James Knappett, Bubbledogs, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th December 2013

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

 

James Knappett is chef-patron of Bubbledogs, a fun and unique concept pairing gourmet hotdogs with grower champagnes selected by his wife and sommelier, Sandia.

The attached Kitchen Table is an intimate chef’s table and fine dining room where he weaves his technically astute and  ever-changing culinary magic. In a star-studded career James has worked for the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, Thomas Keller, René Redzepi, Marcus Wareing and Brett Graham. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how striking out on his own is treating him…

Bubbledogs began as a way of bringing grower champagnes to a wider audience; how is that project going? 

Jose Dog
Jose Dog

We’ve made it really accessible and now we’re really lucky to have a queue outside every night so it’s just brilliant. Even people who don’t know about grower champagne are learning it and tasting new things. There’s so much complexity and flavour in this grower champagne, which is what makes it so special.

Was the intimate setting and daily changing menu of Kitchen Table something you’d wanted to do for a long time?

I’ve always loved talking and interacting with guests. Sometimes you’re just shut up in a kitchen and you don’t see anyone that you’re cooking for all evening. Then when I was at Noma, suddenly I was taking the food out to the tables and meeting all the guests, talking about the food and explaining about ingredients and where they come from. I just thought, yes this is what I want to do; I want to talk to all my guests.

The Kitchen Table is an end in itself, isn’t it? Not just a halfway step to opening a full-sized fine dining restaurant?

We don’t know what the future holds but I guess I’d probably never do a 50-70 cover lunch, dinner, tasting menu and a la carte restaurant because I’ve done that; I’ve worked in that; I don’t want to run a restaurant like that; I like doing things slightly different and I’m just having fun now and enjoying it; so yeah, Kitchen Table is Kitchen Table on purpose and we don’t want it to be anything bigger.

Bubbledogs
Bubbledogs

Do you feel the pressure of having to come up with something new and different every night?

Yes there’s pressure but pressure results in energy and energy is what guests want to feel. If something’s been on the menu for three months and a guy’s got to come in and prep it every night – has he got a lot of energy for that? But if someone’s doing something different and have even come up with the idea for it themselves, they’re going to be really pumped and self-motivated to be as good as they can possibly be. At the end of the day, if someone’s bored of making something – fine, show me something different and if it’s good enough, we’ll put it on the menu.

Would you say you’re more interested in finding interesting taste pairings than following a particular food philosophy?

We try to use everything and we don’t have little rules like not using stuff past our sea border or anything like that. If it lives or grows in Britain, we’ll use it, but we might have three or four foreign ingredients on the menu at any one time, like a cheese from France or a pineapple for example.

If we come up with a dish idea with pineapple, we’ll get a pineapple in. What places like Noma and L’Enclume do is amazing but If every restaurant in the UK started doing that, to eat a frigging pineapple we’re all going to have to travel miles and there’ll be no pineapples left In the UK. Cook what you want. Be happy.

Bubbledogs
Bubbledogs

You’ve worked for a roll call of amazing chefs over your career; which ones have influenced you the most and in what ways?

The first big chef I worked for was Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road back when he just had that and Petrus.  The hours were insane and the pressure was immense because they were pushing for beyond perfection every day.

I think Gordon’s an amazing chef and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. After that I went to Rick Stein’s where I met some of the best mates that I still have to this day. It was working in a very different way – just taking the simplest of things like a fish and a sauce but the best fish and the most delicious sauce. Per Se changed everything for me; that’s where it all really started even though it was years on in my career; it was just the cleanliness, the perfection.

Everything that Thomas Keller does is just perfect but it looks so natural and effortless when you see him doing it. If I can lead half the career Thomas Keller has, I’ll die happy. After Per Se I went to Noma. René’s just infectious; you only have to hear him talk about a celeriac and all of a sudden celeriac can become a bigger ingredient than lobster or fillet of beef. I was very lucky that when I was at Noma we had a very small team and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him. René’s ways of cooking and the way food should taste is definitely something I’ve taken with me.

You have a bit of a catchphrase: ‘Love is food, keep eating’; can you exp

The team at Bubbledogs
The team at Bubbledogs

and?

It’s just something I write when asked to sign something. I’ve been doing it since my young twenties. One of my biggest loves is food. Food makes people happy. How many great times have you had at a meal table – like sitting with your family at the dinner table sharing a beautiful Sunday roast? That’s love.

What’s next for you?

Sandia has a concept she’s looking to do and I have a concept I want to do but we don’t want to talk about them yet. More Bubbledogs in the future is definitely not a no. Also I’m a massive cookbook collector so it would be great to make our own Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table book one day but it’s just waiting for the right time. There’s no point doing something until you’re ready; it will only be bigger and better in the future.

Feeling inspired by James? Then check out our current head chef vacancies

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th December 2013

James Knappett, Bubbledogs, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH