Masterchef S01 ep5: John Burton, Race Restaurant, [London]
Interview with John Burton
You have to have a passion and sometimes I guess it gets in the way of your personal life. You have to be driven and there are not a lot of people that work for you that might like it. You have to be positive, you have to be very sure of yourself, you have to have arrogance and you have to have strength, an inner strength, and then a desire to push out the boundaries and take yourself over that. The guys that really succeed are the ones that go over the pain barrier. Asian and French cuisine are completely different and it is not just about the flavours, it is about the actual cooking. In Asia, the fat you cook in was very, very expensive, sometimes much more than the protein itself. Hence something went in, and something came out very quickly and you ended up with a crisp crunchy texture, whether it was vegetables, or protein. When it comes to spicing things, Asian cuisine 'coats' and doesn't marinade the fish or the meat - so you don't destroy it's underlying flavour.
KM: What is John Burton Race?
Naturally it is my name and therefore the food that I cook in the restaurant with
my name, represents my style.
I love French made Cuisine, but I tend not to be heavily classic. I prefer to be
on the side of lightness as opposed to the old fashion reducing the sauces. I
am classical only in the way that I might prepare a sauce. Ie. If I am doing a
guinea fowl or a peasant or any other bird, I will use the carcass as the sauce
base. The bones - I won't do as some chefs do, throw it away and then do a
veal stock to make the sauce.
KM: So you want the sauce to have a relationship with the produce.
It has to link, and it.. and after that it is how I develop the sauce. It is usually
sweet and sour and you can use alcohol or you could use fruit.
KM: Where do you come from?
I was born in Singapore.
KM: Oh right, o.k.
My father was the director for the UN for the far east. Initially when I left school
I wanted to do art and I was always interested in painting. My father and in
particularly my mother said well we are not going to support that because you
are going to go on the dole and you are not going to earn any money.
KM What was it about food that…
I think taste. I was a very fat child and you know I ate from the minute I got up
to the minute I went to bed and sometime took some stuff to bed.
KM: What happened to you. You lost it all.
I burnt it off.
Yes, as a child you cannot explain why you like food, but later on it is about
taste it is about textures it is about the whole ambiance about sitting down at a
table and enjoying peoples company.
When was your first moment of gastronomy.
I suppose, when the realisation came that I was good at it. I was cocky, I was
sure of myself,
KM: You are kidding, I cannot imagine that.
And I was driven. I became extremely ambitious and I realised quite early on
that I had the energy, the physical and mental energy for it.
Someone had suggested to me that I go and experience France, and so I got
a job at a restaurant in the Loire valley which is a 2 star Michelin and I worked
there for 6 months.
KM: What was it like compared to London was it a real dramatic change.
It was, it was
KM: What was the big difference for you.
Everything well first of all I met opposition because I was British. What you had
to do was prove yourself, and prove yourself quickly and big time, which I did
and then I went to work for Guy Savoir in the days where he had everything to
prove for himself.
He was very involved in his food, and very passionate and that rubbed off
And he turned things upside down. With classic recipes, soufflés . They'd be
reworked to find another way of doing it.
I moved into Oxford and I worked. I came to be number 2 to a guy named
Raymond Blanc. His approach was, small, very very pretty food, very very
dramatic on the plate and again you can learn something about presentation.
He probably wasn't fundamentally as strong as other chefs I had worked with,
regarding taste and things, but he was a textures man. His food was very, very
visual and very, very light but for a chap of my size and he is very, very small,
I never had enough food to eat. We used to fight like cat and dog because he
would say "it is not about quantity, it is about quality".
He was more or less self-taught he fell down on things.
Well you know, our first crustaceans came into the kitchen, and he said "Oh
John get on with it", because he knew I could break it up but he couldn't. I
mean he would stand there and say, No I don't think you are doing it properly,
but what he was doing was watching. We rubbed off really because where I
was Mr. Boom, he was Mr, sort of, Butterfly and the two together sort of
worked. And then with a friend of mine we set up a business and in Redding,
which we called Lotimers which I was for 13 years.
KM: and now you have moved to here recently.
Yeah, now I have been here, only fifteen months.
It is a progression, a natural progression I suppose. You can take from the
master and you go and work for another master. But eventually there comes a
point that if you have got anything about you that you want to develop your
own style. You set your own standards of what you prefer or what you don't
prefer and it is for you to rub that off and pass that on to the chaps that are
working for you.
KM How do you compose your food?
It is a bit like a picture. If the centre of interest is your piece of sea bream for
example, OK. There we are, we put it on the plate, and we are going to cook it
this way. Beyond that, how are we going to dress it, how are we going to
garnish it, what are we going to try and extract out of that piece of fish. Are we
going to put a sauce, are we going to put a garnish, are we going to put two
sauces. You have maybe three of four slight flavours on the plate all coming
together to create a fifth flavour and then there is textures and there is colour
and then there is nutritional value. But the main thing is that I don't want
anything in the style of my food to distract from the main centre of interest.
KM What about the flavour?
With knowledge you can sort of combine certain things and they work, certain
things don’t work. As far as I am concerned anyway and if you have three or
four flavour on a plate that is not a bad thing as long as eaten together finding
that fourth flavour is a good one.
KM : Clear
What is the difference between the way an Asian flavours with spices and a
Frenchman flavours with spices?
It is completely different and it is not just about the flavours, it is about the
actual cooking, the application of heat. In those countries traditionally, oil, the
fat you cook in was very, very expensive, sometimes much more than the
protein itself. Hence you have got very, very hot oil, something went in, and
something came out very quickly and you ended up with a crisp crunchy
texture, whether it was vegetables or protein or not. When it comes to spice
things, never, ever, it is not like a marinating do you impregnate them - the fish
or the meat - so much that you destroy it's underlying flavour in the ? ever.
You have to have a passion and sometimes I guess it gets in the way of your
personal life. You have to be driven and there are not a lot of people that work
for you that might like it. You have to be positive, you have to be very sure of
yourself, you have to have arrogance and you have to have strength, an inner
strength, and then a desire to push out the boundaries and take yourself over
that… I think runners, there are lots of good runners but the guys that really
succeed are the ones that go over the pain barrier over another thresh hold.
You can do that not just physically as a chef you can do that mentally. But
there are very, very few artists that do anything without some sort of pain. Now
a psychiatrist can sit down here and say well you can achieve without pain for
a chef that is any good that wouldn't be any good at all.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:John Burton, Race Restaurant, [London]