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Philip Howard is a highly successful chef with an eye for talent and a touch for opening restaurants. He owns and operates the two-Michelin starred Square restaurant in London’s trendy Mayfair area and is also one of the partners at The Ledbury, another two-star stalwart of London’s dining scene.
On top of his many restaurant commitments which also include Kitchen W8 and Sonnys Kitchen - both in London - Howard, who has a degree in microbiology, managed to find some time to cook a wonderful meal for guests at the recent S.Pellegrino: Live in Italian, Live from London event - a dining experience like no other where Howard cooked a pasta dish with pulled rabbit and tarragon, a red mullet dish with sardine vinaigrette, aubergine and olive gnocchi and a panna cotta with raspberries and elderflower dessert.
He describes his cuisine as Modern French and says that is often quoted as saying he prefers to focus on obtaining great flavour over any technical wizardry in the kitchen. We caught up with the chef to find out more about his career, his approach to cooking and some of his secrets to success.
You’ve had a long and successful career in one of the toughest dining cities in the world - what has been the key to your success?
The key to success has been to cook food with a view to delivering great pleasure. I never jump on new trends and ensure we look after our guests.
You seem to have avoided the limelight and celebrity status given to many chefs - has that been a conscious decision? If so, why?
I have always focused on the restaurant and doing what I enjoy most - being in the kitchen. We have always operated in an understated manner - from the way we cook, to the font we use on our menus and right through to the way we approach PR.
Your food seems to have evolved throughout your career, what are you currently working on, researching in the kitchen? Things, techniques, flavours, styles that are exciting you?
My food has of course progressed but the soul of it remains very much the same. I use classical and harmonious flavours throughout - so no change there. The cooking now is slightly lighter, sharper in its presentation and uses more varied cooking techniques to achieve the desired results.
Trends you see appearing in Fine Dining?
The trend in fine dining from what I can see is to let culinary ego run wild at the expense of the delivery of true eating pleasure. I simply do not understand it.
What sparked your passion for cooking? Was there a particular event/moment when you realised you wanted to be a chef?
I started cooking at university through the need to look after myself - and knew, from that moment onwards, that cooking would play a huge part in my life.
What’s the one dish you will always remember eating?
Marco Pierre White's Ragout of Shellfish with Leeks and Truffle - flavours of the sea delivered in the most luxurious of ways!
What advice would you give to young chefs of today?
Learn to cook the basics, do not rush your training and learn as much as possible before promotion interferes with the purity of cooking!
What’s the thing that motivates you every day?
Wonderful seasonal ingredients are the things more than anything else that keeps me inspired and wanting to cook!