Chef Name: Piers Dawson
Title: Private Chef | Food Consultant | Food Stylist
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I was born into a restaurant owned by my parents. From just a few days old I was kept in a cot in the dry store while they worked. But I didn’t start cooking until I was much older. My focus throughout my school years and early twenties started with surfing and progressed into graphic design, then music, touring and promotion.
It was only following my move from Sydney to London, and after a brief stint working for my aunt who owned a small catering company in Battersea, that I started to focus full time on cooking.
For many years I worked freelance for GIG/Eat to the Beat, and Alison Price & Co. The two companies could not have been more different, and I really enjoyed working for both at the same time. One was rock and roll and touring the world, the other was government, high-profile, high-end events. I had the best of both worlds.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
The passion and love my dad had for food mesmerised me from a very young age. He wasn’t a chef but his home kitchen was on an industrial scale: Zanussi restaurant chargrill, industrial extraction, turbo ovens. He got me a mushroom kit which we grew under the sink. I hated mushrooms, but I loved our kit! He would come back from the market with huge, live crabs, untie them and let them run around the kitchen, claws snapping.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
Most of the people that inspire me are figures from my past. I’ve been fortunate to work with truly creative and inspiring chefs. They have made me who I am today and helped shape my perspective in cooking. The internet and Instagram are also a huge influence, but the people who I started with in the kitchen still inspire me and hold a special place. In particular:
Richard Cubbin – Executive Chef Director, Alison Price & Co. Richard was my boss throughout my time at Alison Price and remains a long-standing friend and mentor. He made me look at the way we present food in a completely different way. The presentation at Alison Price back then was insane. He had faith in me – enough to make me his Executive Sous Chef.
Petri Poysti – Executive Chef, Urban Caprice. I have worked under Petri in many different positions. Petri is a culinary mastermind. His creativity and flavour combinations are endless, and he has a profound ability to see dishes from a completely different perspective. He has always inspired and pushed me.
Jens Nisson – Executive Chef, Bubble Food Ltd. Jens was another of my head chefs. He was a friend, but as a chef he gave me responsibility and, most importantly, he gave me his trust in my abilities, which gave me the confidence to do what I do now.
David Simms – Previously Culinary Director at RA Group, MD of Corrigan Collection and Simon Rogan Restaurants. Dave was my first head chef and is a perfectionist. Still to this day everything has to be perfect, or it is in the bin. His traits set my standards.
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
My dad gave me Larousse Gastronomique when I first started cooking, which is a classic and a true bible, but at the same time I was given Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. She’s an Australian restaurateur and the book comprises of simple classics, but it is broken down by ingredients which I love and every ingredient has a great pairing section. My copy is old and battered but still sits centre stage on my bookshelf.
I would also add Quay by Peter Gilmore and Alinea by Grant Achatz. I was young and in the kitchen in London and these two books changed what we did with food. They changed the way we looked at food. It was massive.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
Vinegar – all types. I use so many different types in so many different ways. It transforms a dish, it cuts through fat, and it can highlight simple flavours.
Flour – without flour we would not have sourdough and sourdough is a big part of my life.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
I love nothing more than cooking at home. I can be away with work for months, and the first thing I want to do when I get home is cook for my family. The summers are hot in Mallorca, so home cooking is light and flavourful. We have amazing pork producers on the island, and I also cook a lot of Asian food, especially dim sum and dumplings. In the winter I prefer warm and slow cooked comfort food. I always have a slow cooked bolognese in the freezer. And there is always sourdough freshly made in the house, it’s an obsession.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
There are too many to choose from and too many that I still want to visit! When travel becomes easier again I want to start ticking them off my list. Experiencing the work of other chefs is so important for my own personal journey and creativity. A big regret for me was missing the chance to eat at El Bulli, I had been so close.
And who would you take as your guest?
Petri Poysti because he is critical and I love his views; and my wife Holly because I love her take on food. She is not from a foodie background but understands the process and appreciates the work that goes into it. She is my ultimate judge – plus she’s great company.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Creativity, a good work rate and a down-to-earth mentality. Cooking should be fun and I don’t want attitude in my kitchen. I want to get on with the chefs that I work with, after all, I will probably spend more time with them than my own family.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
It’s not all about college or doing a stage in Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s about working with creative people. Surround yourself with great people, people you respect. The days are long and hard, but it should be fun. You need to be around chefs that are willing to teach, to support you and who are happy to pass on their knowledge. Every day will be a learning day. Learn to do things the right way first, the traditional way. Once you know how to do it, that’s when you can do it your own way.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
My wife and I moved to Mallorca in 2015. We were ready to own our own business and I was ready to cook for my own clients, and cook the food I wanted to cook. Many people ask me why I don’t own a restaurant, and a lot of it is to do with flexibility. I want to remain flexible in where I work and who I work for. I don’t want to feel stuck in one place.
With the doors to the island closed during the pandemic, it has given my wife and I the time to focus on other areas of our business. The time I never normally get to have out of the kitchen. We have finally had the space to start the development of our ceramics range which is something I’m deeply passionate about and which has provided me with the opportunity to work with the hugely talented @mahamx. Exciting things to follow on that front soon.
The pandemic has also given us the time to develop our local relationships. Everyone here on the island is in the same boat, with a mutual understanding of the enormity of how we have all been affected. Having the opportunity to focus on our local community and share my food locally, has been a deeply rewarding privilege. Focusing on sustainability and supporting local suppliers and businesses are all the reasons I came to this island and it has been a pleasure to be able to focus on that this past year.
Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?
I would say I have worked hard to optimise our business strategy during the pandemic. For chefs, it often feels that we are never out of the kitchen long enough to be able to review, reflect and reposition – well that’s certainly how I have felt for a long time. So any chance we get it’s good to make the most of it. Covid has given many of us that time, and with life as we know it, we have to change the way we view things, we have to think outside the box.
As chefs, the one thing we need to be is creative. Not being able to express ourselves is the hardest thing and that has caused a lot of mental instability for chefs during the pandemic, myself included.
But in this new era, everyone is trying new things for the first time, and as a result I’m pushing myself to set the trends, not to follow them. My latest collaboration with a luxury hotel on the island came to fruition in February this year as an outcome of the pandemic and I believe has set the ground for something truly unique and special.
Chef Piers Dawson is a Private Chef based in Mallorca.