Meet The Chef Who Likes To Spice Things Up

2015-05-14 Alun Sperring, owner/head chef at The Chilli Pickle, Brighton, East Sussex, UK photo ©Julia Claxton

We chat with Alun Sperring, Head Chef and owner of The Chilli Pickle in Brighton to find out about the restaurant’s recent refurbishment and 10th anniversary celebrations

What inspired you to become a chef?
I wanted a job that would enable me to travel the world and be creative. I got the wanderlust from my grandfather who was in the Merchant Navy and told many a story of his adventures. Starting out in Europe I knew very early on that this was the career for me and resulted in working in 8 countries and four continents over 20 years.

Do you have any culinary heroes?
My learning was very classical French; Repertoire de la Cuisine. Nico Ladenis, The Roux Brothers, Raymond Blanc, Pierre Koffman, these were the people I looked up to as a young chef. I worked in The Cinnamon Club in 2004 with Vivek Singh and this got me really excited about Indian Cuisine – The last 13 years have been purely focused on Indian Cuisine and The Chilli Pickle which means I am in my element!

Tell us more about the new interiors?
At The Chilli Pickle our inspiration has always been to create the vibrancy of India. When in India the sights, smells, sounds, colours etc are incomparable and makes India the incredible place that it is. We just hope that we bring a small part of that into The Chilli Pickle with our interiors.

Describe your cooking philosophy in 3 words
Spicy, flamboyant, colourful.

How will you be celebrating your 10th Anniversary?
Well definitely a great bottle of red will be had with Dawn. We will probably create a menu out of a bunch of our favourite dishes over the last 10 years for all our regulars. There have been a few requests for a party, so there may be a couple more celebrations.

What’s next on the cards?
It is a very exciting time for us as we have plans to grow the brand – considering we have been around for 10 years, it feels like the right time.

What food takes you back to your childhood?
Our house was always full of kids. My brothers and foster siblings meant my Mum had a very busy task on her hands cooking for us all, therefore it was quite functional as budgets were tight and she had many people to please, but with her Welsh origins Mum baked thousands of Rock cakes and Welsh Cakes the latter instilling in me a lifetime weakness for butter.

Whats playing on the kitchen soundtrack?
During service nothing as I like it quiet. The mornings have a real mixture as everyone seems to take it in turns. If I had my way John Grant, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Radiohead would be on, but they might not be the right motivational sounds! Dawns more the muso and certainly during service I prefer no music.

Whats your favourite winter dish?
Fiery Mutton Laal Mas is always a favourite and Kerala Duck Stew with a warming black pepper heat and all the coconut broth mopped up with a spongy appam pancake. Food for the soul.

Name 3 of your favourite restaurants?
The Wolsey as it reminds me of my early years in North Europe and because it’s a great restaurant. The Cinnamon Club as previously mentioned. In India Delhi is our London so many great places from the most luxury hotels to the hawkers stands & back streets of Paratha WaliGali & Karims Hotel.

What has been the toughest challenge of your career so far?
Having your own restaurant has had many challenges over the years. I guess the most common and ongoing one for me is being able to maintain downtime with the family and kids and to truly switch off.

What would you say to aspiring chefs who wish to open their own venue?
Having your own place is exceptionally hard work but incredibly rewarding. Be sure to do a realistic (pessimistic) cash flow forecast for the first year and get some good advice. Speak to people who have done it before if you can. Guaranteed the mistakes you will make would of all been done before (although they are most definitively part of the process). It is a great feeling being able to be your own boss and inspire people that are in the early stages of their career.

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