“Turning ideas into plates of happiness”. Well prepared words from a well-known, TV chef megastar? It’s actually homegrown inspiration served up by private family chef, Gavin Hughes. He’s actually cooked for a fair number of superstar celebrities of his own too.
In this interview we’ll get to discover the names, which also happens to include a globally renowned celeb chef. But let’s go back to where it all began for Gavin. It’s not what you might have thought…
Home economics at school
Not every chef we interview at Life on the Pass fell in love with cooking by a hot stove in their mother or grandmother’s kitchen. Gavin’s inspiration for becoming a chef was his uncle. “He was a chef in the British Army, and so I was always interested in following his career choice… but not by joining the army”.
Gavin says he was also one of a minority of boys that took home economics at school. “I felt more creative and successful in cooking then I did in woodworking and metalwork”. Gavin was to go on to carve out his own particular career path in cooking and hospitality.
Hunters coming to the back door of the kitchen
During the early years of his career Gavin worked in regional hotels, where he says he was, “given the opportunity to deal with hunters coming to the back door of the kitchen selling various produce from land, sea and river, such as wild salmon, roe deer, venison, other game meats, and various wild mushrooms”.
Gavin says the experience of preparing produce from “that free range of nature’s larder, land to sea” is very much the inspiration for his creativity when he cooks today. The focus on local, seasonal, fresh produce is always a top concern among chefs, not least with Gavin.
Local farms and roadside boxes
“I can’t say it enough. I am absolutely driven to look for what’s in season, what’s being grown in the surrounding areas to where I am cooking. When I go to a region the first thing I do is visit local farms and roadside boxes to make use of what’s unique and specific to the area. The differences, which are related to the area in some shape or form, are a great source of inspiration for incorporating into ideas for new dishes”.
Gavin mentions a few of examples of dishes he’s currently cooking, such as a stone fruit salad with Italian ham, raspberry vinegar, local feta, pickled yellow banana and peppers. “Tuna is really looking good at the moment, as it’s just coming into tuna season. I love to cook yellow fin tuna, quickly seared under charcoal on the barbeque and served with a classic salad of potatoes, olives, green beans, anchovies and tomatoes”.
Gavin says he believes, “beyond the instant eye catching appeal, knowing that the ingredients are fresh and local is what people really crave and take the greatest pleasure in when their dish is served”.
“Nicole Kidman asked for an egg white omelette”
Which brings us to the tantalising question about preparing meals for those celebrities that Gavin mentions are career highlights.
“Among the many I have cooked for and also admire is Billy Connolly, who I think is a very funny comedian, and Nicole Kidman. I was head chef at the Byron at Byron Resort and Spa when Nicole came up to the pass at breakfast time. She asked for an egg white omelette, which I was more than happy to do for her. I was a little nervous but she came up at the end of breakfast saying it was the one of the best omelettes she’s ever had. That was a really nice and personally thoughtful thing for her to do”.
Then there was the day Gavin met the internationally renowned French chef, Raymond Blanc, MBE. “After his lunch Raymond came into the kitchen to meet all the chefs. He picked up one of the bread rolls which was frozen and asked us if we make them in-house ourselves. It was so embarrassing because he knew very well that we didn’t”.
“My current role is something completely different”
Today, as ever, Gavin is pursuing his own career path, which has taken a new direction. “My current role is something completely different to my past endeavours. I am working privately for a family, and cooking for them five days a week. I need to adhere to strict dietary requirements because of certain allergies, which has its own set of challenges.”
Gavin say he was attracted to this particular position at this stage in his career because wanted to do something different. “I’ve never worked as private chef before, and thought a change of pace would be something to help keep me inspired without the endless long nights”.
“Drink heaps of water – and ensure you get as much sleep as possible”
Mention of “endless long nights” brings us to the thorny subject of managing wellbeing, and the demands and stress of the kitchen. Gavin says there are several ways to handle the pressure of life on the pass. “The main way is to look after yourself by eating a balanced diet – drink heaps of water – and ensure you get as much sleep as possible. Also try listening to music to help unwind and relax”. Gavin also points to doing some very simple things, such as “making sure you’re well groomed, wearing nice clothes, basically, whatever enhances your inner happiness”.
“Most importantly” adds Gavin,” don’t isolate yourself! Reach out to your friends, your family, and keep yourself active”.
“Most of the time you’ll find me wearing my headphones”
Gavin says he spends his time away from the pass by “having some time on my own. Headspace is important, and taking time to reflect on your career direction is important in this business. That’s why I like to cycle, and enjoy the ‘experience’ of riding my bike, particularly in the more rural areas.
I also love photography, which is very relaxing. Most of the time you’ll find me wearing my headphones and enjoying listening to music wherever I go”.
“Your choice of where to cook must benefit you as well”
Gavin offers particularly insightful advice for today’s young chefs at the start of their career. “Take a total overview of what being a chef really means for you. Do your research and don’t just jump into any job. Make sure the establishment or chef are right for you to work for and meets your expectations as well.
Always try to ensure you will be cooking food that excites you, and especially, in an environment where you’re going to grow and learn. Your choice of where to cook must benefit you as well. Ensure that you will be working in an establishment that values and looks after its staff, and is the best possible working environment for you”.
“Flavours that presents an honest plate”
Gavin is passionate about the ‘universal’ ingredients of true creativity in cooking, which brings so much natural pleasure and “happiness” to all involved.
“I love being a chef, the connections and the comradeship made with farmers. They are a constant source of education and inspiration. We can never speak enough with our small growers.
Most of us want the same things out of our food. We want to have the best produce we can get, simply cooked, well balanced with flavours that presents an honest plate, and reflecting as much as possible the region it comes from”.
Insightful words, spoken not by a celebrity chef today, but tomorrow, maybe?