Martyn Meid, head chef, INK, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th August 2015

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Born in Lithuania, Martyn Meid came to London ten years ago and was in banking – luckily for the culinary world he turned his back on that career and pursued his love for cooking. Opening his first solo venture, INK, last year, the 29-year-old’s food may not be to everyone’s taste but he has certainly got people talking, delivering dishes such as milk textures and pea ten ways. The Staff Canteen caught up with him at his east London based restaurant to find out more about his daily changing menu, Nordic cuisine and his love of urban foraging. Cooking for a living wasn’t your first choice, what made you give up your career in banking to pursue it?English strawberries with chocolate. It just wasn’t right for me. A friend got me into a kitchen where I stayed for two years and then I had to decide if I wanted to pursue it seriously or not. The place I was at was a brasserie, so the food I didn’t find interesting, a lot of it was frozen and it wasn’t really what I wanted to do – I wanted to cook! I moved to a D&D Company kitchen with a Michelin star and I was like ‘wow’ – it was a different story. It was so fresh and you could really build something. It pulled me in and I’ve never looked back. I started building, creating and obviously now owning – it was as simple as that! Being in a Michelin star kitchen clearly had an impact on you? It was the structure, the structure of the kitchen and how it’s supposed to be run. I also found out what seasonality really means in the UK, how we should appreciate the ingredients and how hard it is to get those ingredients. The good ingredients sometimes you have to fight for, London is a massive city with more than 16,000 restaurants and as a chef you need the best for your customers so you can show them consistency. In London it’s really hard to do that because everyone wants to be good, they want something special – to keep being interesting we have had to wow people. How do you wow people? Winter Rhubarb. Inspired by Guy Bourdin.We are growing our own vegetables so carrots, beetroot, Japanese pak choi, wild rocket, radishes. We try as much as we can to build something for ourselves. Plus we have the park where we are foraging every day, so for example at the moment there are wild cherries. The taste is completely different, it’s sour and sweet at the same time. It’s really delicate so we are going to make gel and a jam for the winter, which we will probably serve with beef. There are good chefs who understand foraging but a lot of restaurants will just order what they want from the suppliers but that to me isn’t interesting. Foraging is an adventure, to go and get those ingredients and then bring them to the restaurant and cook, clean, ferment and present them that is passion – it’s the coolest thing. What inspires your dishes? First you should find the ingredients, if that ingredient is sexy enough you start building the textures. I try as much as I can to make different variations and different textures from one ingredient. So today with the beetroot there will be 34 textures – we take a simple ingredients and look really deeply into it. You describe your food as European Nordic cuisine, what is that? It’s fresh, raw and experimental. We try to keep everything as wild and natural as we can because I hate really strict shapes on the plate. For me those shapes are bullshit, you’ve destroyed nature – I like the natural shape because when you take them from their natural environment you will never find two ingredients which look the same. So why would you destroy that beauty? To me that’s what Nordic means, it’s new cooking in a new way.asparagus From preserving to pickling to experimenting, fermenting, smoking, curing, drying, dehydrating, juicing and it’s all sustainable. We try to have no wastage and I work completely by the season. Mushrooms may be in season in Scotland but I’m not in Scotland, so I try to look around where we are and be 100 per cent local. Not local as in going into the markets, we get as much as we can from what we are surrounded by. As you are completely seasonal, do you have a favourite season? Mine is winter because it’s the hardest season. You have to be clever to build the dishes at this time. In the Nordic countries it’s so cold so you need to preserve as much as you can for the winter time. We start working in the summer, thinking about what we are going to do and how we will be building it. Which ingredients do you most like to work with for winter? Beer barleys, potatoes and of course pork fat. We cook everything in pork fat unless it’s the vegetarian option and then we use rape seed oil. So we don’t have butter, olive oil, just pork fat which is really good! It creates beautiful flavour, beautiful texture, eats really well and makes everything insanely crispy. Ink interiorYou’re working really far in advance when planning your dishes, how long do they take to put together? We are already thinking to collect the cherries to make different textures so we’ll cook, it freeze it, steam it – we already know we want to add it to the beef cheek. Dishes can take two years before they are ready to go on the menu or they can take ten months. Aesthetically your dishes are stunning, is this important to you? You eat with your eyes and you taste with your tongue – that’s how simple it is. What we do is nothing special, we just take one ingredient and build as much as we can with different natural shapes. It doesn’t affect the taste, this just needs to be natural so lettuce needs to taste like lettuce, cucumbers needs to taste like cucumber. I hate it when food is over powerful because of cheap, shitty spices form a packet – if I’m having carrots I just want carrots and I’ll serve them ten different ways. Ultimately it’s still carrot I’m just showing it in different ways. You change your menu every day, is that right?Martyn Meid Yes. It’s hard but I like the challenge. Every day I have to try and build something new and something different – it’s interesting as you are always progressing. To work from the same menu to me is boring, if you do say 500 covers a day then yes I would stay with the same menu for three months. But we do 100 covers a week so it’s a different story. What do diners make of your daily menu? They are quite shocked. Sometimes we come in and we get lost, we don’t know what we are having on the plate that day. Our menu is written using one word so yesterday it simply listed pea, herring, wild Scottish cod, pork and salmon. That’s it, that’s all you see until you get the dish. So the pea was ten different ways; the sorbet, pea panna cotta, fresh peas, pea purée, pea muse, pea snow, pea gel, pea ash and pea crisps. Your menus sound like a lot of fun. It’s f***ed in the head! What are you supposed to think when it just says pea on the menu! Is it just going to be sugar snaps or a bunch of pea shoots? It challenges us to create a lot of textures as I said, from one ingredient. Do you have to explain the concept of your restaurant to customers or do you just let them figure it out? summer kiss devon crabWe are always coming to the table and explaining the dish and how it is made, where the idea came from and why we do it the way we do. It makes us different to other restaurants in this area and people as I said were shocked – some locals stopped coming. We have started to get more international customers than locals. How many people make up the INK team? I have four guys. Everybody cooks, everybody serves – we don’t have waiters, no managers, no bullshit. We don’t even have a wine menu. We start by asking simply if they like white or red. The restaurant is completely relaxed and we expect people to dine for at least three hours. Nobody is going to push them out – you can come at 6pm and leave at 12am. I just hate over powerful service, people dressed like monkeys in their shirts and suits, French silver service which is really old school. Nobody should do that anymore because we are not in France. It makes me uncomfortable having someone coming over ten times during my meal to ask if everything is ok. A chef should put everything he can into each dish, all the passion and then when he’s explaining the dish to the customer that is the last contact he is having with the customer. No one else should come to them and then after the meal you ask did you like it? If they say they don’t like the herring because it’s to sour or too sweet then we will fix it. You like getting direct feedback then?scallop That’s the best thing to progress. We are honest with the customer and they need to be honest with us. It’s simple and how else are you going to learn? You put a lot of research into your dishes, how do you find the time? Every Monday when we are closed, I travel around the UK looking for different cuts of meat or going to say Brighton to get sea cabbage, Kent to get our lamb – if I could, I would rear my own lambs here! We just have a philosophy and we work really hard, we are here at four in the morning until midnight but it’s ours and we feel we are building something new. Is social media important to you at all? Social media these days is everything, without social media is like being without an oyster card in London. We put dishes on Instagram and it does attract people but they still don’t really know what to expect. So is the restaurant just for you and your team and your diners or are you hoping to feature in the guides such as Michelin? I cook for people not for the guides. I used to think differently and think that Michelin was the biggest thing in a chefs life but the biggest thing is to cook for people and make them happy and bring the memories out. Don’t try and be the rock star on Instagram – just cook!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th August 2015

Martyn Meid, head chef, INK, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH