Young Turks London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th September 2012

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Formed in 2010, the Young Turks consisted originally of three chefs. Isaac McHale, a development chef at the Ledbury restaurant, James Lowe, head chef at St John Bread & Wine, and worked at restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, and Ben Greeno. However, Ben left to become head chef at Momofuku Seiobo, David Chang's new restaurant in Sydney. The chefs formed the Young Turks after they were separately invited to guest chef at the Loft Project supper club, east London. They shared the view that many British chefs were very inward-looking and didn’t take notice of food in places abroad, wanting to incorporate more vegetables, reclaiming neglected British ingredients and update antique recipes. They are known for their pop-up restaurants, the first was in November 2010 at the Clove Club, a 24-cover venue in Dalston; they did another four nights in February 2011. They also did a six-day stretch, extended due to demand, at Nuno Mendes's Loft Project, an east London supper club. In August 2011 they took over Frank's Cafe, on the top of a multi-storey car park in Peckham for two nights. Their dishes use few ingredients as possible to create clean-tasting, flavourful food. Their emphasis is on foraged foods such as mulberries, damson, fennel blossom and pine. The Nordic influence is obvious and there are traces of St John in the emphasis on Britishness. The Young Turks won the Observer Food Monthly Award, Best Newcomer, in 2012. Isaac (Mchale) who and what are the Young Turks? The Young Turks are myself and James Lowe. We were originally three, Ben Greeno (who was one of the founding members) left to run Momofuku in Sydney last year and is now doing very well there. James and I are in the process of trying to open our own restaurants, as Ben has done, but we’re still doing a few bits and bobs together. The Young Turks was always meant to be a springboard for us to get our own restaurants, to get a bit of recognition. So you’re not these young, anti-restaurants types that maybe you have been seen as? No, we want to have restaurants like everyone else, we just went about it differently, and I think the restaurants we want to open are slightly different, and that showed in the events we put on. We did things our way and started to form our own identity. So do the Young Turks have a food identity now then? Yes I think so. I think a lot of it’s come about through the constraints of doing all these pop-up dinners where we were without having to invest in a site and a 15 year lease and kitchen and everything else, we were able to do our food. I guess that identity has partly been shaped by James’ ideas about food, my ideas about food, where we’ve both worked, things we like and dislike in cooking and in restaurants. Give us a quick, brief overview of yours and James’ history in terms of chefs, where you've been? I'm from Glasgow, now 32 years old, worked in Glasgow, didn’t want to go to smelly London, so I went to Australia worked in a very good restaurant, got three hats while I was there, called Marque Restaurant, by a guy called Mark Best, who'd worked at Arpège and various other places, came back, worked at Tom Aikens for a year, to get some experience, then left there to be part of the opening team for the Ledbury and spent five years with Brett (Graham) and the team at the Ledbury working round the whole kitchen. I went to Noma for a month when I was at the Ledbury, then left to do a restaurant with some friends, that fell through, came back to Ledbury as development chef and then started doing Young Turks with James. James came to cooking later, he was going to be a fighter pilot or a commercial airline pilot but then 9/11 happened and they stopped taking on pilots, he loved cooking and restaurants and the whole restaurant experience. So he worked for a bit in La Trompette, the Wapping Project and lots of restaurants whose philosophies he agreed with or places he wanted to see or enjoyed eating in. He spent a couple of years at the Fat Duck, just when they got their third Michelin star and everything went crazy, the River Café and then St John Bread and Wine where he was head chef for I think three or four years and he left to do the Young Turks thing with me. How do you work as a partnership then? Do you collaborate together? Do you both go off and do separate things? How does it work? When we started out we would find a place to do an event while still working full ime and we’d take a week’s holiday to do an event. The first event, me, Ben and James did individual dishes each and realised that that was far less interesting and less rewarding than collaborating on dishes where there's a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and obviously arguing and joking and, “I like this and you like that,” So it’s quite collaborative the way you work? Yeah, the way it’s progressed is we talk about an ingredient or something we want to do and I’ll throw in a way of cooking something and James will suggest that this might work, or he's done that before, and there'll be a little bit of a push and pull and we’ll come up with an idea we think works and then try it out and realise it doesn’t quite work and adjust it slightly, so it’s very much a collaboration. You were brought to a much wider audience’s attention through here at the Ten Bells? How did this come about? Originally it was a short term hasn't it? It was a pop-up? It was a pop-up, the landlord of the Ten Bells, John, wanted somebody to set up his restaurant, he had the pub for ten years but there'd never been a restaurant here and he was in the middle of investing in a kitchen but that had faltered while he'd had an argument with the architect and he needed somebody who could help get the kitchen up and running, we were recommended to him, and he also had D&D on the table as a potential person who could be interested. We just chatted through what we wanted to do and we got on with him and thought it would be fun to try it out. Initially it was a ‘let’s try November, December, January and see where we go from there’ and at the end of that it was such a success we decided to carry on until March, and then on until the end of April. And that has now become… The end of April was our last dinner. We got the honour of doing our secret dinner for the world’s 50 best. We got to cook for Peter Gilmore, David Chang, Daniel Humm, Fergus Henderson, René (Redzepi) , David Kinch and all the team from Noma and Daniel Patterson and.. The list goes on, just an amazing group of folk, it was a eal honour. Since then James and I have been abroad doing events in Shanghai, Milan and Mexico. So lots of things are happening, including us trying to open our own restaurants. I've hopefully got something in the pipeline that's going to be here by the winter, also in East London, something permanent. When you say winter you mean later this year? Yes at the end of this year hopefully, the opportunity arose to carry on at the Ten Bells where we’d spent six months making a great restaurant, there was nothing here before and lots of goodwill attached and it’s a really great dining room. At the same time we’re lucky in that my friend Giorgio who I’d worked with for a long time at the Ledbury, years ago, he's been away in Berlin and Montpellier working in Michelin star restaurants and was looking for his next step up, we needed somebody who could run here fully, so that we could take a step back and look at the new project and give that our full attention. So we decided to carry on here, Giorgio and I do the menus together and yes it’s carrying on now as a full time permanent thing, Upstairs at the Ten Bells. How difficult is it for young talented chefs like yourself to get their own restaurant? You've said that you've used your events, this as a springboard to get your own restaurant but is it financially very hard to get backers?  Yeah I think so.  Is that because you don’t have a product to sell? Well you’ll get backers based not on your own food because you've never cooked your own food unless you start doing proper things, you'll get backers based on them being regulars in a restaurant that you've worked where you've stood out enough from the crowd of staff to be known to them. But then often they might want you to carry on that food style. But then they’re taking a punt on you because they don’t know what you’re like as a personality, your ability to do all the many other things that aren’t just cooking in your restaurant and often as a majority investor they’ll have their vested interests might be stronger than your ideas you have about your food and you might not be able to do exactly what you want to do because you’re instantly shackled by somebody who’s investing. Now in some cases that's understandable, you’re not going to give somebody free rein with your money to throw it all away on something ridiculous but it does mean that commercial viability can take precedent over doing something interesting that you really believe in, that's personal to yourself.. Why have you chosen East London? It’s where we all live, there's less good restaurants here than the West End, there's lower rents, and now going forward, James, me and our business partners Dan and Johnny who did the front of house at the Ten Bells, we want to try and do a restaurant where our friends can feel comfortable and would want to come on a regular basis. The past five years at the Ledbury in the main restaurant I've learnt more than I have anywhere else in my career and brilliant food and a great team but I've never seen my friends there because it’s a very formal setting and they don’t have enough disposable income to come to a place like that more often than very, very special occasions. So we want to do something that's a bit more relaxed where if we’re going to spend a large part of our lives working that at least our friends can come and visit us, we’re not going to get pissed and muck around, we’re very, very serious about what we do but we just want to do something where we see a bit more of our friends and people our age will want to come and that means doing somewhere in East London. Last question then where do you want to be in five years’ time and how will you measure your success in that period of time? Well I haven’t even thought about the five year question. I know we get asked those sorts of questions. At the moment the Ten Bells has been a massive success but oddly neither me nor James have been in charge here, there's been four of us and moving forward now me and the other two guys, Dan and Johnny are running the Ten Bells, somebody else is in the kitchen so while it partly feels like my food the light at the end of the tunnel is just opening the new site at Shoreditch Town Hall. Of course. So that's really the goal is to make the restaurant I'm going to work in day to day that'll be an expression of who I am and Daniel and Johnny as well, making that a success turning into one of these restaurants that can stand the test of time and that people will come back to day in day out because it’s not a flash in the pan. think that there'll be hopefully recognition that we’re doing great food that people want to eat and if I have a full restaurant and people are really, really happy when they leave then great. I love hospitality and generosity and look forward to showing people a great time. Well I wish you every success. Thank you. If you like the idea of what The Young Turks do, then check out our head chef vacancies to search for similar positions. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th September 2012

Young Turks London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH