Our Head Chef Gary White discusses his love of cooking, his vision for The Other House and what it was like living in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s…
How did you initially develop an interest in cooking?
I was never great at school but I was practical, arty and creative – I had a great cookery teacher who, as it turned out, was pretty influential on my career choice! I loved photography too – that was my other passion and I try to combine the two whenever I can. Indeed, in my later years, I got the opportunity to hone my macro-photography skills with N-Photo magazine late last year and spent the day photographing wild mushrooms – to other people, that could be incredibly obscure, but as a chef who loves food and photography – it was the perfect blend for me.
Where has your profession taken you?
Some time ago, I started working with an Arabic chef at the Royal Lancaster hotel in London – we had a large Arabic clientele so developed a menu to suit their needs, and I, in turn, developed a love for Arabian cuisine. So, in 1990, I decided to take the plunge and move to Saudi Arabia. Initially, I liked living there because it was so different to the UK, the people, the culture, the food were so inviting. Even just going to the supermarket was an experience – I remember once, I’d got to the till to pay with a full basket when the call to prayer began, so they pushed out all the customers and went off to pray, I just had to leave my basket behind and wait until they reopened. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been there long before the war with Iraq started affecting where I lived – I remember watching the bombs crashing down from the roof of my apartment block. After the war, decided to pack my stuff, gas mask included and head back to safer shores. Great times, great experience and still a great love for all thing middle eastern.
A few years later I moved to Dubai to work for a catering company and cooked for a private hospital – now, this was when Dubai was in its infancy and quite far removed from what we know it as today, filled with skyscrapers and glamorous celebrities. The hospital where I worked was the only one of its kind in Dubai and I prided myself on creating a five-star service – even garnishing the plates to make them more appetising for the patients. Something that they weren’t doing before. A far cry from what you’d get in a hospital in the UK.
I’ve been back in the UK now for a few years and a career highlight has been working with Tom Aikens at Tom’s Kitchen in Somerset House in London, in 2011. Head Chefs often have the reputation for losing their temper – we see that enough on various TV shows – but Tom wasn’t like that, he was really great to work with. He was creative, and instilled the importance of presentation in me. I have the utmost respect for that man. I can still call him up for advice or for a favour – not so long ago I was on holiday in New York and was desperate to go to the hottest restaurant of the moment but couldn’t get a table for love nor money. So I rang Tom to see if there was anything he could do, and would you know it, we had a fabulous table within the hour – he’s just that kind of guy.
How do you find new ideas for dishes?
I draw my inspiration from all around me. If I go out for dinner, a sauce or technique can inspire me, or I might even get an idea from a takeout meal from Marks & Spencer. Companies like that spend millions on food science and research so they’re concepts shouldn’t be overlooked.
I don’t specialise in a particular genre of food but I do lean more towards things that I enjoy, for example, I love cooking fish because I enjoy eating it. And as I veer towards Middle Eastern flavours, I also like to incorporate staples from that region such as lentils, rice and chickpeas into dishes.
So, what’s on the menu at The Other House?
In The Other Kitchen, we are serving our signature ‘TOK’ sandwiches – The Humongous is a very hearty breakfast sandwich and is quickly becoming a firm favourite. We’ll also serve a range of rotating one pot dishes such as Lancashire hot pot, all prepared using local, seasonal ingredients in limited quantities to minimise food waste – so you’ve got to be quick, if a dish runs out for the day, that’s it until next time.
As we are very eco and sustainability conscious at The Other House, and also aware of the importance of catering for all dietary requirements, we also have plenty of veggie and vegan options- in fact one of the 3 hot pots we will be serving each day will be vegan, so no one feels like they’re being left out of the menu.
In The Owl & Monkey, it’s all about small plates, such as Padrón peppers, whipped feta and chilli oil, and lamb and cumin kebabs with dried apricot harissa, balancing heat with sweetness. We have some beautifully designed tableware that incorporates the fun and whimsy of our brand, complete with a cheeky monkey, so our food and its presentation goes hand in hand with the design.
We have also selected our suppliers to be as sustainable as possible, for example we have chosen Clarence Court eggs from Wiltshire as the hens are fed on carrots and the yolk is wonderfully yellow and our vegetables come from New Covent Garden Market, just down the road.
What’s your vision for The Other House?
Initially we’ll be trying lots of things to see what works. We’ll host interactive cooking classes and supper clubs as we want to encourage our diners to have fun with food. For example, I’d want to show them how to fillet a fish properly, to remove any fear behind what people often view as a daunting task, best left to the professionals.
I’ll give advice to guests on tweaks they can do at home to elevate dishes to restaurant standard; for example, you can give a humble mushroom risotto a boost by roasting shallots, pan frying them, breaking them into pieces and using them as a garnish with shaved Parmesan. It’s simple tricks like that that can make all the difference to flavour and presentation.
I want The Other Kitchen to be the first choice for visitors or locals in South Kensington. We want to get to know our neighbours. Our kitchen is small, but if someone wants to come and see it, they’re welcome to browse around.
We will serve fresh, wholesome, healthy food and I think we’ll attract people who want a solid, comforting meal. We’ll serve good food, not serious food. It won’t be stuffy, and it’s not just for special occasions.
I’ve been to Michelin-starred hotel restaurants that only have three diners. So my aim is to serve food that people want and have a full restaurant space. Ultimately, The Other Kitchen will be a place where people will want to pop in for a chat, a drink and a bite to eat with friends on a regular basis.