Steve Drake On Staying Creative

 SORREL Chef Steve Drake

We chat with Steve Drake, Chef Patron of Sorrel restaurant in Dorking to find out about getting creative in the kitchen, keeping things simple and focusing on flavour

PLUS: We’re treating one lucky reader and a friend to a nine-course Discovery menu experience at Sorrel. Click here to enter.

What inspired you to become a chef? Where did you train?
I took an interest in cooking during home economic lessons when my teacher, Mrs. Banks, told me I was good at it. My first work experience was a Saturday job making bacon sandwiches at a transport café. After school, I enrolled at Southend College.

One of my lecturers had worked in some of London’s biggest hotel kitchens, and I thought I’d quite like to try this. I wrote to The Dorchester, The Ritz, and The Savoy. The Savoy came up trumps and offered me my first job as a commis chef, starting on my seventeenth birthday.

What inspired you to open the new restaurant?

Sorrel is inspired by simplicity, discovery, and the best of seasonal ingredients. I wanted to foster an open kitchen philosophy where ideas, the creative process, and the cooking are shared with our guests and the talented young chefs who work here. I spent the best part of a year really refining the restaurant and experience. I’m delighted with the result.

Tell us more about the dishes on offer…
Our menus change monthly to follow and reflect the seasons, and we use incredible local and British produce. The 9-course Discovery menu is a format I’ve been doing for a while – this really showcases my approach to food, flavour, and creativity.

Do you have any culinary heroes?
Nico Ladenis is a fantastic mentor and very supportive. Winning the Roux Scholarship gave me access to some top chefs and Michel Roux Senior is a huge inspiration too.

Describe your cooking philosophy in three words
Simplicity, creativity, and discovery.

What’s next on the cards?
I want to establish Sorrel as a creative hub for chefs and focus on offering an incredible dining experience. Now we have the restaurant running successfully, this year’s focus is to establish the downstairs private dining area and bar. This will be a really special place for intimate group dining, whether it’s a business lunch or celebration, for tables of 6-12.

What food takes you back to childhood?
It has to be rice pudding, strawberry Angel Delight, and undercooked apple pie.

How did it feel to be awarded your first Michelin star? How did you celebrate?
I was working alone in the kitchen when a friend of mine, another chef, called and said I’d been awarded a star. When I got off the phone, I just carried on making the chocolate tart I was working on. It took a while for the news to settle in and then the bookings doubled overnight. I probably had a glass of champagne to celebrate too.

What’s playing on your kitchen soundtrack?
We don’t have music in the kitchen.

What’s your favourite winter dish?
A comforting beef bourguignon but it’s not something I can eat every day. I love a winter salad with red cabbage, chicory, bitter leaves, merguez sausage, and flaked blue cheese.

Name us three of your favourite restaurants
The Ledbury in Notting Hill, Lyles in Shoreditch, and Maaemo in Oslo.

What has been the toughest challenge of your career so far?
Not so much of a challenge but a real joy has been working with a whole new brigade at Sorrel. Joining the talented kitchen and front of house teams together with a cohesive philosophy and seeing all the hard work and passion from some really talented individuals has been inspiring.

What would you say to aspiring chefs?
Focus on the flavour of the dish in front of you and make sure it tastes nice.

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