Hawksworth: The Cookbook is a stunning collection of the recipes that have made celebrated Chef Hawksworth‘s career to date. There’s something for new and experienced chefs alike: Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Pickled Ramps Ranch to show-stopping feats of culinary skill like Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with Piquillo Pepper, Parsley, and Beef Tendon. Chef Hawksworth talked to Jacob Richler about his time training in London with Michelin-starred chefs like Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White.
AS A YOUNG CHEF I QUIT VANCOUVER TO TRAIN IN THE NEW CULINARY CAPITAL OF LONDON. IT TURNED MY WORLD UPSIDE DOWN.
I had no idea. Not a clue.
It was November 1992. Le Manoir had held two Michelin stars since it opened in 1984, and Raymond Blanc was still fighting hard for a third. Marco Pierre White had collected his second star for Harveys four years previous, making him the youngest chef to ever earn the honour (he was 28). His kitchen brigade there included future legends like Gordon Ramsay, Philip Howard, Éric Chavot, Stephen Terry, Tim Payne and Tim Hughes. And I was thinking that I’d land at one restaurant or the other, and that either way it would just turn out to be mildly harder than working at Le Crocodile. In the end I got lucky. Marco had just gone into partnership with Michael Caine to open a casual restaurant at Chelsea Harbour. They called it The Canteen. It was big—huge back then—at nearly 200 seats, one of the first gastrodomes. Marco and his partners were scrambling to staff it.
I arrived in London and pulled into my sad little hostel in Bayswater to find a message waiting there for me: “Someone named Marco rang for you. He wants you to come by The Canteen.”
The next day I walked into the restaurant and promptly took a merciless ribbing from the chefs for showing up in a suit. There was no interview; they just asked if I could start the following day. I begged for two extra days to get settled, and then, when I showed up for work, was summarily informed, “Well, you’re from Canada—you’ll start on fish!” Based on what logic? Next thing I knew, some chef was yelling at me, “Hey—go get the loup de mer!” Or the bream or rouget or turbot. “Turbo”? I thought that was part of a car. I’d never heard of these fish and couldn’t tell one from another. What happened to all the chinook and halibut?
The Canteen was insanely busy right out of the gate, and at the start I really had no idea what was going on. It was as if I had signed up for the army expecting to be made a clerk, and instead was told, “No— you’re going to be a Navy SEAL!” It was that difficult. A cook’s work is extremely demanding physically. The hours were crazy. We worked from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. There was hardly any time in the day left for sleeping—and even when I did, I was always waking up in a panic thinking I’d overslept and was going to be fired for showing up late.
The executioner would have been one of the two seasoned Harveys veterans—Stephen Terry and Tim Hughes—who then ran The Canteen kitchen. Tim in particular was a merciless taskmaster. You did not mess around in the kitchen when Tim was there. Stand still for a second—he’d yell at you.
My plan had originally been to stay in London for two years. After three months, I was thinking it would be better to just grab every recipe I could and get back home.
I’d somehow landed in the Premier (Culinary) League. What I really needed was to start all over again, at the bottom. So instead of quitting, after four months at The Canteen, I wangled a job interview at Le Manoir in Oxfordshire, scheduled for my next day off.
So there I was, running late, fretting in the back seat of a minicab on the ride from the Oxford train station to Le Manoir, about 20 minutes away in Great Milton. We were getting close, when the driver began to drift into the right lane—into oncoming traffic—and I’m thinking, “Are we turning? I don’t see a driveway, I don’t see the Manoir…” We weren’t turning. Not on purpose, anyway; my minicab driver had fallen asleep. We had a head-on collision. The noise was shocking, and I ended up headfirst in the front seat footwell, with blood and glass everywhere. I wanted to throttle the driver; instead, I was taken to hospital strapped to a gurney. From my hospital bed, I called The Canteen kitchen to tell them I couldn’t make it in for work— and Tim Hughes got on the line, evidently thinking I was just another chancer phoning in sick after a night at the pub.
“I’ve had a car accident.” “Where?”
“You’ve got one day off, and you’re in Oxford? What the fuck are you doing in Oxford? Whereabouts in Oxford? You’ve been at the fucking Manoir, haven’t you? You’ve been trying out for Blancie. Did you get the job?”
Not that time. But a month later I went back, and I did.
Excerpted from HAWKSWORTH: THE COOKBOOK by chef David Hawksworth, Jacob Richler and Stéphanie Noël. Appetite by Random House, $45