The Dish: Stevie Parle

Stevie Parle is the chef-owner of Italian restaurants Pastaio, Rotorino and Palatino in Soho, Dalston and Clerkenwell, and Modern British venue Craft London in Greenwich. Before opening Dock Kitchen in 2009 aged just 24, he cut his culinary teeth at The River Café, Moro and Petersham Nurseries in London, and April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig in New York. During these stints he spent his spare time travelling extensively through Asia, Europe and the Middle East – an experience that continues to shape his cuisine today.

What/who influenced your decision to become a chef?

As a child I despised washing up. The best way to get out of it was by cooking dinner, so that’s what I did and I found that I quite enjoyed it. My parents are good cooks and when we’d go on holiday it was often about the food, so that also played a part in it.

When I started cooking, a lot of the well-respected restaurants in London were French, which wasn’t what I wanted to do – I wanted to cook the kind of food I wanted to eat: proper sized portions of tasty stuff. So at the age of 17 I started working at River Café. 

Can you remember/describe your first shift in a kitchen?

It was at The River Café and I was assigned to cleaning the fridge and gutting the fish. I did it for months. I’d also pick the crab but wasn’t allowed to cook it, so I cleaned the fridge again and gutted more fish. It sounds grim but I was delighted to be there, and they used to bring in these huge wild sea bass, which were absolutely beautiful. The whole place was full of incredible produce.

What is your earliest wine memory?

It was at The River Café again. We went on loads of producer trips, but one that sticks out is when I went with David Gleave MW of Liberty Wines, the restaurant’s co-founder Rose Gray and few other chefs to Piedmont to meet one of the greatest Barolo producers, which was an extraordinary experience. All of the producers I visited back then are still the wines I’m drinking today and have a connection to.

What has been your most memorable meal?

Amazing meals are not always about the cooking; it’s about the time and the place and experiences with the family that are special.

I’m very lucky, I’ve been to restaurants like Fäviken in Sweden and Noma in Copenhagen – which were all amazing meals, but the meal I think of as my favourite was seven years ago after my wife and I had our first baby.

We got home from hospital and my dad had cooked roast chicken and it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I remember the smell of the chicken quite vividly, and how comforting it was at the time.

How important is wine to a meal, from a chef’s point of view?

It’s super important because key to any meal is conviviality and fun and wine is an important part of that. I don’t get completely hung up with wine matches, in the same way I don’t get too caught up with food combinations.

What would be your ultimate food and wine pairing?

Chianti and steak.

Who is your inspiration in the winemaking and gastronomic world and why?

The growers, producers and farmers who inspire the way we cook, the way we engage with our customers and the way we buy our produce.

Biggest kitchen disaster?

When I worked at Moro, one of the other chefs – either as a joke or by accident – had mixed the sugar and salt together, so I made all the cakes with salt in and we only noticed at the beginning of service!

Someone else also accidentally sent out a cake with garlic yoghurt instead of plain yoghurt. The guest commented on it and the waiter didn’t realise, so said it might have tasted a bit different due to the special way we made the yoghurt, before the realisation slowly dawned on him.

Who is the most famous person you’ve cooked for?

I’ve cooked for plenty of famous people, but I’m not at liberty to tell!

If you could give your younger self advice starting out as a chef, what would it be?

That there’s no rush, and there’s certainly no rush to do your own thing. Once you open your own place you can’t go back.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I think I’d be some kind of designer, maybe an interior designer.

Besides cooking, which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to write fiction. I’ve written cookbooks but I think fiction would be such a great to skill to master. I love the idea of locking myself away in a cosy room with a view over the Kent countryside and creating crazy stories.

What would be your best piece of culinary advice for an aspiring home cook?

Shopping is more important than cooking. If you get the right ingredients then your food will be delicious, as long as you season it correctly. But if you start off with something poor quality then it’s never going to be good. Being careful about what you buy will go a long way.

If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

Moro.

What else would you like to achieve in life?

I’d like to learn a language.

And finally, what is your life motto? 

My approach to life is to lead by example. I try to work hard and treat people well and I hope those around me will follow my lead.

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