Great food requires more than quality ingredients and experience – it also needs care and comfort, says Headland executive head chef Christopher Archambault
Christopher Archambault, executive head chef at Newquay’s Headland Hotel, admits his path to becoming a chef was not a traditional route beginning with studying English Literature, Philosophy and Political Science. ‘I was a fairly wild young gun and headed to Europe for an eight-week backpacking tour that turned into six years in Ireland. It’s easy to fall into kitchens and I just kept graduating to better restaurants. A bookworm since a child, I’ve read just about everything that pertains to cooking and the life. My favoured food style has varied over the years, fluctuating with those working around me or skirting the edges of trends, or even out of sheer boredom of repetition. I suppose my most formative years as a chef were the five years in London. I made a point of eating very well, that’s an important ingredient in learning… I’m also a keen writer and photographer relating to kitchen life and food. I suppose at heart, I’m a writer that cooks for a living.
Moving to Cornwall has been one of the better decisions in my life. Having lived far and wide, this finally feels like home.’
How would you describe your food style?
Runs the gamut. I started out in Italian-led, rustic food. The older you get as a chef, the more you draw upon the youth in your brigade, so for a time my offering became quite technical, more contrived. Now we’re back to more rustic. I like things to be clean and correct with bold flavours. I get bored easily, so even tried and tested dishes are constantly evolving.
Who has been your
The mothers associated with my upbringing, my own and those of friends and girlfriends. Incredible food when I was growing up. French/Italian influences. The older I get the more the mind wanders to the flavours of youth. Top dogs that had an influence in my formation would be Marco Pierre White, Mark Hix, Simon Hopkinson, Thomas Keller. Very fortunate to have worked with two of them.
How important is seasonality in your menu?
I used to be a food Nazi. Everything had to be in season. You relax a bit as you age. It’s still important, but in as big an operation as The Headland… the rules need to be bent at times. Life’s too short to stress over eating a raspberry in December. But of course, if we all followed nature’s rules, the earth would be in much better shape.
What is your favourite flavour/s of Cornwall?
The crab. The foraging is also quite good when you can find time.
What ingredient couldn’t you do without?
Garlic and lemon.
What was your most memorable meal?
When I was 25 I ate my first Michelin-starred meal at Patrick Guillbaud’s in Dublin. That was fairly life changing: seeing your reflection mirrored in a perfectly made sauce. Also, The Fat Duck. I was fortunate enough to eat there when it had one star, then much later when it had three. The chance to compare the editing and refinement process that had occurred in that time span was special. My favourite restaurant is Chez Bruce in London. Matt Christmas is a proper legend.
What makes a great meal?
An experienced and caring chef is very important; but this comes behind ambience, warm service, the right company and a restaurant that inhabits its own identity. The identity of a restaurant gives you confidence to dine in comfort. It’s an ingredient you can’t put your finger on or buy; you just know it when you walk in.
What is your food heaven?
It really does vary. Al fresco I think, when pressed. Eating campfire, barbecue, my back garden or on a terrace overlooking any body of water… outside basking in the sinking sun just makes it taste that much better.
What is your idea of food hell?
Heavily processed and overcooked food handled by uncaring individuals. You don’t need to have love in your heart to produce decent food, but you must care and have pride.
What’s going to be big in 2019?
Chefs. The industry is going to be forced into big changes with Brexit and beyond. Chefs will be in bigger demand, and the pool will keep getting smaller. Menus will need to be more thought out, classic fine dining will continue to wane, simple, more exacting food will continue to take over. Healthier food – especially with new calorie transparent legislation.