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This week we’ve managed to get a hold of Ben Purton, executive chef at the Royal Horseguards hotel in central London to chat to him about chef life — inside and outside the kitchen…

You may recognise Ben from MasterChef: he (bravely) took a band of contestants under his wing in the show’s latest season and let them loose in his kitchen to see if they could take the heat. But you’ll usually catch him pouring over recipe books for new ideas, slaving over a stove, keeping a beady eye on his team and meeting diners at the hotel’s AA Rosette award-winning One Twenty One Two restaurant, where he is executive chef. Here are his thoughts on everything from the importance of knives to his efforts to stay trim when he’s surrounded by food all day…

1.  How would you describe your food?

I’m a Brit through and through and my career has taken me via French and Italian cuisine, but British is where my heart is. Modern British with a twist and a nod to Europe — that’s my kind of food.

2. Are your days very long?

Long days and short nights are the way of the chef. It’s not unusual to be in for 7am to oversee the busy breakfast service (we see around 350 covers every morning) and then to be discussing how an evening event has gone with a guest at 11pm. There is no real typical day but we do all the things you would expect, oversee and drive the breakfast (with a cheeky bacon sarnie tasting every now and again!), morning operations meeting at 10am where we discuss yesterday’s performance and what we’ve got on that day.

From 10:30 – 12, we’re mostly just getting ready for the lunch service, making sure the guys have all they need. A typical lunch service at The Royal Horseguards hotel keeps us busy till closing, especially in the summer when the terrace is in use. Sometimes lunchtime can extend to 6pm, by which point we’re starting to welcome to our dinner guests. And that's just the restaurant and lounge — add in a few hundred here and there from meetings and events and you get the full picture. 3.

How do you stay in shape when you’re tasting food all day?

Stay in shape? I'm not sure I ever got there! I do have a pretty bad diet, I’m afraid. Like most chefs, I tend to graze all day and then grab something late on the way home. But I also do so much running around and getting my heart rate up during service that it’s probably just as good as any gym workout. Saying that, I’ve just bought a bike and I’m (trying) to work up to cycling the 15 mile journey from home to work.

4.  Favourite kitchen gadget?

We love a Thermomix at the One Twenty One Two restaurant. To think that not that long ago the blenders were pretty basic: it's amazing to see what they’ve evolved into. I also love getting a brand new Rational oven when we upgrade (very big hint!) and seeing how these bits of kit have continually improved as the industry changes.

5.  Favourite meal to eat at home

Home food means family food. We love a good pasta night at my house. Sunday roasts are a great family tradition and our Purton fry ups are the stuff of legend. But my ultimate family meal has got to be a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb (which simmers for five hours), potato dauphinoise, carrots from the garden and a thyme and rosemary jus (well sauce at home or I get laughed at!). It hits the spot every time.

6.  How important are your knives to you? Any favourites?

Knifes are amazingly important in the chef world and everyone has their favourite. But you have to look after them — they can stay with you through your career. I sharpen mine briefly before each use and then maybe again at the end of the shift if they need it. I’ve always been a Victorinox guy and their pastry knife has seen me through many years in the kitchen. But I don't really have one favourite: if you’re going to carve 30 sides of smoked salmon, cut a few hundred steaks or prepare a few thousand portions of finger sandwiches, you will need a very different knife for each job.

7. What’s the biggest trend in the restaurant industry this year?

Everyone still seems to love a pop-up and a small plate. We sell loads of tasting menus in One Twenty One Two as the guests love the idea of letting us do the choosing for them, plus they get to try a bit of everything. I think one of the problems with trends is that by the time we start talking about them, they’re usually coming to an end. What’s the next trend? That's what I’m interested in.

Did you enjoy reading about Ben? Why not leave a comment for him here or get in touch if you’d like to feature on the Lockhart Catering blog in future?


Lockhart Catering on 22 August 2013 1:42 AM

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