Ahead of the pub­li­ca­tion of his first book, Birm­ing­ham’s Miche­lin-starred chef and TV per­son­al­ity Glynn Pur­nell talks to Schön! about sac­ri­fice, sys­tems and sous-vide cooking.

Schon! - - On A Plate -

In 2011, the BBC raised eye­brows when it an­nounced Birm­ing­ham as the foodie cap­i­tal of the UK, but that was no fluke, be­cause The New York Times sub­se­quently named the city in its list of the world’s top twenty travel des­ti­na­tions, largely on the ba­sis of its di­verse cui­sine. Bri­tain’s sec­ond city now has four restau­rants that can boast a Miche­lin star, and the jewel in its culi­nary crown is chef Glynn Pur­nell, who won the first.

“When I opened in Birm­ing­ham in 2003, it was a culi­nary desert,” he says, in the thick­est of Brummy ac­cents. “By the time I was 30, I had a Miche­lin star at Jes­sica’s, the first one in the city cen­tre, a lit­tle house and a son. Two years later, I walked away from my Miche­lin star, re­mort­gaged the house and put it all on the line to buy Pur­nell’s. We’re now nearly seven years old.” Pur­nell shows me around the kitchen ahead of a typ­i­cally busy Satur­day din­ner ser­vice. There is a healthy level of ban­ter, but none of the hy­per­ma­cho plate throw­ing an­tics of gas­tro­nomic stereo­type. Pur­nell may be the head chef, but says that “be­cause the sys­tems have been put in place since the day we opened, gen­er­ally, it runs like clock­work.”

In per­son, Pur­nell is as en­gag­ing, funny and chaotic as his dishes are re­fined, el­e­gant and rich. He’s be­com­ing a house­hold name, via The Great Bri­tish Menu and Satur­day Kitchen, amongst other popular shows, and 25 years into his ca­reer, he’s writ­ten his first book. Crack­ing Yolks and Pig Tales con­tains over 110 recipes, punc­tu­ated with joc­u­lar anec­dotes and high-def­i­ni­tion food photography. “I was be­ing courted by a cou­ple of pub­lish­ers, but then I met Kyle [Cathie, MD of Kyle Books], who was very, very in­ter­ested in the way I cook, the way I think, and my sto­ries,” he says. “I had a big in­put in the de­sign and we had a fan­tas­tic team from the de­sign­ers to the edit­ing to the pub­lish­ers them­selves, so that’s an­other part of my life that can lit­er­ally be shelved.”

Pur­nell in­tro­duces me to each sta­tion, whilst talk­ing me through the jour­ney a boat-caught monk­fish makes from the wa­ters of Brix­ham, Devon, to ta­ble six, in one day. Sous-vide cooking (a process in which the prod­uct is vac­uum-sealed and cooked in a wa­ter bath at 63 de­grees Cel­sius) sounds ex­haust­ing, but his sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion makes me ques­tion why peo­ple don’t use it more, in the home as well as in restau­rants. “Some­times on tele­vi­sion I might do some­thing sim­pler be­cause I want to en­cour­age peo­ple to cook and be a bit more ad­ven­tur­ous, whereas in the restau­rant I like to do things for peo­ple that they can’t do at home.

“What we don’t do is use a tech­nique just be­cause it’s fash­ion­able. We cook in a way that we be­lieve is get­ting the best out of the pro­duce, so by cooking the monk­fish sous-vide, we think it comes out a lot bet­ter than if I’d sim­ply pan roasted it. The spices will scorch, it will over­cook on the out­side quicker, so by sous-vide- ing and salt­ing it, the in­gre­di­ents sing. If the mod­ern tech­nique doesn’t en­hance the old tech­nique, we stick to the old.”

A work­ing class, six-foot-one Birm­ing­ham City foot­ball fan with a keen in­ter­est in mixed mar­tial arts, Pur­nell ap­plies the purées and gar­nishes to his plates with an in­versely fine dex­ter­ity. His plates look like they were found pris­tine in the wild. “It’s nice to let the in­gre­di­ent look like the in­gre­di­ent, with­out too much ma­nip­u­la­tion,” he says. “If you just drop a piece of fish onto a plate and it falls apart, let it fall apart. If it wants to be there, it’s go­ing to be there. Be­cause it’s so nat­u­ral-look­ing, it feels com­fort­able to eat.”

Per­haps what makes Pur­nell most spe­cial is his mix­ing of high and low cul­tures. From help­less gig­gles brought on by his ren­di­tion of a French clas­sic, the ‘Re­moulade 2012’, to gasps of awe at the pre­sen­ta­tion of his ‘Mint Choccy Chip’, his food is as full of hu­mour, tech­ni­cal rigour and per­son­al­ity as he is. Ev­ery dish truly is Glynn Pur­nell on a plate.

Crack­ing Yolks and Pig Tales is pub­lished by Kyle Books, 2014

Words / Paul John Men­dez Photography / Laura Ed­wards

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.