It’s no secret that the team at Sussex Exclusive love really good food and we also love interesting people, so having written about his summer residency at The Pass recently, we were thrilled to be able to catch up with chef Steven Edwards ( The Masterchef: The Professionals 2013 winner, former chef at South Lodge and owner of etch.). We wanted to know what he’s like, what inspires his tasting menus and love of food, as well as his creative processes and his plans for the future. Oh, and of course, we wanted to know what is his guilty food pleasure and what, if anything, he’s discovered as a result of the pandemic!
A phoenix rising from the ashes
As all things seem to start with Covid in mind these days, the first and most obvious question was what’s been going on in the world of etch. since the start of the pandemic?
“We made the decision not to go down the takeaway / finish at home style boxes, although like everyone else, we had no idea the lockdown restrictions would go on for so long.” Steven explains, “When we were able to open we did, and what became clear to me during those periods as it did to many others, is that quality time spent treating yourself to really good food and drink has never been more important. Apart from all that, I also had a new baby as well as home schooling to contend with so I decided early on that I would use any time I had during lockdown to plan how we could come back bigger and better than ever before.”
On the subject of coming back bigger and better, if you haven’t heard already, Steven’s Hove restaurant etch. is closing over the summer for major refurbishments while Steven heads over to do a two-month residency at The Pass at South Lodge. Trying to find out more about what we can expect from the big etch. reopening later this year, he rather tantalising promised that all will be revealed towards the end of the month. Hmm, I sense something intriguing afoot and we’ll share what we know, as soon as we know it!
If you’re interested in heading to The Pass, Steven’s tasting menus are already available online and are well worth a look. The menus follow the style of the etch. tasting menu with each course majoring on two main ingredients which begs the question, what is the process behind the design of each of the individual dishes and the bringing together of the whole menu as one work of art?
“The menus are very much based on the idea of sustainability, seasonality, structure and creativity. In terms of sustainability, my belief is that the key is balance. So, if for example, we all ate a lot of one particular ingredient, it becomes unsustainable. One of the goals behind what I want to achieve is to use variety and to use ingredients in moderation. If we use scallops on the menu, they’ll only be on the menu for a short time whilst they’re in season. They’ll also be hand-dived and local. We want the highest quality ingredients and that comes hand in hand with produce that is in season.”
Creativity and structure
So what about this juxtaposition of creativity and structure?
“You’ll notice that the menus follow a formula, namely a vegetable dish, followed by fish, a meat dish, then cheese, chocolate and fruit. I like to think of this as a British Larder experience and it automatically provides an element of balance as well as structure. We also have the constraints of sustainability and seasonality which means within this structure, we have a constantly evolving menu.
I’ll map the dishes for a year ahead and the combination of ingredients that we’re going to use. The idea is to bring out the full potential of the two main ingredients of each dish. We keep a loose definition of what the actual dish will be which allows for creativity and before we start delivering the dish, everyone in the team is encouraged to experiment with the ingredients to see if they can come up with a better version than mine. We might use their dish or an element of it, or we might save it for a later menu but it means that the dishes are constantly changing as we experiment and improve.
The final part of the process is that we want to educate and inspire our diners. We don’t use spices because we’re very mindful that these can distract you from the flavour of the main dish, but we use a variety of herbs. We also work carefully with our suppliers so that we know exactly what will be in season when and then we experiment. For example, we might use a variety of six different chocolates in the rawest form and then experiment with what herb or ingredient might bring out their very best. It might seem unusual to some but it’s a way I can share the experience and understanding of flavours that I’ve built up over the last decade.”
The man behind the menu
Impressed by Steven’s easy going and down to earth manner, you can’t help but wonder about the man behind these magnificent menus and what inspired him to become a chef in the first place? As it turns out, football’s loss is our gain, as Steven’s first plan in life had been to be a footballer.
“But I also grew up around hospitality. My father worked at Ashdown Park and we lived on site so I could hang out in the kitchens watching the chefs at work. It felt like second nature.” he explains.
Guilty food pleasures
And what about Steven’s guilty pleasure? Well, to some extent that’s all about balance too as he happily admits … it’s MacDonalds!
“I admire the brand’s consistency. You can go more or less anywhere in the world and enjoy the same McDonalds experience, and they’ve absolutely nailed that. As a big believer in both process and consistency, you can’t help but admire that and it makes a welcome change sometimes when I’ve been consistently eating high-end menus.”
And of new discoveries during lockdown?
“Well, more than ever before, I’ve discovered the joy of getting outside with family. It’s brought home once again, the importance of nature, and the seasonal ingredients that are there to be foraged as well as reminding me what a wonderful county we live in.”
Well, we’d certainly say Amen to that!
You can view Steven’s menus at: The Pass Restaurant in Sussex | Luxury South Lodge hotel (exclusive.co.uk)