September 6, 2023
Luxuria Lifestyle interviews Steve Smith head chef at Pennyhill Park
Luxuria Lifestyle in excited to interview Steve Smith Head Chef of the fine dining restaurant at Pennyhill Park, Latymer, awarded a Michelin star for 2023 and 4 AA Rosettes. Let’s find out more about Steve’s professional and personal life:
Can you let us know how you became interested in becoming a chef, was this a passion from a very early age?
I initially became interested in food during family weekend getaways where cooking became a social activity, as everyone helped put it together. It was simple flavourful comfort food that everyone enjoyed. I then went on to have a summer job in a restaurant kitchen and unexpectedly found myself really looking forward to working each day and being part of all the action. This experience really sparked an interest in food and cooking.
I was also given an opportunity to work with Jean Christophe Novelli at Gordleton Mill. It was a small restaurant in Lymington Hampshire. I loved the pace and buzz of the kitchen. The restaurant soon won a Michelin Star and was given Restaurant of the Year by Johnathon Meades in The Times. Over time I learned, and gained experience and my food identity evolved along with my interest and passion for all things culinary.
Your experience is extensive, you’ve been involved with many impressive restaurants and hotels. How do you make your mark on the individual venues?
Initially, I found a just cause to unite everyone together – as a team, we need a shared common goal both within the kitchen, in front of the house, and the rest of the property. Therefore, I provide the team with a roadmap, ensuring that each member contributes towards our collective goal, supporting and coaching individuals, much like a manager in a sports organization. We are always learning and it’s part of my job to teach, organise, lead, challenge, and motivate, with both long and short-term goals always in mind. I like to make my mark on each venue through this approach, uniting my team so we work together like a well-oiled machine.
What inspires you on a daily basis to continue to create new dishes?
Everything starts with ingredients. Sourcing and working with the very best suppliers is key to the dishes we create. Using the very best in seasonal produce, nearly all our dishes will include a form of acidity. This might involve combining unexpected elements like calamansi or yuzu, with sweet ingredients such as onions or strawberries. Most dishes have three/four elements. These may be amplified by different textures of the same ingredient within a dish.
Do you have a mentor that you can call on if you need inspiration?
Regrettably, I don’t have a specific mentor. Instead, my creative process involves working as a team and brainstorming different flavor combinations and cooking processes. Fostering a collaborative environment it is crucial to step outside the confines of routine thinking and embrace innovative perspectives. Problem-solving with the team is integral to the process, often yielding the most creative solutions. Sometimes, I find the best and most unconventional ideas emerge during seemingly mundane activities, like taking a dog walk. I also find that challenging the team with tasks in the kitchen, even tasks that seem impossible, often leads to ingenious solutions.
We read that you are a truly inventive and creative chef, who do you practice on?
My experimentation with new dishes typically involves the entire team. Different team members try out the dishes based on their relevance, for example, the patisserie team will taste test new desserts and the chefs will sample other dishes based on their expertise. It’s a collaborative effort, where everyone in the kitchen plays a role in execution. Generally, I don’t take experimental dishes home to test independently; our team in the kitchen really is our testing ground.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
Surviving the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic stands as my most significant achievement. Both personally and professionally, navigating through the pandemic and emerging stronger and more appreciative on the other side is a true testament to resilience and growth.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time, how do you see your career evolving?
In short no idea. We have a few goals that we have personally set ourselves as a team, but they are really just for the collective team.
What are the main obstacles or challenges of being the Head Chef in Latymer?
Similar to restaurants worldwide, staffing is a significant challenge, both in the front and back of the house. I am also starting to see climate change affecting seasonality, so we are having to adjust our menus as produce availability shifts, also gaining excellent fish is becoming more difficult.
Pennyhill Park was awarded its first Michelin Star following your appointment as Head Chef, explain to us how that came about, please.
We set out to serve fantastic food for our customers to enjoy and are continually looking to improve it wherever we can. It looks like Michelin also enjoyed it and we are proud to have this fantastic accreditation.
Have you always been involved in the world of luxury dining?
Indeed, my professional journey started in a 1-star restaurant, and I’ve never worked in an establishment that wasn’t 1-star or higher. Both my wife and I share a passion for culinary arts – she’s an exceptional pastry chef – so this extends to my personal life too. Our love for dining is as strong as our enthusiasm for cooking, and we often enjoy starred dining experiences together.
Do you involve yourself in social media, business-wise?
While I use social media to stay updated on trends and new developments, I’m not extensively active in creating content myself. I find my personal connections through books, music, and relaxation. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram aren’t a part of my routine, as they can sometimes feel impersonal and detached. I also don’t enjoy trying to take photos of my dishes to post them, as it takes a lot of time and effort – and I’m admittedly terrible at it myself – so I prefer to focus on enjoying the moment and my craft rather than creating content about it for social media… I’ll leave that to the experts!
A: London Rd, Bagshot GU19 5EU
T: 01276 478300
W: Pennyhill Park
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