By Samantha Coles
After a sojourn in Melbourne last year, The Fat Duck has made a welcome return to our list. Providing more than just exceptional (and famously experimental) cuisine, The Fat Duck’s aim is to take diners on a nostalgic adventure. Head chef Jonny Lake tells us how his studies in physics and biology inspired his relentless curiosity.
How does it feel to be voted for by consumers, instead of by food critics or industry insiders?
Industry awards and accolades are one thing, but ultimately everything we do is for our guests, so for us to be on this list, curated by diners themselves, feels great.
What attracted you to The Fat Duck?
I started at The Fat Duck over 11 years ago as a chef de partie, and what attracted me to this place was how Heston Blumenthal and his team were trying to do something totally different. They were pushing the boundaries of taste and convention and culinary techniques, and that motto of ‘question everything’ is something that remains to this day. I think I share Heston’s relentless curiosity, so The Fat Duck was a good fit for me.
Where did your interest in experimental cuisine begin?
My interest in science actually preceded that in cooking. In my early 20s I moved to Montreal to study physics and biology at university. It was only once I’d begun cooking that I came to realize that learning is endless. I really believe you can learn something new in the kitchen every single day if you ask enough questions. It really depends on what you consider ‘experimental cuisine’ to be, but I think it’s a natural instinct for chefs to always be trying to improve and tweak a recipe, making it better every time by experimenting with different methods, techniques and ingredients.
The Fat Duck experience draws on childhood memories. What was your favorite dish as a child? Is it still your favorite?
Pancakes with lemon juice and sugar. My parents are British but I was born and grew up in Canada, so these types of pancakes were quite different to what most of my friends would eat at home. I do still like them, but I tend to cook fluffy buttermilk pancakes for my kids now.
The Fat Duck experience is likened to a journey. Where inspires you? Where do you think the most exciting country or city for gastronomy is?
I do think that London is one of the most exciting cities for gastronomy. There’s such a huge range of different cuisines and influences and novel ideas, and so many chefs are coming to open restaurants all the time. I think the early years of my career when I lived in Italy inspired me more than any other, but I’ve been influenced by every stage of my life in some way or other.
What has been your proudest moment?
Promoting Ed Cooke from sous chef to head chef at The Fat Duck. I am very proud of him for making it all this way.
What do you do with your free time, if you have any?
I try to eat out as much as I can and to spend as much time as possible with my wife, Shannon and my kids Sadie, Rufus and Orla.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m working on two big projects at the moment. We’re refurbishing our Michelin-starred restaurant The Hind’s Head in Bray, just down the road from The Fat Duck, which will now have its own cocktail lounge. We’re also developing the garden at The Crown, our pub in Bray, to include its own outdoor bar and kitchen. And The Fat Duck is constantly evolving so that’s always ongoing.