All photography by Ali Green (Work by Ali).
Those of you who’ve already got your hands on a copy of The Maverick Guide to Cornwall may be wondering who The Cornish Chef is and why the self-styled culinary ambassador has chosen to remain anonymous. Well the answer is honestly quite simple: it’s all about the food rather than the face.
I first stumbled across The Cornish Chef’s Instagram (@the_cornish_chef) account back in 2019. I was seriously impressed by the simplicity of his recipes and his impeccable food styling (courtesy of Ali Green). With the best will in the world, it’s pretty rare to find polished food photography outside of London, so the enigmatic chef stood out from the crowd with their good lighting, rustic food and penchant for Cornish brands. There was also the obvious ‘mystique’ surrounding their anonymity – could it be an undercover Nathan Outlaw heading in a new direction or a talented newcomer looking to shake-up the Cornish food scene?
Meeting The Cornish Chef
I first met The Cornish Chef at photographer Ali Green’s studio in Liskeard, East Cornwall. At first I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that he – I assumed it was a ‘he’ thanks to their manly knuckles – was Kernow born-and-bred. I got the impression that they were a real ‘salt of the earth’ type and I was ready to be educated about the merits of Cornish produce.
To be honest, I was pretty much spot on. When I arrived The Cornish Chef – let’s call him CC for easy reading – was in full recipe mode. He was midway through dousing a stack of french toast with syrup as Ali Green snapped photo after photo. The pair soon swapped camera and pouring jug for mugs of tea and we all sat down at Ali’s kitchen table to learn more about the man behind the recipes.
First and foremost, I wanted to know why CC was so keen to remain anonymous.
“No matter what, it’s got to be about the food,” he explained to me. “We eat three meals a day and we want to eat and try new things. It’s not about who cooked it or what their name is. It doesn’t matter which French restaurant they trained in or how many stars they have attached to their name. That’s all well and good for a restaurant, but that’s not why I pick up a cookbook. ”
CC struck me as authentic. At first, I had questioned if anonymity was a PR stunt designed to draw more attention to his work. But listening to him wax lyrical about hearty home cooked food uncovered a real and genuine desire to place provenance and ingredients before ego.
“I’ve got no formal qualifications per se,” CC continued. “I started out how a lot of really great chefs do: I left college with a handful of A-levels and I got a job as a pot wash. I went from pot wash to salad boy and slowly worked my way all the way up to Head Chef. To start off as the boy washing the dishes and to end up as Head Chef in four years was what accelerated my interest in food.”
It’s an all too familiar story for a lot of young people starting out in Cornwall. Leaving college there are generally two main career paths available to you: farming or hospitality. “When you first get into a professional kitchen, it will either scare you or excite you,” he laughed. “I was truly fascinated by it and that’s my life up to now.”
As testament to his self-taught credentials, CC’s first exposure to the world of food was through laid back Sundays spent cooking with his grandmother. “The kitchen was the heart of her home”, he explained. “I remember each Sunday, the adults would be sipping on wine as the kids prepped all the vegetables for lunch. Smell is really important in cooking and my earliest foodie memory is of grating fresh nutmeg into granny’s bread sauce. To this day, it remains one of my favourite sides and as cliché as it may sound, it always takes me back to her dinner table.”
This innate love of cooking is what led to the development of ‘The Cornish Chef’ brand. With the help of Work by Ali (Ali Green’s photography and styling agency) he began to regularly upload recipes and ideas to his Instagram page.
“I never used social media before I started The Cornish Chef, but Instagram has been an amazing way to collaborate with local businesses,” CC told me. “We get sent ingredients – like loaves of bread, sea salt or Cornish cheese – and we use them to make unique dishes. It’s really mutually beneficial, because their brand gets to use our photos and in return they tag us to get our recipes out there”.
From these digital beginnings the concept of a physical Cornish Chef cookbook emerged and the pair began to collate together their favourite recipes and photographs.
“We’ve made around 125 dishes so far, all using Cornish produce,” CC disclosed to me. “We’ve developed, written, photographed, and edited each dish. It’s been a long process but it has definitely been worth the effort so far. Whenever I see the results I cannot believe that it’s something we’ve put together in a really chilled and laid-back environment. It honestly looks like something you’d find in one of your favourite cookbooks!”
In an overly saturated industry of professional cookbooks, CC is determined to produce something accessible and easy to read. “I’m keen to take a lot of the ‘chefiness’ out of my recipes and to make them more user-friendly. There’s no point in writing a recipe if it’s going to be some daft cheffy nonsense.”
“I don’t want people to buy our book just to look at the pictures”, he told me frankly. “You’ll find that all my dishes are really straightforward to cook at home, using easy to follow instructions and accessible produce. I’ve got enough cookbooks that are meant to be ‘home cookbooks’ and you open them up to find you need 10g of some fancy emulsifier. No one has time to go out and find some sprig of something exotic halfway through cooking”.
Simplicity is the name of the game, so we can expect home cooked dishes like warming cassoulets, simple tarts and moreish homemade fudge in CC’s upcoming work. But compiling a book from scratch is no mean task…
“It was definitely a harder process than I expected,” he admitted. “As a chef cooking at home – and I class all of these recipes as home cooking – I never weigh anything or even write down my cooking times. I work on a method of ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’. When writing recipes for other people I can’t just wing it. It sounds easy and obvious, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think! As a chef, I like to get stuck in and taste along the way. Having to record everything has been a real process in itself.”
But perfection isn’t the be all and end all for The Cornish Chef and his aspirations.
“It would be amazing if someone took one of my dishes and loved it enough to share it with their friends and family,” he smiled. “That’s probably the highest praise I could ask for. Forget Michelin stars and bestseller lists, if someone actually uses my recipes in their everyday cooking that would be success for me. Ultimately, I don’t need to see my name in print. For me, I want the knowledge that I’ve put something together that I can be proud of.”
Find The Cornish Chef’s exclusive Great Cornish Food recipe shoot in The Maverick Guide to Cornwall Vol 1 (click here to buy) or find him over on Instagram at @the_cornish_chef & www.thecornishchef.com