think, because I was obsessed with learning about how to be a great chef and the obsession with becoming a great chef turned into a massive love affair with food, and it’s spanned through the years.


As a chef, what has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn in the kitchen?

Patience. Patience is always very tough because you want to get everything perfect from day one, but you’ve got to slowly slowly take your time, teach young chefs behind you, teach your sous chefs at the side of you, until you can have a great kitchen. 

Is there a specific meal you regret cooking? If so, why?

When lamb necks became really trendy about 15 years ago I was head chef of a restaurant in Manchester and I’d never learned properly how to cook them. I ordered all these lamb necks and put them on the menu without trying them. It was a Saturday night service and we were packed. I started sending all these lamb necks out and medium rare and all the guests were sending them back complaining they were chewy, I must have had about 40 returned! It wasn’t until weeks later when I researched them properly that I learned that the best way to cook them was to braise them so that all the fat and sinew is broken down. It was the most disastrous night of service in my entire life but it was a lesson for me and I learned from it.

Aside from well-known accolades, what do you regard as your biggest achievement?

My family for sure. Being able to maintain a family alongside of working really hard. I have two beautiful daughters and a beautiful wife and they are my greatest achievement.

What recipe are you most proud of?

My braised oxtail recipe, which features on quite a few of our restaurant menus.  It’s really simple, but about a month ago I went to a really famous chef’s restaurant and had the exact same dish, it was very rubbery. I was shocked that a dish that to me is very basic could be done so wrong, and it made me realise that I’ve really got that recipe down to an art form. People keep coming again and again for a simple braised ox cheek with horseradish mashed potato, and to me that says a lot.

If you could give one piece of advice to a keen home cook, what would it be?

Just keep it simple, keep it simple until you are confident. Everything in life is about confidence whether that is dancing, singing, or fashion - whatever. You can experiment of course, but you’ve always got to start with the basics.

If you didn’t work in food, what would you do, and why?

I can’t imagine not working in food, but if that was the case I might possibly dabble in men’s fashion – it’s definitely something else that excites me!


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