We chat with Paul Greening, head chef at aqua kyoto to find out more about his foodie inspirations and ‘eclectic, creative and contemporary’ cooking style.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I began working in a kitchen when I was studying Microbiology at University in New Zealand. I had no previous experience so I started out washing dishes and quickly realised that this was the industry I wanted to be a part of.
Working in the labs at university was analytical and often mundane, whereas working in the kitchen was exciting and every service offered a different experience which is what inspired me to pursue a career as a chef.
Tell us more about your culinary background…
Early on in my career, I worked with a Dutch chef in New Zealand who acted as a mentor to me and helped me to refine my cooking techniques. I then went on to win Commis Chef of the Year and a silver medal representing New Zealand as a member of the Junior Culinary Team in Japan. After returning to New Zealand, I began working with acclaimed chef Takashi at Kermedec restaurant, one of the best chefs in Auckland. This is where I refined my understanding and cooking techniques of Japanese cuisine.
In 1998, I moved to the UK to gain international experience and worked with chefs such as Simon Hopkinson, Marcus Waering, Pierre Koffmann and Pierre Gagnaire. After returning to New Zealand for a short period of time after an injury I moved back to the UK and worked for D&D Restaurants overlooking several restaurants, including a site in Copenhagen.
I then opened the restaurant Australasia in Manchester before returning to work at the Japanese restaurant, Novikov, in Mayfair. It was during my time at Novikov that I met David Yeo, the founder of Aqua, and joined as Executive Chef at aqua kyoto.
How did growing up in New Zealand influence your cooking?
New Zealand influenced my career in many ways but mostly through the ingredients available. Seafood is readily available and so fresh that it was my ingredient of choice in many dishes.
My family also influenced my cooking in that my father was a Marine Biologist and travelled to Asia for work. He brought back many ingredients for me to try and instantly I loved how different and complex the flavours were.
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
The proudest moment of my career was winning Commis Chef of the Year in 1994. The award reconfirmed that I had made the right choice in pursuing a career as a chef.
If you weren’t a chef, which career would you like to pursue?
If I wasn’t a chef I would have continued my education in Microbiology to become a biologist. However, that’s why I love being a chef because I can bring elements of science into my cooking methods.
Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs?
Part of being an executive chef is having the opportunity to train people daily and help them develop their skills in the kitchen. The tips I would give to aspiring or current chefs is to focus on the details and apply persistence to your career.
Detail is so important whether it’s your cooking technique or developing menus and that detail is what sets you apart from other chefs. Persistence is also important because it takes time to develop your cooking skills and find a cuisine type that showcases your talents.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Eclectic, creative, contemporary.
What provides you with inspiration for new recipes?
Nature and tradition provide me with inspiration for my new recipes. The UK is full of incredible produce and ingredients and there are endless ways to utilise these ingredients. Japanese tradition is also a large source of inspiration as there is so much rich history in their cooking techniques.
Do you have any role models?
Pierre Gagnaire, a three Michelin starred chef, is my biggest role model. He believes in ‘facing tomorrow, but be respectful of yesterday.’ He took the time to train me when I worked for him in Paris and also instilled the importance of discipline and creativity in my personal cooking style.
What food takes you back to childhood?
Picking strawberries and eating them straight off the vine is one of my favourite childhood memories. The smell and the flavour of the fruit embody summers in New Zealand.
What are your favourite summer ingredients?
Again, strawberries. They are versatile and can be used for so many sweet or savoury dishes.
What’s next on the cards?
I’m currently working on a design project for Shiro restaurant in Hong Kong, which is also part of the Aqua Restaurant Group. This includes designing a new range of crockery which focuses on design and functionality.
Where: 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street, Entrance 30 Argyll St, W1F 7EB, London W1B 3BR
Reservations: Phone 020 7478 0540 or click here to make a booking
Find more chef interviews in the latest issue of Good Things