Interview with Craig Gray, Head Chef at ICEBAR LONDON
What’s your earliest foodie memory from when you were a child?
My earliest foodie memory has to be visits to my Gran’s house. She lived in West Port, which is a very remote part of New Zealand, so not even a supermarket nearby. As such, she grew pretty much everything herself, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, and the house was always surrounded by beautiful colours – and flavours of course! I remember heading out into the garden and just picking things and eating them right there. Raspberries were a special treat.
What was the defining moment that made you think ‘yes, I’m going to be a chef’?
I didn’t really start thinking seriously until after I was 21. Before then I’d been travelling and generally doing my best to stay off anything that looked like a career path, but when I started to think more seriously about the future it was my Mum who first gave me the inspiration to look at becoming a chef.
She’s a cook at a private hospital, so a very different working environment from a restaurant in some ways, but actually many of the challenges are pretty similar; Taste is always key whoever you’re cooking for, and of course you have to be a particular type of person to enjoy working long hours on your feet in a hot kitchen!
It was my Mum who actually suggested I consider this direction and encouraged me to sign up for Cooking School. I’ve come a long way since then, but she’s still a better cook than me, of course.
Where were you trained and how tough was it?
I trained in a culinary academy in New Zealand and then moved to Melbourne and got a job at the 3 Hat Taxi Dining room when it was at the peak of its popularity and winning all kinds of awards. The executive chef there was Michael Lambie, who trained under Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s, so lots of shouting in the kitchen as you can imagine.
I remember one time we had a dish that was a take on a classic steak pie but with the steak and pie as two separate components on the plate. They were hugely popular, only I made the mistake of not properly checking we had the same number of steaks as we did pies in our mise en place. I only made that mistake once!
What’s your favourite dish that you’ve ever created?
I don’t really have a favourite dish as food is always changing and I really like to work with local and seasonal produce wherever I am, and a good chef also always needs to tailor their menu to the space they are working in. It’s great to exceed a guest’s expectations with the quality and presentation of food, but I always remember we’re cooking for them not for ourselves.
That said, I love the idea of working with wild and foraged products like less common leaves, herbs and vegetables. Chervil root is a particular favourite of mine. It’s local, versatile but not well known at all because all of our main supermarkets are very poorly limited in the range of what they offer. Get yourself to a Farmer’s Market now and try some for yourself!
Other than your own, which restaurant would you recommend to our readers?
It’s hard to pick just one, but my Top Three right now would be Lyles, The Corner Room and St John Bread and Wine
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
Nothing beats a good burger for a guilty pleasure – simple, classic, delicious.