StyleNest chat to head chef, Cat Ashton of Paradise, the celebrity haunt of Kensal Green.
We have been flicking through the new menus for Paradise and it all sounds so delicious! Where do you find the inspiration for your recipes?
Working closely with my vegetable supplier Natoora, I follow the seasons and just let that inspire my new menu. When I see a new product come along, I start playing and experimenting. It is easy when you get to work with such good quality ingredients!
Tell us about your history of cooking, where did you learn to cook and how did you end up at Paradise as head chef?
I started out in bakery’s and cafes when I was 14, after falling in love with cooking through watching Jamie Oliver as a child. He inspired me to start my career at a very young age due to his enthusiasm and wholesome recipes. Moving to Melbourne when I was 17 to start my career in fine dining, working in many restaurants till settling in London to help Greg Malouf run the acclaimed Petersham Nurseries.
Your time at Petersham Nurseries must have been incredibly enriching. What was the most important lesson you learnt working with Skye Gyngell?
I arrived just after Skye had departed, but her presence still remained. The way she treats & feels produce is sensational, a massive inspiration to my career.
Do you have any stories you can share with us about your time at Petersham – something that really blew you away or made you blush tomato red?
My favourite story was the massive kitchen team snow ball fight. It was the dark, depths of winter, and actually, the last time it really snowed in London. Petersham was covered in fluffy, white snow. An innocent snow ball fight had begun and ended up snowballing (excuse the pun) over the whole venue. There was snow all over the kitchen and in the restaurant, what a clean-up that needed 🙂
Being able to pick your own fresh produce from the nursery’s gardens must have been magical, how do you source your local fruit and vegetables now?
That was my absolute favourite thing about Petersham. My favourite harvest was during winter one year, I had walked into the gardens, and saw one of the vegetable patches a bit roughed up. The chickens had got in again! I went to take a closer inspection when i saw all the Jerusalem Artichokes peeking through the dirt. Finally, they were ready, and the chickens had decided to let me know! I picked one up, brushed of the dirt and snapped it. The smell was incredible. Straight away I harvested them and put on the menu a raw, Jerusalem Artichoke carpaccio, just to celebrate the fact of how fresh these babies were!
Do you have any favourite food markets in London? Any secret farmers markets you want to share with us?
I love Borough Market just for the size and quality of what they source. But my favourite local is the Queens Park farmers markets. I love the fact that its small and has such local producers selling ingredients, you get to know them by name.
Do you have a number of staple ingredients that you couldn’t live without?
Amalfi lemons- their zest, juice and the way they are grown in Italy make these my staple ingredient. Lemon is very important flavour when it comes to cooking, and also very versatile
Turkish chilli- black and red, this dried chilli is so full of flavour and unique
Sumac – again, another middle eastern specialty, this is a lemony-flavour died berry that is ground up
Many of the dishes on the menu are highlighted with unique additions such as almond tarator, hazelnut dukkah, nasturtiums and coco de paimpol beans – how do you find out about these unusual components?
After 12 years a chef I am very privileged to have worked under some amazing mentors. Greg Malouf introduced me to all this middle eastern, which taught me how to make such traditional classics and how to use contemporary ingredients too!
We love the fact that you have taken well-known condiments and sauces and given them an exotic flare, for example adding tarragon to aioli and orange and ginger to the caramel in your puddings. How do you create these exquisite flavour combinations – is it through trial and error or do you have a top-secret technique?
Trial and error is always vital to growing and learning new flavours, but after a while you can just look at ingredients and go – right, they are perfect together
The sound of the ‘Stinging nettle and ricotta ravioli with Sicilian olive oil’ has us salivating! Do you have a particular favourite recipe that you are serving at the moment?
This autumn season we have just put on a Vanilla persimmon & organic olive oil cake that is so fitting for this time of year. Slightly warm, slightly tart and full of flavour
We can see from your recipe creations that you cook using only the best of seasonal ingredients. What ingredients are you looking forward to incorporating into your menus this winter?
This winter I am looking forward to the citrus season starting… Amalfi lemons in full swings, beautiful clementines and the end of season blood oranges are my absolute fav! Also, jerusalem artichokes and black cabbage are at their peak!
The extensive wine and cocktail list at Paradise is another taste bud tingling read – do you have a favourite cocktail on the menu?
Without a trace… buffalo trace and raspberries. I love fresh, long cocktails! Or a nice gin mare with fresh basil & tonic.
How would you describe your daily eating routine? Being a chef, is it difficult to find time to cook for yourself or do you get to feast on the delights from the kitchen?
My eating routine is quite sporadic. As much as I do try to eat well… my day always starts with coffee and a sandwich. The best part is I can feast from the delights in my kitchen. I enjoy raiding each section to create some magic, like proscuitto, camembert & pear, or some Dorito crumb chicken thighs with Sriracha glaze when I’m feeling something a bit more naughty. I struggle to find the time but always make sure I sit down with the team before service and enjoy a family meal.
You must sometimes need a break from cooking – what are your top three places to eat out in London?
Lyles London – seasonal & sustainable
Blues Kitchen Camden- wings, oreo donuts and bourbon!
Dabbous – treat your self! The presentation is inspiring
At the moment we are loving the growing number of doughnut shops that are popping up around London, Crosstown Doughnuts have put a real dent in our summer diets! Do you have a weakness for certain foods or cuisines?
I love spicy food! I do have a soft spot for hot wings. Realistically… they have everything going on for them. Crispy, melt in your mouth and spicy!
Do you travel to find inspiration for your flavour combinations and cooking? If so has there been one country or city that has really inspired you?
I love travelling. A few years ago, I took 6 months off work and travelled the world to explore the different cuisines of each country. Turkey was my favourite. Their flavours and ingredients were inspirational. Walking the streets, experiencing the culture, it was mind blowing.
Paradise hosts a number of supper clubs for some wonderful well-known foodies, including the gorgeous Hemsley and Hemsley girls. Do you ever like to get involved in any of these?
I’m involved with every one of them! Working with the Hemsley sisters was a fantastic experience. We have the same ethos for food (seasonality and sustainability) so it was a dream to be involved
Would you ever consider hosting your own themed supper club or special event?
Funnily enough, I’m hosting my own Supperclub next week (28th January), all middle eastern themed which is a sensational way to ignore the winter blues and feast on some Arabic treats.
What about cooking lessons? Is this something you are thinking about offering in the future at Paradise? If so, sign us up!
I love the idea of cooking lessons. One of the best things about being a chef is having the ability to teach and nurture young chefs. There is so much to learn and i am a very enthusiastic teacher. There are definitely plans for cooking lessons here at Paradise at some point next year.
The décor at Paradise is not only gorgeous but quite unique, the ornate candles, open brickwork walls, bookshelves and gothic statues gives the restaurant a sumptuous and romantic atmosphere. There are a number of different rooms throughout the expansive space, including an outdoor terrace and a conservatory bar on the first floor. What would you say is your favourite room and why?
It is so hard to pick a favourite room! The restaurant floor at night is gorgeous with candles and wooden tables & chairs… but our main private dining room is the best. Covered in mirrors, with one long wooden table stretching the length of the room. Great for large parties with great vibes!
To finish off, can you tell all of us aspiring foodies and cooks out there, one important motto, trick or lesson to help us on our own culinary adventures?
Cook sustainable, seasonal and don’t forget to SALT 🙂