What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?
Years ago when I started, one of my mentors, chef Julian O’Neill, encouraged me to always move on and push myself to my limit in difficult environments and to come out a bit more rounded. He told me to always look over people’s shoulders to pick up as much as I could and it’s something I tell the chefs at Ormer to do too. It’s about taking the initiative to learn on your own rather than waiting for someone to teach you; so that when the opportunity does become available to show your abilities you are that much faster and closer to the mark.
Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?
It would have to be the two chefs who are my great mentors: Julian O’Neill who I worked with in my first job at Quaglino’s, and Tom Aikens, who I worked with at my second job. Working with Tom was just great; I think a lot of my style of cooking was influenced by him and the way he takes different approaches to the same ingredient and breaks it down. The way I carry myself as a manager is really influenced by Julian O’Neill, because he’s such a pleasant and mild-mannered chef and I looked up to him in terms of that. It’s easy to be hot tempered in a hot kitchen, but you need to be approachable and likable, especially to develop younger chefs.
What ingredient can you not live without and why?
I like citrus, so it would be anything like lemons, limes, bergamot, yuzu, the whole citrus family and then the basic seasonings of salt and pepper, because everything has to have really good seasoning. I think coming from the tropics in the Caribbean then being in Asia, a lot of the balance of the flavours is on sweet, sour, acid notes.
What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?
My hand cream.
Where’s your favourite place to eat in London?
I don’t have a favourite but I’ve been to a couple of restaurants that I thought were amazing recently. Core by Clare Smyth was a great meal. I also went to The Ledbury and that was a great meal too. I try to be adventurous at trying stuff, I always write a list at the end of every year to try to do a couple of more interesting places in the year ahead.
What do you like to do on a day off?
Most of the time I spend some time with my kids. I don’t mind movies, I don’t mind having a massage, just to relax. But most of the time I spend it with the kids.
How many children do you have?
Four: three boys, one 10, then seven-year-old twins, and a girl who just turned one. As you can imagine, I never have enough time as I’m always in the kitchen, so as soon as I have a free minute I’m with the kids.
Do your kids like to cook yet? Have they shown an interest?
Yeah, the 10 year old can, he’s amazing. He can bake you a cake from start to finish by himself. I don’t start the pan, I don’t check it, I don’t take it out, I don’t weigh his ingredients, nothing. He goes on the laptop, he sees the ingredients, weighs them out himself, mixes them together, he puts them in the oven, he tests the cake and brings it out, all by himself. Carrot cake, chocolate cake, sponge, he does it himself. He can cook pasta, make curries and fry eggs too.
Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?
I like dancing. It kind of helps me to de-stress. I can dance to a bit of everything; R&B, hip-hop, a bit of salsa. I like Latin music, I like a bit of reggaeton. I can flow to almost anything.
If you could choose anyone from now or from history to invite to a dinner party, who would it be and why?
I was asked this question before, if I could cook for any celebrity, who would it be and I said Celine Dion. And they said, “What? Why would it be Celine Dion?” and they completely got thrown off guard, but I think yeah, her music and voice and my food together, I thought would be a great collaboration. I think she’s great. You don’t just want to think of people who’re in the industry, there are a dozen chefs I would invite too, but I think somebody completely different where you listen to the music and she comes across so easy going, so elegant, so mild, I think she’s a brilliant person.
Kerth Gumbs is the head chef at Ormer Mayfair