Scott Hallsworth, executive chef, Kurobuta, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th February 2015
Scott Hallsworth it’s safe to say is the pioneer of accessible Japanese cuisine, making a conscious decision to make his restaurants and the menu at Kurobuta London inviting and anything but stiff, shiny and boring. Having previously worked at Nobu, Scott knows Japanese food like the back of his hand with a new diner just opened and a book in the pipeline Scott tells us why Japanese is so much more than just sushi and sashimi. Kurobuta_16Apr_002Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef? Ever since the age of 15 when I was hanging out and being involved in kitchens part time when I was still at school. I was addicted to the buzz and that was it really. What was your first role and was this straight after college? I took an apprenticeship which is the root that you go down in Australia, its not mandatory if you want to learn a trade but the government over there have schemes to encourage youngsters to take on a trade rather than going to do a college course over here in the UK. When did you come over to the UK and what made you choose here to cook? Came in 2001 and it was because I’d heard of the ‘hard London kitchens’ and that it was the place to be. I was told that if you hadn’t really done your time unless you’d been in a London kitchen; that was the point of view from chefs all over the world. I’d just finished up a project with a friend over in France, we had a pan-Asian restaurant in Chamonix and we were coming to the end of that really and I thought that this is the time to get over to London. Was Nobu your first position?BBQ Pork Belly in Steamed Buns with Spicy Peanut Soy I had a trial lined up somewhere else but I missed the trial and then had my next trial at Nobu, so within four days of being in the UK I’d landed the job there. Was that somewhere that you had your sights set on? It was a case of seeing what was out there, I’d only just heard of Nobu briefly before and I didn’t know a lot about it; so I just fell into that role. I had been in New York and heard people talking about it and thought it sounded interesting and somewhere that I would like to eat and next thing you know I was working there and fell in love with that type of food. How would you describe your time at Nobu? In retrospect it seems like a whirlwind although it was six years in London and another year in Australia it was packed full of energy. Of course there was tough times but it was a great opportunity as we could play with ingredients and we had a good foundation to work from. How was it setting up Nobu over in Australia? Kurobuta_16Apr_005It was a good experience although I didn’t like the transition from London to Melbourne. I felt Melbourne didn’t have the same pace, suppliers didn’t have the same enthusiasm and it felt like going in the wrong direction for me. Although I love being in Australia I didn’t think it was a good move and made me realise that London was the place for me. What made you make the move then to open your own place? Was it a pop-up first? It was never meant to be a pop-up, I had been working on Kurobuta for a while and we had another site, the Kendal Street site, that was the first but the investment had dried up and we were stuck with a half-finished restaurant. So the idea was to keep the momentum going as we had started to build a PR buzz and had bills to pay so we found a pop up location to prove our concept and pay those bills and to get another investor to take over where we left off. And that’s what happened the pop-up caused a huge amount of momentum and almost immediately gained another investor and the pop-up became permanent in three months. So how did the second Kurobuta come about?Kurobuta_16Apr_006 The second location was the Kendal Street location that we never got to open first, it was meant to be the first Kurobuta. We opened the pop-up but all the time in the background we were still working on Kendal Street so just the way things worked out it became our second and we didn’t really mean to open two. How would you describe you style of the restaurants? The key word for us is approachable. Everyone did that mimic of Nobu, they tried to all do a shiny version of this contemporary Japanese style where the food was the afterthought with no substance. The world over even if you go to the Middle East is trying to do this shiny version and it’s horrible and soulless. So what I wanted to do was bring a good level of food to mid-market in the best way possible and make it available to the mass market rather than the elite who can afford to go to Nobu all the time. It’s about not putting a stiff spin on a restaurant it’s about making it fun. 2013_07_16_Kurobuta_Hobos_242Do you think that there is always going to new trends and techniques with Japanese food? There will always be new ways of doing things but for us we try to put a different spin on it not just for the sake of having a spin though. When people see bizarre ingredients presented in an unusual way it turns people off, especially in the UK when the common perception is that Japanese food is only sushi or sashimi. Japanese has so much more to offer so we’re making food even more accessible for example making use of the Robata BBQ as people can get their head around something being barbequed. Where do you get your inspiration from for your dishes, do you travel to Japan frequently? Inspiration can come from anywhere, it can fall out of a tree, something you’ve read or talking to other chefs; it’s good like that as you don’t really have to deliberately go and find it. What one ingredient would you say you couldn’t do without? Kombu, a giant kelp from North Japan. It’s lurking in the background and is an ingredient that adds tastiness to things, so it’s a bit like a secret weapon. It can add to umami and to tons of dishes from marinades to soups, we do seasoning with it and it just adds this punch that you can’t get with any other seasoning and it’s natural as well. It’s not like using a chemical enhancer or like using salt or pepper which a lot of western chefs use to season the dish but it doesn’t enhance the flavour [the umami] like Kombu does.Kurobuta food What would you say is your favourite thing on your menu if you had to choose? Pork belly buns, I could probably have one every day and still be ok, it’s not one of those fancy dishes it’s just bloody good to eat. How often do you change the menu? We normally would but when we look at the sales mix across Kurobuta everything sells fairly well and we were weary of not creating a gigantic menu with too much choice, as we understand from our guests that they don’t want that. So we do create new dishes but we don’t change it on a regular basis I suppose it’s just when inspiration leaps out in front of you. Who would you say had been your biggest inspiration throughout your career? When it comes to Japanese food it has to be Nobu, it was the pioneer of the modern spin on Japanese food and really set it up for a lot of people to work from. So where do you like to eat it? Kurobuta_16Apr_077_sPlaces like Polpo in London are fantastic and there’s a place in Barcelona done by the elBulli guys which is an unbelievable tapas type restaurant that is also a huge inspiration. I’m a food lover so I eat just about anything but I do love pan Asian food. What are your future plans? We’re expanding our pop-up location in Chelsea and moving up the road with that and then in the current location we’re opening Joe’s Oriental Diner (more news on this here). Then we’re looking at something in Canary Wharf, there’s an investor we’re talking to in Dubai and I’m in the middle of writing my book ‘Junk Food Japan’ [due out in October]. If you too would like to work in London then head to our jobs board where you will find various position available within the capital.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th February 2015

Scott Hallsworth, executive chef, Kurobuta, London