Chef Sat Bains: ‘I doodle dishes. I dream about dishes on a regular basis’ | Sat Bains
My first passion was art at school. Now I scribble a dish as an idea, then a dish based on the scribble, and finally a Polaroid of the finished dish to write in another Moleskine travel book. That’s the only way I know how to do it. For example, I will go back to the topic of winter, game, cold, berries, orchard fruits – what goes through my head is the seasonality repertoire that is available to me – and then put together 10 dishes for a taster menu based on that Flow, temperature, contrast of texture. It’s a nice trip with someone who knows their craft.
There would be no spice Hell. Seasoning is the magic. It’s what sets every chef apart – finding the right balance and turning a dish from amazing to incredible. This could include a fraction of vinegar or oil, salt or seaweed. This is the gift.
I’m not one of those guys who sat in his mother’s aprons and watched her cook, but an early memory is of one of my sisters, Manjit, who made coffee kisses and butterfly cakes with their wings on, which seemed very exotic. We have a Punjabi background so the food was usually spicy and vegetarian, although my grandmother or mother cooked meat on weekends or on special occasions. My favorite is Keema, a minced lamb curry. A special treat was sometimes to eat crackers and porridge on a Wednesday or get fish and chips on Friday.
I really liked the smell from Windolene. And exhaust gases. Boot polish too. I once ate shoe polish on a biscuit and my mom caught me and said, “What are you doing?” I was only about 10 years old and had everything on my lips and face so I had to take a bath.
I dream of dishes the whole time. I use a voice recorder on my cell phone to get her to bed or whatever.
As a kid, I didn’t like spinachbecause when we ate it at home it stank from the place. Mom used a pressure cooker and I could smell him coming home from school. I would think, “Shit. Mom’s cooked spinach. “It meant your clothes and hair would smell for two days. But after leaving home, I was thrilled.
Papa had shops in the corner and I started working for him at 11 until I was 17. When I went to college – to study art, which I then moved to a City & Guilds craft catering company – I had to work in a store until 11 p.m. I was kicked out of the house when I saw Amanda [his wife], a girl from Nottingham who left home at 16 and was a young high-flyer who got a pub after working on a YTS for Shipstones Brewery. I went to her apartment with my garment bags and sat there crying. But in kicking me out, they did the best they ever could. They thought I would run back as the only son of an Indian family to be comfortable. But then I realized, “This is my way out.”
I don’t care what my dad thinks of what I’ve achieved since then. Some people have suggested that I make up with my family and traditions by selling samosas at some fish and cot shop stores and Momma Bains curries in packs online, but I wanted my mom to be busy in her 70s and I felt a little bit guilty for not paying back her mortgage when I could have. She is a director, shareholder and advisor and comes once a week. It was a new life for her. The people who expand their recipes call them “mother”.
Some of the people who blew me away My life and career have included Mike Tyson, Amanda, Prince, El Bulli and a legend of the Nottingham cooking community, a guy named Rick Murphy – his real name is Mick Walton. He was a real rock and roller, drinker and night owl who was a real mentor and tonic for me as a 20, 21 year old cook and 20 years older and had answers to all my questions and was curious at two or three in the morning. He made every dish easier and simpler. He said things like, “I don’t use lager anymore – just a little water” and, “I don’t have to try things, I just have to look these days.”
Working at Le Petit Blanc [Raymond Blanc’s restaurant chain, which closed in 2003] was a very hard, busy time. I had just married and came back from St. Lucia and moved to a B&B in Oxford. Monsieur Blanc was a brilliant character who can still inspire an entire team. I remember he came into the kitchen one evening around 11 p.m. to show us how to make his mother’s famous crepes. Then he stopped and said, “Let’s have an arm wrestling.” I remember looking at me after a few tries at the other cooks wrestling his arm and he decided it wasn’t the best idea and faked an injury and went into the night.
I have eaten all over the world with Heston Blumenthal and he is the perfect companion due to his encyclopedic knowledge of all matters related to eating and drinking. I don’t have many stories to share with you, unfortunately.
Amanda and I didn’t have children but we have rabbits. We started with rabbits when I bought her a little black one I call Tyson, after the boxer who knocked me out. Amanda burst into tears the first time she saw it. Rabbits are part of our lives and of the restaurant. They could walk around the garden when the guests were having drinks in the summer. It’s just something beautiful.
Amanda’s suggestion of a four day week Everything has been improved in the Sat Bains restaurant. We had time to breathe. The staff came in happy and busy after having Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to attend to other matters. There was no sense of burden. They could even put their feet up if they wanted.
Most of what I’ve ever spent on a meal is probably in Paris at L’Ambroisie, with [fellow two-Michelin star chef] Claude Bosi. The bill can range from £ 700 to £ 1,000. Everyone. I don’t have a problem with it because it’s my thing. What is joyful to sit, order champagne, look at the menu and ask each other, “What do you have?” Until you get dizzy with excitement. Three or four hours later, you had a phenomenal experience.
A very rude, disgusting dinner had turned up really drunk in a Sheffield taxi. Finally he said: “I have no money with me” and he babbled to other guests who were having a nice, joyful, solemn time there. So I asked a waiter to invite him into the kitchen, then we told him to piss off and tossed him out the back door. I don’t know or care how he got back to Sheffield. Everyone was very happy that he was gone.
My favorite things
Japanese food for its culture and craftsmanship – the highest, the most awesome. For a guy who makes soba [buckwheat flour] Happy pasta for 30 years – and that’s all he will ever do – now that’s satisfied.
Whiskey and an old Bordeaux or Burgundy that smells of death and rot.
I love L’Ambroisie in Paris for its classic romance and decadence.
Dish to eat
My partner Amanda makes a killer version of Lorraine Pascale’s roast pork and pear.