As part of our Chef's Life series we caught up with Graysons Restaurants development chef Barry Nichols. Barry works with a number of chefs at Graysons to constantly develop the choice of food at each of its 30 sites across London and the South of England. Barry also runs workshops and training sessions for Graysons' teams and customers.
I started by joining the Army Catering Corps in 1976 as an apprentice chef. At the time, we were trained to City & Guilds 706/1 standards, which then became an NVQ.
When I left the army aged 21, I went to work as Head Chef at a couple of a la carte restaurants in my home town of Northampton. I then got married and decided to move over to B&I contract catering at Avon Cosmetics in Northampton. I’ve been in B&I ever since then.
I love rustic style food with good solid robust flavours. I also love Japanese and Middle Eastern foods. I don’t like anything too fussy, or over presented. Nouvelle Cuisine was not for me! Biggest influence was an old army chef who I worked with in my formative years, who taught me the value of working with great quality, fresh ingredients.
I don’t really have a single signature dish or style. When I cook at home, I tend to eat mostly vegetarian as my wife is a veggie. We love to experiment with different flavours and unusual or innovative ingredients. At work, I love low and slow cooked meats in good marinades, and again, Asian and Middle Eastern food features heavily in my repertoire.
I still love a really well cooked pie or roast, simple flavours or combinations that work well - just having someone to cook for me is a luxury. I also love great cheese, great bread, great chutneys - give me a really good fresh ploughmans lunch and I’m a very happy bunny.
I see a lot of chefs over-cooking or over-seasoning with Asian foods, and also perhaps a misunderstanding of what combines well to make a dish. Japanese food particularly relies on subtle combinations of key flavour groups, e.g. sweet, sour, salt, bitter, umami etc. to have an overall effect on the final dish - that’s a real art.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST TRENDS YOU HAVE SEEN DURING YOUR TIME IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY?
More than anything I think a move towards a more global, international cuisine. People nowadays are a lot more food savvy, and are more willing to experiment with flavours and ingredients from all over the world.
I love koji for its exceptional flavour qualities, star anise, ginger, a good quality fish sauce, and udon noodles are to die for when combined with the right ingredients and sauces.
I’d love to cook for the minimalist artist Mark Rothko (deceased), one of my heroes. I think he would enjoy a really nice piece of slow cooked brisket with vegetables and herbs braised in with the meat - simple but delicious.
Can I have two? A good sharp knife and my Japanese mandolin.
I love Wagamama, really good, fresh Asian fast food, or Caravan at Kings Cross, beautiful modern Bistro style with a great buzzing environment.
We’re seeing a lot of influence creeping in from Korea and Peru in the city, but generally, low and slow cooking, hot spices, (unusual varieties of chillies), and smoky flavours are getting popular again - I love smoked foods if done with subtlety.