Jack speaks with Anthony Cumberbatch, who was at one point officially voted the ‘Best Caribbean Chef in the UK’ – and is a man pioneering his own genre of French Carribean fusion food. He’s a pretty cool guy and has good ideas about what he’d feed Darth Vader, given a Death Star catering contract…
Having made dinner for the likes of George Cloony and Mick Jagger, Anthony has also cooked with Levi Roots on a BBC documentary, did the catering for soul singer Beverley Knight‘s wedding, and has enjoyed a career that’s taken him all the way from the Savoy to where he works today as a freelance chef.
Anthony’s cooking style is based quite strongly around creating a visually seductive eating experience, and if he wasn’t so busy cutting sweet potatoes he’d probably be cutting hair instead…
Full Name: Anthony Matthew Cumberbatch
Role: Private Chef and Caterer
J: Could you give us a little backstory on how you came to where you are today?
A: Inspired by my Grandmother & being raised in Barbados planted the seed for what I love to do today. My grandparents had a beautiful farm there, with everything from pigs, sheep, chickens, rabbits, goats and cows. My granddad was a farmer as well as a butcher – he did his butchering on the weekend and he’d sell the meat to the locals and then we’d go to church. I was bought up on fresh food so was always around good home cooking…soulfood.
It was either become a chef or go into hairdressing, but cooking won simply because of the strong positive influences around me. I was born in Dulwich, London and was sent to Barbados, where I grew up with my grandparents. That was where I learned the skill of cooking. My Grandmother used to cook your sweetbreads, cakes, jerk chicken – she used to cook all of the different dishes. Her fusion of flavors stays with me always!
Coming back to the U.K I knew what direction I wanted go in and that I wanted to re-invent the way Caribbean Food is seen, tasted and served forever, putting us right on the map! Now, I am a professional Michelin Trained and 2AA Chef, worked in a cross section of high profile and award winning restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs. My career expands 23 years which begun with working at the Savoy Hotel and the Simpson’s restaurant.
I thrive on thinking ‘outside the box’ and have demonstrated my creative flair for new and interesting dishes, and a passion for recreating traditional dishes…and still coming up with new ideas! My food is very much Caribbean cuisine but I’ve mixed it up with a touch of French flair! At the end of the day it’s all about presentation – the food needs to look good, it needs to look like art. So I’ve mixed and matched certain flavors and styles and re-invent my menus when new ideas and flavours come to mind”
Could you give us an insight into your unique and delicious style of Nouvelle Carribean cuisine? How did that come about? What I remember most was that your presentation was immaculate…something else entirely – where’d you learn to do that?
Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine for me is all about the presentation, I see food like art, people eat with their eyes first. It starts with the visual invitation, the temptations begin with what you can see and if it looks good, you hope it should also taste good. And it is my job to ensure I deliver what customers desire once they see my edible works of art.
Working in high establishments from the Savoy to the Ivy, Qaqlinos Opium and other fine dining establishments inspired me to venture out into experimenting with my own take on Michelin style food within the Caribbean community. There were so many food establishments from restaurant to take away, yet none doing what I had mind.
I wanted to bring Caribbean food forward placing Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine food on the map. I am most certainly self taught, though I have gained invaluable experience from working in some of the high end establishments and working with so many different and vast cuisines.
When I first started at the Savoy I worked with Anton Edelmann, another chef sent out 100 mini tartlets that did not meet with his approval, he simply didn’t like the presentation and put them straight in the bin, without giving any to the staff. It taught me a valuable lesson, very early on that you need to have ‘visual’ high standards also. I would never send anything out of the kitchen that did not look right to me or I would not eat myself.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the world of Anthony Cumberbatch?
I wake up very early every day to sort my two young children out, we start with breakfast as it is the most important meal of the day. After the school run I head to the gym for my daily workout. It’s important for me to keep my body in shape as well as my mind healthy and active as I am constantly creating new menus! When u get to a certain age you need to keep fit and keep one’s self trim. After the gym I go to work. Open Restaurant. First point of call is to the suppliers to order stock for the day.
Check previous supplies have arrived. Check all fridges to see chefs have done the stock rotations ie: correct labelling and appropriate storage has been applied. I review the days bookings, make sure diners have tables & seats allocated for that day and evening. Then I start prepping everything from fresh marinades, meats, stocks for curry or oxtail. I like to ensure the waiting staff had eaten before we start a busy service as again it essential they do not eat when we are busy in full service, they also cannot work on an empty stomach.
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
In catering, I think you need to be creative you always have be reinventing dishes, constantly upgrading menus and pushing yourself to the limit
What was it like working with Levi Roots and the BBC?
Working with Levi Roots and the BBC was a good experience for me and since then I have done a few other jobs for him, including the One Love concerts & Beverly Knights wedding last year. I actually met Levi before the Dragons Den at the Excel Centre; we exchanged numbers and kept in touch. When the BBC where looking for Black Caribbean Chefs they contacted me via my Restaurant Bamboo Grove and asked me to create a national dish from my country of Barbados, which of course I was happy to do so.
Of your many achievements, which are you most proud of?
Having my own restaurant was one of my main achievements; it had been one of my life long dreams. In life you cannot keep talking talking, you had to put in the action. You have to give it your all and I gave it everything I had. I wanted to take staff of non Caribbean backgrounds and teach them how to cook Caribbean Cuisine, to show people that you don’t have to be west Indian to cook Caribbean food.
I read that you’ve cooked for the likes of George Clooney and Mick Jagger. What was that like and what did you make for them?
I met George Cloony and Mick Jagger at Opium Restaurant Dean Street Soho, the experience for me was out of this world being a fan of them both. It was my pleasure to cook Vietnamese and French cuisine for them. Mick had the lamb dish and George enjoyed the fillet stake dish on the menu. The dessert was the baked mango cheesecake with the pineapple compote for George and Mick selected the cinnamon scented banana spring rolls with butterscotch sauce and pistachio ice cream. What a treat for us all!
What inspires you? How do you come up with recipe ideas?
I would say, because I read allot of cook books I get ideas to add to my own creative juice for a menu but also depends on the season as any good menu needs to be seasonal.
Any personal cooking tips you can impart to our readership? Perhaps some things that might seem hard but are actually pretty simple?
Being a senior Chef you never sleep, you always take your work home. You have to be always moving with the times, always creating. Sometimes I have the thoughts in my head for the menus I create, it’s almost like the dishes, flavours and scents come to me while I go about my every day….I make notes then dedicate time most evenings to sit and create ie write down all my menu ideas so I can select which ones I want to being to life in the kitchen….creating a menu is like art!
Food with real full flavour needs to be marinated over night, cooking from scratch on the day does not have the same effect as when all the seasonings have had time to infuse into your ingredients – this is my tip to creating the best tasting dishes and its very simple once you practise!
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge was having my own restaurant, I was the only one who had any food & restaurant knowledge of the business – I had to train up my partners, all the staff, everything from cooking to running a restaurant…teaching the chefs how to cook, the waiters how to wait, the bar staff how to run a bar and my business partners on how to run the business efficiently.
I don’t regret any of it at the end of the day it was a good experience where I have learned and grown from it. I learned that to run a catering establishment you need to rely upon yourself or you partnership up with those who have experience within the food industry. And that you cannot under any circumstances take anything for granted.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
I would say Charlie Trotter most inspires me, I love his work, love his food, everything from his flavours to the vibrant colour of his food. Also he is not afraid to use quirky ingredients, things that people would not normally put together. I draw both inspiration and strength from Gordon Ramsey, because he is out there and always has been. In a brilliant way he shows the world the way a kitchen runs in a very real way. The kitchen is a very boisterous and sometimes sharp environment and Gordon shows the rawness and reality of what it’s like to work and create food within the catering industry. He keeps it real and I admire that.
Culinary influences most certainly have to come from my Grandfather, being a butcher in Barbados and my grandmother, who was a great cook.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
If not for being a Chef I would have been a hair stylist.
What are your most and least favourite foods to cook with?
For me there isn’t such a thing as having a least favourite food or seasoning, being a chef is all about having the ability to cook with everything.
How much experimentation is allowed with an existing recipe?
You can experiment on any dish for as long as you want, long after I am gone anyone can come along and experiment with the dish that you have created. There is always room for experimenting upon recipes and menus.
What are you working on at the moment? And what does the future hold for you?
Right now I am working on myself, trying to find Chef Anthony Cumberbatch again. The future is bright, I am working on my cookbook, I want to share with the world how I have evolved, give an insight into my background and really encourage other would be great chefs that they too can achieve great heights if they are prepared to work hard for it as I have done.
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs and chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
My advice is to read as much as possible, study, and work in the highest of High Establishment places. Learn the as much as you can from the Chef in charge. Listen Listen Listen and don’t talk back. Do not talk back. You also need to be like a sponge and soak up information. But most important, to create your own unique dishes you need to take what you have learned and re invent it completely with your own style & flavor.