Lee Westcott, executive chef, Typing Room, Bethnal Green

The Staff Canteen

We last featured Lee Westcott when he was working as head chef at Tom Aikens Restaurant in Chelsea. Since then he has been to Copenhagen to stage in Noma, then travelled around Asia before going to Hong Kong to work for Jason Atherton.

Now the 28-year-old is executive chef at Typing Room in Bethnal Green and The Staff Canteen caught up with him to talk about the idea behind the restaurant, having his own brigade and the cool kids of cooking.

Rest 3
Typing Room 

What made you leave Hong Kong and head back to the UK?

I was there nine months and realised how much I’d missed the London food scene. I think London’s food scene is one of the best in the world and really wanted to back and be a part of it.

I told Jason my thoughts and after some consideration he kindly offered me the site, which would go on to become the Typing Room. A month later I was here - flew in, got a cab and started work the next day!

What was the idea behind Typing Room?

I wanted to create a place you could sit in for hours or more and not feel like you were imprisoned. It’s a really warm room, comfy chairs, no tablecloths – lots of natural light.

I play my own music and the guys don’t dress too seriously, they wear jeans, a shirt and an apron. It’s informal service but still of an incredibly high standard. And obviously great food too!

Is the relaxed atmosphere a reflection of you and your food?

I wanted the room and the food to be approachable to all. I’ve always enjoyed meals more when the surroundings are comfortable. Sometimes I’ve had great meals, but with fine dining the formality can sometimes be unnecessary.

Info bar                                                                        Top 5 restaurants: The Ledbury The Dairy Koya Lyle’s Little Social                                     Favourite cookbook: This is forever changing, for the time being it's “Relae: A book of ideas” it's very natural and has very intelligent recipes.

We still aim to give the highest level of service, but in a relaxed form. The food reflects that as well - it’s innovative food, it’s technical but it’s not over complicated. You know what you are eating, you’re not baffled but you can see the work that’s been put into it.

What inspires your dishes?

We base our food on British seasons. We support what is local and there is always great produce about whatever the time of the year it is. We try to let the seasonal ingredients speak for themselves as much as possible, marrying them with different textures, flavours and sometimes a few surprises. We also work very closely with our suppliers, listening to them in terms of what products are best to use and when to use them. I think that’s very important.

Strawberry, white chocolate and pistachio

Strawberry, white chocolate

and pistachio 

Who are your main influences?  

Tom Aikens was a huge influence for me. I did four years there and Tom taught me how to be confident in my cooking. And the

way he dressed a plate was phenomenal – it was something I’d never seen back then. Then I did a stage at Noma and I learnt a completely different ethos there of how the ingredients are treated and respected. It was amazing; the guys there are so driven. It’s infectious and you come away with this new lease of energy that you don’t get in many other places.

Then of course there’s Jason, a great chef who runs a business incredibly well. He’s a very positive person and it rubs off on you. I’ve sort of mixed it all together and tried to come up with my own style.

Is it hard to have your own style when you are clearly influenced by some big name chefs?

Yes of course it can be hard at times. It’s very easy to fall back on things you’ve learnt along the way from all the chefs you’ve previously worked for. But as we progress, we all find our own style and become more confident in what we do and make it our own.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu?

There’s one that hasn’t come off since we started and that’s the yeasted cauliflower. I love it because it’s all about the vegetable, which I quite like. Nothing goes to waste. I enjoy focusing on the vegetables; they are more diverse than you think.

Do you find it difficult to take dishes off to make room for new ones?

Yes it is difficult. But with the new seasons and new produce always coming in, the challenge is to better the dishes you previously did. Spring is now here and there’s a lot of exciting ingredients to play with.

Duck, spiced mango and fennel

Duck, spiced mango

and fennel

Typing Room is a destination restaurant, did that appeal to you?

I like the fact that it’s a destination restaurant. We get a good mix of customers, but they all seem to be very much into their food, which is great. Bethnal Green is rapidly becoming a place to be, so it’s exciting to be a part of that development.  

Last time we spoke to you, you were heading to New York to stage at Per Se. What was that like?

It was a great experience; New York is a cool place. Definitely one city I would love to spend more time in. I saw a different kind of restaurant scene there to the one in London at the time. It opened my eyes to new concepts and ideas.

There are a lot of chefs, your age, making cooking cool again – the new generation of Marcos. Would you agree and which of your peers do you admire?

You’re right, there are a lot of young chefs cooking at a high level at the moment. I guess you could say a new generation is coming through. It’s great that we now have an opportunity to do our own thing.

There’s a lot of exciting restaurants out there right now. You’ve got Clove Club, Lyles, The Dairy etc, all knocking out amazing food at the moment! There’s a restaurant up in Leeds called, The Man Behind The Curtain, By Michael O’Hare, the food there is completely unique and admirable. One to look out for!

Lee Westcott
Lee Westcott

Social media plays a huge part in your industry now, do you see dishes by your peers and wish you had come up with them?

Of course! I wish I had come up with The Clove Club’s buttermilk fried chicken and pine salt! It’s banging!

I think social media has really changed our industry, as it’s now a lot easier for everyone to voice their opinions; some of which you like and some you dislike. But it’s great to see people’s feedback as you can adjust things accordingly from them. It’s also good to see what everyone else is up to in the industry too and social media helps hugely in that.

You also mentioned last time we spoke that you wanted your own brigade. Now you have that, are you enjoying it?

Yes of course.  Although, having your own brigade brings a different level of pressure, as you are responsible for them all. But at the same time that’s a huge privilege. It’s nice to see chefs come in and progress in their time spent here. Most of my guys have been here a year now and it’s a nice feeling to see them progress from when they first started. When they move on, I probably will feel quite proud.

So, what are your plans for the future?

typing room restaurant
typing room restaurant

Well we’ve just been open a year now, so it’s just to continue doing what we’re doing and see through the next year at the restaurant. We’re also involved in a few collaborations, one with Bubbledogs coming up this month, which should be fun!

What about awards and the guides?

Awards and accolades are always an added bonus for a chef. We received 3 AA rosettes in the last AA guide, which I’m incredibly proud of and a great mention in the Michelin guide, which is an honour. They bring a boost for the team morale and lets you know how you’re progressing.

And books or TV are they something you want to do?

We recently filmed Masterchef, which has had a great impact on the business side of things. Also we have done a few more things which will be aired later this year. So TV is always something to consider. And as for books, I don’t feel I’m ready just yet for that, but something I’d love to do in the future.

If you like the sound of working in London like Lee, then head over to our jobs board for a whole host of chef positions.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th May 2015

Lee Westcott, executive chef, Typing Room, Bethnal Green