Every single ingredient at Lover is handled with reverence and passion. With his distinctive combination of science, art and technology, head chef Paul Turner transforms the humblest of ingredients into a dish that is both refined and vibrant. Every mouthful a discovery of tastes anew. Paul’s gift is the ability to coax different flavours and textures out of simple produce, such as the potato. The result? Meals that pay homage to the restaurant’s amorous moniker, where diners are indeed devotees to remarkably simple but elegant food.
A belief that produce dictates technique
“When you’ve got something in its prime and peak season then there’s not a lot you need to do to it”.
Consequently, the Lover menu tends to feature a star ingredient – sweetcorn (fried, with chipotle and lime); baby squid (with burnt carrot, kipfler, black olive); or baby cos (with radish and manchego) – and then Paul chooses how best to present. “Once we’ve layered the foundation and decided where we want to head then from there we’ll go in and look at what kind of techniques will best suit the dish.”
Food philosophies tend not to guide Paul’s cooking, nor do trend or buzzwords. One movement he subscribes to though is sustainability and zero waste. “As individuals we need to look at building a sustainable food model moving forward”. In Paul’s kitchen a lot of the by-products get re-purposed. Scraps from their blood oranges are turned into shrub – the fruit-based syrup, mixed with vinegar – for the bar, and spent lime halves are reused as zombie cocktails.
In line with his sustainability focus, Paul prefers ingredients that are seasonal. And (as mentioned) he is partial to the humble ingredient, enticing out flavours by using methods such as fermentation and pressure cooking. But Paul concedes that he also leans towards ingredients that he can make “anything pasta related”.
Some dishes at Lover have almost a cult-like following, but Paul likes to keep the menu free flowing. This allows the kitchen to evolve and stay creative. He starts with what’s in season (of course) and include techniques or flavour profiles they’re experimenting with. However, there are those mainstays that are on the menu more or less permanently. One is the beloved ‘Gnocchi+ Wine’ night every Wednesday. Amusingly, “it was actually the last thing I put on the menu as I needed a last-minute vegetarian dish and it kind of just blew up from there”. Another is the stuffed pretzel (with morcon, smoked cheddar, pickled mustard seed) that has a dedicated following by Lover’s regulars “last time I tried to take it off the menu…we got a bit of pushback.”
Paul has always been a team player in the kitchen
And Paul believes the team at Lover is proving to be one of the best he’s worked with “every one of them go above and beyond to provide a great customer experience”. He adds, “I couldn’t do half of what I do without my homie Jimmy @menacetosobriety heading up the bar.”
Away from the pass Paul enjoys live music and shows, explores bars and restaurants, and views art exhibitions. He asserts that ‘down time’ is crucial for managing mental health in the kitchen, and maintaining a work-life balance. Paul has gathered some mental health advice across his many years in the industry. He says it helps enormously to “establish a creative culture that allows experimentation in the kitchen” and it’s critical to find or encourage a positive, professional work environment. “Don’t be scared to ask for a push if the workload feels like it’s too much” he reflects. Finally, a resource that Paul now subscribes to is the use of technology, “any seconds you can save during a service without sacrificing the end product are always valuable.” One hobby that not only destresses but galvanises is programming and 3D augmented reality. Paul dabbles with 3D projections as his passion project and his software development is in its infancy but has management of kitchens in mind.
Relaxation also comes in the form of a great culinary read. Paul is currently reading Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit, which resonates with his mantra of about learning and understanding the rules and then breaking them. Books for inspiration include Relæ by Copenhagen’s Christian Puglisi; Notes from a Kitchen vol 1 and 2 by Jeff Scott; and 33 by Nick Bril. All of these have elements that Paul relates to: art, entertainment and playfulness.
Lastly, Paul has some wise words for younger chefs who are starting out in the industry:
- Learn the fundamentals. “Once you know the rules then you can break them.”
- Find a chef you respect, food you are happy to serve, and put the work in.
- Don’t let an employer take advantage of you.
- Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty.
- Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
- Try and do one thing better every day.