Table Talk: Patrick Powell
After studying culinary arts in Galway, Irish chef Patrick Powell began his cooking career at the Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain in Dublin, where he worked under the wing of Derry Clarke. A two-year stint at Cutler & Co in Melbourne followed, after which Powell moved to London to work with Anthony Demetre at Wild Honey. His next move took him to celebrity favourite, Chiltern Firehouse, where he worked alongside Nuno Mendes and developed his signature produce-driven style. Powell now heads up Allegra on the seventh floor of The Stratford hotel in east London.
Describe your earliest food memory….
Sitting in my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen, waiting for dinner to be ready. She was an exceptional cook who spent her days baking tarts and bread. I used to help her collect food from her vegetable garden. Everything was cooked in an old Stanley range. I remember the amazing smell that was always in that kitchen.
Did you always dream of becoming a chef or did you fall into it?
I’ve been into food and cooking from a very early age. My first job was as a kitchen porter at the age of 15. I loved the energy and excitement in the kitchen. From that point I knew it was for me.
What is it about the catering industry that has kept you hooked?
I love how it keeps moving and evolving. You can never sit still or rest on your laurels. There is always someone better who will come along. You have to have a lot of ambition, determination and a strong work ethic to thrive in hospitality. I guess that’s why chefs are so competitive.
What is the dish that you have created that you’re most proud of?
It’s hard to say but maybe the choux buns we do as a snack at Allegra. People like them and come back for them. The idea came from a conversation Nick, our sous chef, and I had in the park one day just before we opened so I’m not sure if I can say I created it. There have been many savoury choux buns and there will be many more.
What is your ultimate food and wine match?
Probably a bottle of rosé from Le Coste and anything cooked on a barbeque in the summertime with friends. If you have rosato, grilled meats, friends and sun you’re going to have a good time.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had in your life?
Probably when I ate at the original Noma with my old boss Nuno Mendes. We had an exceptional lunch there and I was particularly impressed by how amazing the service was. We staggered out onto the street after a very long lunch.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten while on your travels?
Either cod’s sperm or alligator.
Who is your culinary hero and why?
I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain. I read Kitchen Confidential when I was in my late teens and it put any doubt to rest about the industry I was getting into. I find his TV shows mesmerising. He transcends all genres through food and shows us how powerful food culture is. I’m also a big fan of David Kinch. There is something very beautiful and romantic about the way he speaks about and handles food.
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made while on the job?
I’ve probably let my anger get the better of me on more than one occasion.
What is your favourite season for food?
I love spring and summer for obvious reasons, but I also love going into winter after the first frost. The Irish country boy in me loves root vegetables.
What single ingredient do you rely on most in the kitchen?
Salt I guess….
What is the best bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk?
Working in hospitality you get to try fantastic wines that are often out of your pay grade. I think the occasion for drinking a good wine can often make a wine taste better. For Christmas last year, my partner got me 10 bottles of wine. We’ve shared them together at various points that year. She had been taking note of any I said I liked, which was a very sweet thing to do. All those wines will taste great.
What is your guilty pleasure food?
A double cheeseburger from McDonald’s. I hate myself for liking it, but I do. The key is to ask for extra pickles, onions and sauce so it isn’t too dry.
If you had to only eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’ve thought about this a lot and it’s a toss up between Japanese and Turkish. If I had to choose one I’d go with Turkish as the cuisine includes grilled meat and fish, bread, salads, pickles and grains – all the best things.