Evie Kissack interviews Brummie chef Glynn Purnell, owner and proprietor of the Michelin starred Purnell's, ahead of the BBC Good Food Show.

What methods and flavours particularly inspire the menu at Purnell’s?

Any flavours that I like - and often flavours that evoke childhood memories. Also, any flavours that show off the seasons in the best way they can. 

Methods are anything from the classic techniques - so roasting, pan-frying, poaching - to modern techniques such as sous-vide cooking (where food is placed in a plastic pouch or a glass jar and then placed in a water bath or steam environment), dehydrating, and various other strange-sounding but fantastic cooking methods!

When you first opened Purnell’s, what vision did you hold for the restaurant?

When I opened Purnell’s in 2007, I hoped it would be a major part of the Birmingham food scene for a very long time. I wasn’t trying to make money overnight, I was looking for longevity for the restaurant. Even at that stage, I’d already been working in the industry for 17 years, so I knew what to do and what not to do as I’d learned from some of the best. 

 

You’ll be appearing at the BBC Good Food Show this summer where you’ll be hosting live demos for audiences. Why did you initially become involved with this event?

It’s always good to showcase your skills and promote your restaurant and yourself at these events. Also, they’re fun; you get to meet and see other chefs who you might not have seen in a while and mingle with the crowds. It’s also the biggest food event in the country and it takes place right here in Birmingham, so it would be silly not to be involved! 

 

When did you first discover your passion for cooking?

From when I was five or six years old I used to go down the markets with my mom. I vividly remember her buying fresh ingredients and haggling with the traders. She was very good at it, and we would often walk away with a free bag of pigs’ trotters! They were one of my favourite things to eat, watching Blind Date in my pyjamas on the couch on a Saturday evening. Now I run the Restaurant and Bistro, we still buy produce from the markets. The way my mom had to cook and feed four kids while my dad was at work was certainly a huge inspiration to me. I also used to watch Ken Hom, Madhur Jaffrey and Keith Floyd on television with my dad when I was growing up. Being around food was a very important part of my childhood and the dinner table at home was the heartbeat of the entire family. You couldn’t miss dinner or be late! It would have been the worst thing in the world. It’s the respect of the ingredients when you’re eating the food. I’m from a humble background where there wasn’t a great deal of food, so what I did have I really enjoyed. When I was a kid and I cracked an egg into a pan and it changed colour, or when something would change form when I heated it, that really blew my mind. Also, the romantic side is that I believe that food is the most important thing in the world. I’ve always enjoyed cooking something and seeing the change in the person when you put it in front of them. When you cook something for someone, or even just offer them a sweet, and they light up and instantly feel happier. I just love food.

 

How would you describe your style of cooking?

My style of cooking very much reflects my personality. My cooking and the restaurant is basically me. It’s my personality both on the plate and in the dining room. It’s my own unique style of cooking and my own unique perception of food and how it should be served. There are a lot of French influences in there, as I did a lot of my training and early years of work in France. It’s very individual. Modern but with classic roots. It also has an enormous sense of humour. The taste is obviously very important, but so is the personality of the food. I don’t like to use the word, but people call it quirky! It has a serious edge, but also a quirkiness to it. You know it’s my food as well. If you put it in front of someone, they would know it is Glynn Purnell’s dish... you’d be able to pick it out of a line up!  Not many chefs can say that.  

 

Of course, Purnell’s is a Michelin starred restaurant - what is it about the fine-dining experience offered at Purnell’s that differs from any other restaurant?

I don’t like to use the word fine-dining, because it makes me think of doilies, frilly napkins and bone china. Fine-dining as a word isn’t relevant to what I do. We’re a gastronomic restaurant. It’s a gastronomic experience when you come here. The difference is that we attack all senses - vision, smell, taste, touch, sound. We give our diners a full theatrical experience rather than just an experience for the taste buds. As for the restaurant itself, it used to be quite generic. It used to be quite grey, with dark tables. A local award-winning designer came to see me, and we had a coffee and chatted a few times and he then built the décor around my colourful, lively personality and to go with the food. It’s very unique. It’s very colourful. When he first showed me the mood board, I thought somebody had thrown up on it. But you’ve got to trust these people and they did a fantastic job.

 

If you had to pick a career-defining dish, what would it be?

My Haddock and Eggs… it is on the edge of genius! It was inspired by my mum. She used to cook haddock and eggs, so I do an upside-down version. It’s a dish that means a lot to me. It’s not only one of my signature dishes at Purnell’s, it also reminds me of my childhood. My mom cooked haddock in her big flowery pan. When that particular pan came out, it was either cod roe or haddock and eggs for tea. She would cover the haddock in milk and cook it slowly over a low heat so that the milk took on that lovely smoky fish flavour. She’d then take out the fish, which, by the way, would have been overcooked, put it to one side and crack eggs into the milk to poach them. The eggs would take on the amazing flavour of the smoked haddock. The sad thing was that she would pour the milk away, but I would often take a spoon and drink the smoky liquor before she did so. That’s why, in my version of haddock and eggs, I throw the fish away, thicken the flavoursome milk and serve it with a poached yolk. I also serve it with cornflakes…! While my mother was cooking, I would be running around the garden with my siblings, feeling decidedly hungry. I would dash inside two or three times to ask for ‘a piece’, meaning a slice of bread. The first couple of times I’d be allowed to have one, but by the third time it would be, “No, wait for your tea!” Gutted to be turned away, I would sneak in and pinch a pocketful of cornflakes. Then one day, I put haddock, eggs and cornflakes together and boom! My first signature dish was created!

 

Who is the most notable customer you’ve cooked for?

My mom… or Heston Blumenthal. Heston is an absolute legend. 

 

What ingredients could you not live without?

Eggs. 

 

How do you enjoy spending your spare time when you’re not running and being head chef for a Michelin starred restaurant?

I enjoy fly-fishing, spending time with my partner Kerry, playing with our three children, and our new puppy Pickle! I used to do oil painting, but I haven’t done that for years. Maybe I need to do some more oil painting! I do find that relaxing.

 

What do you think is the key to a successful kitchen?

Organisation, harmony, enthusiasm, passion and great ingredients. 

 

What qualities do you look for in aspiring chefs?

Enthusiasm, and the will to learn. Sometimes enthusiasm needs a little bit of direction, but I never stifle enthusiasm in my team. 

 

What culinary trends do you think we will see in 2018?

I think a lot of classic cooking is coming back. A lot of renaissance French cookery seems to be creeping back in. I’ve noticed it a lot over the last six months. The trend has been very Scandinavian for the last couple of years, but now it seems to be going back to the motherland! 

 

Finally, why did you choose Birmingham as the location to open Purnell’s?

I didn’t choose Birmingham; Birmingham chose me! I was born here, and it’s the centre of the universe as far as I’m concerned. I opened a restaurant in Birmingham when it was the culinary desert of Britain, and I believe I’ve had quite a strong hand in making it one of the best culinary and food destinations in the UK, if not Europe. The ironic thing is that Birmingham is actually twinned with Lyon, which is the home of gastronomy. It’s also twinned with other fantastic food cities such as Chicago. Now we can actually stand shoulder to shoulder and be able to stick our chests out and be as good as them.

 

Catch Glynn at the BBC Good Food Show Summer this June.

55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham, B3 2DH

 

 

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