StyleNest had the pleasure of spending five minutes with the award-winning, Michelin star and TV chef, Theo Randall.
Known for bringing the authentic taste of Italy to Britain through fine dining cuisine, Theo Randal is one of the UK’s best-loved chefs. Gracing a host of TV shows from Celebrity Masterchef to Saturday Kitchen, Randall has become one of the countries most recognisable chefs.
StyleNest met up with the top chef to steal some midweek meal ideas, find out what it’s really like to run Britain’s ‘Best Italian Restaurant’ – Theo Randall at London’s InterContinental Hotel, and hear all about his current partnership with ASK Italian restaurants.
Here’s what he had to say.
Your restaurant at London’s InterContinental has been voted Best Italian Restaurant in the UK this year, along with many other awards. What is it that you love about Italian food?
What I love about Italian food is the simplicity of it and how Italians are so passionate about what they create. They are great communicators, not just vocally but also in terms of what they do with food. It’s great just seeing the way they develop food and how their passion comes across. I also love the flavors, true ingredients and diversity of the country. The whole of Italy is very different – from north to south. For instance, on the coast fish will feature heavily across the menus, whereas when you drive inland you won’t find any fish because they are very much about using local produce.
What about British food, do you think people’s perceptions of it have changed over the past few years?
Yes, perceptions have changed a lot. British food is fantastic and the produce is brilliant. When I’m doing my menus I try and use British produce wherever I can, especially seasonal fish, fruit and vegetables. However, to cook great Italian food you do need fresh Italian ingredients, which does mean going to Italy to get that extra quality.
You’ve been working with ASK Italian for the past three years creating menus for them. Tell us a little bit about that.
I work with the ASK Italian team as their ‘Expert Friend’, producing inspirational and creative recipes to create an authentic Italian experience. It’s lovely to see how chefs are being involved in cooking and creating their own food – the whole love of what you do is incredibly important and I can see that with all the ASK Italian restaurants. It shows in the atmosphere, the sense of style and the Italian spirit that’s present in the restaurants.
Your involvement with ASK Italian raises funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. Tell us a little about that.
I’m currently working with ASK Italian to launch the ASK Italian Grand Tour – a fundraising initiative aiming to raise £250,000 for Great Ormond Street. We’ll be visiting every ASK Italian restaurant in the country collecting funds raised for the charity – from Scotland right through to London. I have been involved in creating an exclusive new food menu for the Grand Tour Food Nights – a series of nights at ASK Italian’s York, Exeter and Chichester restaurants, where members of the public will get the chance to join Grand Tour participants and local VIPs and sample a range of ASK Italian food. The menu features a range of quality recipes and showcases what ASK Italian is truly about – a brand inspired by a passion for Italian food and culture, and of course we’re doing it all for a very worthwhile cause.
What’s your all time favourite comfort food?
It has to be a risotto. There’s nothing nicer and more comforting than a mushroom risotto, sprinkled with plenty of parmesan and a nice glass of red wine.
How did you get into the food industry?
My whole family has a passion for food and having experienced it from an early age I always knew food is what I wanted to do. I remember making sandwiches for my parents when I was very young and even creating a menu to go with it. As I got older, I’d make meals such as salads and be increasingly involved in cooking for family dinners, and so it was only natural that I got into the restaurant business.
You’ve mentioned that your childhood experiences traveling around Italy with your parents shaped your knowledge and passion for cooking. How important do you think it is for parents to engage their children with food?
I definitely think it was a handful of experiences which shaped my passion for cooking – I got to taste some things which really made me think about food and Italian food specifically. As a child I didn’t necessarily think like that, but as I got older it came straight back to me and was inspiring. You don’t have to necessarily travel everywhere, but to taste good food and have an understanding for it I think it’s important to do so. Everyone should know how to cook to a certain level – I like using the expression ‘live to eat’… it’s so much better than ‘eating to live’.
You’re a dad yourself. How do you balance your hectic schedule and family life?
Sunday is always very much a family day. I do have a hectic life and I just have to do what I can and spend quality time with my children when I can.
You were awarded a Michelin star for your time at River Café. Have you always aimed high?
The thing about awards is that you always want to be creative and have to always try and be better and better yourself. Each year you look at how your kitchen is and what you’re doing, so it’s very important that you always strive to improve. I always look at suppliers and trying to find another product which I know will make something better or taste better.
What are the top three most exciting or favourite restaurants you’ve eaten in anywhere in the world?
Number 1 would be Aquasale’ in Ostuni, Italy – it serves the most fantastic Italian food. Followed by ‘Le Troit Gros’ in Rouanne, France. Michelle Troisgros is an amazing chef and the restaurant has been in the family for many years. The quality of the food is exceptional and it has simplicity about it which I like. And finally, one place that does the most amazing Italian food is ‘Il Pompiere’ in Verona. Vernona is the home if risotto, so these particular dishes are unbelievable. The selection of salumi is quite simply the best you’ll find.
Any top tips for busy mums in need of midweek meal inspiration?
One of the best things to cook is pasta because it’s an amazingly simple thing to do. If you want to create something that you can have cooked, prepared and put in the oven when you’re ready to eat; pasta al forno is always a great option. One of my favourite recipes is roasted peppers and tomato sauce mixed with cooked rigatoni, topped with a simple béchamel sauce with parmesan and breadcrumbs, then baked in the oven – it’s the most delicious, frugal pasta dish.
You’ve done many TV appearances, from Celebrity Masterchef to Saturday Kitchen. Do you enjoy the celebrity chef side of the job?
I love doing TV as it’s a great way of communicating about food and what I do, as well as showing people how to do things. I enjoy teaching people about cooking and my passion of food.
What’s coming up next for Theo Randall?
I’ve got another exciting cookbook coming out shortly, and my ongoing blog on The Huffington Post, which I always enjoy writing for. I’m also looking forward to my role with ASK Italian developing and seeing the brand develop.
Theo Randall, ASK Italian’s expert friend is taking part in the ASK Italian Grand Tour to raise £250,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. Throughout September, the tour will visit every ASK Italian restaurant in the country collecting funds raised for the charity. For more information visit: www.askitaliangrandtour.co.uk