Chef Name: Calum Franklin
Title: Executive Chef, Holborn Dining Room
Awards: Best Hotel Chef 2019, Olive Best Pastry Chef 2018
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I was 16 and just finishing school. Well actually I think it was more like 17, as I started off in the potwash and then got moved into the kitchen.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
For sure it’s my Scottish grandmother’s cooking, she made amazing Scotch broths with leftover meat carcasses, vegetables and barley, and lots of honest, uncomplicated traditional dishes. I made a Scotch broth at home the other day and it transported me back there, to simpler times.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
There are chefs out there who have not only become completely at ease with their own style of cooking but also entirely within themselves, just totally devoid of ego. Paul Ainsworth, Tom Kerridge, Angela Hartnett and Nathan Outlaw are just a few here in the UK that I can think of. The way they treat their teams is a direct reflection of how they treat the guests they serve and that’s inspiring to me. Angela said “Hi Calum” to me at a charity event at the end of 2019 and I melted, absolute legend.
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
Jane Grigson’s English Food book because it opened my eyes to an English food identity that I could be proud of, at a time where the international opinion of it really wasn’t great.
Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie book was introduced to me by Tom Adams who runs Coombeshead Farm. Tom is the biggest food geek I know (in the very best way) and we were working with him on a sausage-making project and he told me to get that book… “it’s a Bible” and he was right as always. Since then I’ve managed to form a relationship with the two, and I was so sad we had to cancel a masterclass with them that should have happened in the Pie Room last summer. It will happen one day though.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
That’s a hard question as normally I would say salt and butter but they are such obvious answers! The two ingredients I probably use at home the most are chillies and garlic – we cook a lot of spiced food at home as my wife is from Sri Lanka and chillies make their way into most things, and garlic goes into almost everything we make.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
A traditional British lamb hotpot can lift me out of a dark mood. Deceptively simple and utterly delicious.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
Probably Asador Etxebarri. I’ve only ever heard amazing things about this place and it’s also in one of my favourite parts of the world. I’m not a huge fan of super formal restaurants, I always feel a little out of place and can never fully relax and enjoy myself, but I think this place has a good balance from what I’ve seen.
And who would you take as your guest?
My wonderful wife of course! We are very lucky to have travelled to some amazing places around the world together and I wouldn’t put anyone in her seat if I had the choice. She works in a completely different industry as well (for the NHS) so always gives me a totally honest, unbiased opinion of the food and place. I sometimes might over-romanticise a place because I’ve heard a lot about the chef or gushing stories from friends. It’s a good leveller at the table.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Here at the restaurant it’s all in the attitude. We can teach the rest and are set up to do just that – my senior culinary team have all been here from the first day we opened and have incredible experience amongst them, so we can nurture young chefs. We will always encourage drive and ambition but it helps if you turn up to a job interview with that bit on show, and that will get you through the hard part of learning at the start.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
Go out and work in different styles of kitchen, it gives you a broader understanding of how one day you will want to run your own place – you take the good parts away and take notice of things you don’t want to do as well. Also don’t feel rushed to find your style, that will always come with time, I was in a position once where I felt lost at sea as my friends all seemed to have found their “thing” and I was still searching… but it came with time and I couldn’t be more focused now.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
We spent the first long lockdown in the UK working on a charity project, raising funds for a local hospital to buy the staff a garden they could relax in on breaks, as a thank you for all they have done during this difficult period. It kept us busy and was lovely to see so many suppliers and businesses willing to help out with our plans. This most recent lockdown we made sure all the team were off at Christmas, it’s the first time in seven years we have had that opportunity so we just didn’t want anyone working unnecessarily.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from this is affording myself the proper time to think. To progress and move the business forward I need to have more time set aside to do that, and so does my Head Chef, Mark. With the size of the business we quite often just get caught up in the pace of it and nothing changes for a long time, and we need to address that.
Chef Calum Franklin is Executive Chef at Holborn Dining Room
Address: No. 252 High Holborn, London
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3747 8633