Masterchef S01 ep9: Phil Howard, The Square Restaurant, [London]
Interview with Phil Howard
To achieve that final 10% of perfection you need to cut out all the emotional content of cooking and get a strategy. Stop playing around everyday with different ingredients, and stop acting on sponteneity. Training your staff to understand exactly what you are doing. Being able to reproduce the same dish perfectly as quickly as possible. Marco Pierre White had the ability of identifying fantastic combination of flavours from wherever it may be in the world. Taking the essence of a dish and without exception improving it both in content and presentation so what you are getting on the plate was the most beautiful food that had ever been produced in the country. You will never be able to repeat the Beatles or the Stones.He represents to cooking what they represent to music.
The square first and foremost is almost 10 years old. We started just over the
other side of Picadilly. Nigel Platts-Martin, my partner and I we spent a very
boozy evening about 10 and half years ago thinking about what we should call
this place and it was just the name because it was just down the road from the
St. James's Square.
I'm doing because I love it. I started cooking when I was at university where I
was studying away to be a microbiologist, and I just got into it, I loved it, it is
just great fun.
I completed my degree, and I left university and I went straight to France. I
thought right I am going to dump myself right into the deep end and I went
right into the middle of the doydoyne.
KM – You went where?
Into the Doydoyne. Some friends had been to this place and they said they
knew something he mumbles about being a chef, come down and have a look,
and so that is what I did for a summer and I thought yeah that was it.
It was a small kitchen very rustic genuine French cooking, in this beautiful old
chateau in the middle of the countryside, using seasonal and local ingredients.
Cooking is just one of those wonderful organic processes, better chefs have an
absolute understanding what is going into the dish, what is going into the pan.
All the processes of cooking are something that you get incredibly involved
KM – So how long ago was this?
This was 14 years ago and so I came back and I applied to the obvious
KM – Who accepted you?
…and I managed to get in bed with the Roux brothers so to speak.
KM – Oh my God, the Roux brothers again!
Yeah they are. I was talking to somebody again yesterday, about frois gras
why do we all use frois gras, why does everybody have so much frois gras on
the menu now and that is because the gene pool that we all draw from is the
And I then went to Harvey's. That was a significant experience. I was virgin
territory when I started with the Roux Brothers. I had no college experience I
had amassed no other knowledge. And so I was very concerned, not
concerned, I just did not want to get too moulded into my first job. I did not
want to develop any sort of shell that was going to be hard to break out of and
Marco at the time, I happened to tap into his kitchen at the absolute prime
You look at the enormity of that man's character and influence on this town
and you ram all that back into his beat so to speak and distribute that into his
kitchen, no bigger than this room. That sort of …
KM – All that energy was in there.
All that energy was and not even that it was on 50 or so plates that went out of
He had the ability Marco, and he would be very honest about it with you, of
identifying, he is very classical, identifying fantastic combination of flavours
from wherever it might be in the world, sort of Top French cooks something
now that is fantastic. Taking the essence of a dish and without exception
improving it both in content and presentation so what you are getting on the
plate was the most beautiful food that had ever been produced in the country
and yet you cannot take out of the equation just him. You will never be able to
repeat the Beatles or the Stones, he represents to cooking what they
represented to music.
To achieve that final 10% of perfection you need to cut all the emotional
content of cooking and get a strategy. Stop playing around everyday with
different ingredients, and stop acting on spontaneity, getting people to
understand what you are doing, getting them as fluent as possible in doing
what they are being asked to as quickly as possible.
KM – But that is the analogy of the artisan versus the artist. The artisan is
perfecting a technique and that is it and the artist is evolving a technique. Is
that the difference you are talking about?
I think it is. And right now at the Square we are on that boundary.
Of course I would love to have that third star because that is it still for most of
KM – Lovingly put
What we recognise as being the ultimate accolade, and from a personal point
of view who wouldn't want to have it and every time you make progress you
get up to the next step you view changes and you see the next thing. Once
you have got he second star you get up to that step and unfortunately the final
at this stage is three stars.
At the two star level, you tap into the best of both worlds. You have lifted
yourself up and above the one star riff raff as you say, that is severe I mean,
you have put yourself significantly in the lime light and most importantly from a
business point of view you are now taping into the people who spend big
money on wine.
My belief is classical, all be it modernized and lightened up a little bit but
traditional cooking will always live though any fashion trend. All I care about is
that you walk out of this place happy and I'll serve people whatever they want
and we draw the line at perhaps ketchup, but other than that you know.
KM – Anything goes.
If someone wants a well-done steak well they get a well-done steak, I am
really not fazed. It is about - you know all that bit is ego, and once you get ego
out of the equation it is the right thing to do - to give the customer what they
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:Phil Howard, The Square Restaurant, [London]