Chefs on Fire

Somewhere in everyone’s favourite memory is an occasion spent cooking and eating around an open fire. Whether dining at a teppanyaki grill, experiencing the intense smoky flavours of a tandoor oven or enjoying a BBQ, cooking with fire has had a huge resurgence and consumer demand is fanning the flames. In this month’s melting pot, our experts give us advice and guidance for making the most of this outdoor cooking trend.

Andrew Clarke, Chef-Owner and Co-Founder, Acme Fire Cult

Almost every dish has a component that comes from the fire in some way, whether it is smoked, charred, grilled, burnt, boiled or fried. Anything that needs cooking will find its way onto the hearth. We change the menu every service, but we try to keep some of our core dishes around, as these are usually the best sellers. Grilled leeks with a pistachio romesco; Coal roast celeriac with mushroom-kelp XO and coco bean miso; Aslam’s butter-style cauliflower; Tamworth pork chop and mojo rojo, and grilled mackerel with green tomato gribiche are a few of our classics. 

On our grill, temperatures can hit 400C, and that heat can do very interesting things to ingredients that can’t be achieved with gas ovens and stoves. Other than having incredibly delicious things to eat, the kitchen at Acme is outside, so you get to watch the theatre of chefs cooking over our huge custom built hearth. Guests often come up taking photos and asking questions, and we’re always happy to talk them through what we do. We want it to feel like you’re at a BBQ party. It’s just like everyone gathering around a grill in your backyard. Oh, and you will get smokey!

Niklas Eksted, Chef and Proprietor, Eksted and Eksted at The Yard

Wood-fire cooking is fundamental at Ekstedt at the Yard; it’s at the core of our kitchen and menu. Our cooking technique over an open flame is derived from indigenous Nordic traditions, which have long been used to sustain tribes in Northern Scandinavia through the seasons – so naturally, we use it all year round. Of course, the difference is that it’s not just about survival at the restaurant: it’s also about flavour.

One of our specials at Ekstedt at the Yard is flambadou oyster – we render dried beef fat in a flambadou that is at more than 600*c; at this temperature, the fat drips over the oyster from the small hole in the base of the flambadou, which is what semi cooks the fresh oyster (Smokey and caramelised on the outside creamy and fresh on the inside) it’s a mind-blowing combination. They are served with butter sauce seasoned with the salt water from the oyster shell and juniper smoked apple which adds the perfect acidity which cuts through the fat.

Manish Patel, Head Chef, Indus at Park Regis hotel

I am originally from the state of Gujarat in India and take inspiration from my homeland to elevate my favourite dishes. The Park Regis hotel is the only one in the city with its own tandoor oven and I find making the dough, shaping it and baking it in an authentic oven is very satisfying. Meat or bread cooked in a clay oven has a distinct flavour – clay oven cooking and curries complement one another very well. 

There is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly cooked naan as it bakes and turns a wonderful colour. Customers have buttered naan at the top of their list! The must have dishes to dip your naan into is the Shahi Darbaar Murgh Tandoori chicken tikka cooked in a creamy cashew, red pepper and tomato gravy or the Indus Haddi Wala Ghost, mutton on the bone slowly cooked in rich almond, onion and aromatic spices. Naan dipped into succulent spiced sauce – there is nothing more comforting! It takes a while to get the expertise in clay oven cooking, but it is never too late to start learning.

Vivek Singh, Founder, Cinnamon Club

Every chef worth their salt loves to cook on open fires / tandoor ovens as there is little else that connects the cook and their ingredients the way fire does. The smokiness, the realness and authenticity of the process and the brilliant results make it all worthwhile. There is something intensely beautiful, powerful and primal about cooking on open flames and it brings out the flavour of ingredients in a way that refined processes like sous vide and high-technique equipment don’t!

Since time immemorial, the open fire has elevated our ingredients to bring out the best in them, and as a cook, there is little else that is more satisfying than taming open fire to cook insanely tasty dishes. A personal favourite is our smoked Kentish saddle of lamb, which we serve at all restaurants across the Cinnamon Collection!

Nikos Kontongiannatos, Head Chef, Firebird

At Firebird we use an open fire grill with ash charcoal and kiln logs. We want to give our guests the opportunity to try this style of cooking where smoke and charr play a big role in the flavour of our food. The menu at Firebird takes inspiration from the Mediterranean with dishes such as charred peaches with ricotta and coriander and day boat monkfish with sauce vierge. 

All our dishes incorporate open fire and we want to give the opportunity for our guests to travel with every bite. Firebird has an open kitchen, making the guest experience super interactive. We can communicate with them and talk them through our menu, all from behind the counter in front of the grill, something we put a lot of thought into when planning the concept of cooking over live fire. The most important part of using fire in our food is the flavour. The flavour you can gain from charcoal and smoked wood is exceptionally unique and one that cannot be achieved through other means of cooking.

Aman Lakhiani, Chef Patron, Junsei

“We cook using Binchōtan charcoal, a white variety made from Japanese oak, considered the purest charcoal in the world. Burning at a high heat, meat cooks from the inside out resulting in succulent texture and a pure finish which emphasises the distinctive flavours of each part of the chicken used in our yakitori skewers, such as Tebasaki (wing) and Hatsu (heart).

We choose to cook on an open fire mainly for flavour and quality. Using natural flame to flavour food is something we are deeply connected to because our ancestors have been doing this for all their lives. Even though cooking with fire requires much more attention and control rather than electric or gas, the flavour is far superior.

Marco Ardemagni, Head Chef, Yatay

“Cooking on open fire is definitely one of my favourite ways of playing with food. It requires many hours to master it, but the flavours developed are second to none. Here at Yatay, our robata is at the heart of our menu and we use it throughout the day during many stages of the whole preparation, from charring the skin of red peppers used in our beef skewer sauce, to giving a unique flavour to signature dishes like the sweet potato and miso cured cream cheese or the grilled pineapple with dulce de leche foam.

Craig Goslin, Managing Director, Vapiano UK

“Pizza ovens are in popular demand as indoor-outdoor living is becoming increasingly common in the warmer months. Our advice before cooking the pizza is to have fun experimenting with toppings. It’s always a fun activity to get the younger ones involved with kneading and making smiley faces or characters, like our chefs do for the children’s pizzas. You can go with something traditional like our prosciutto e funghi pizza, or more contemporary like our barbecue chicken – or even make a calzone. Just remember your pizza will cook in mere minutes, so keep an eye on it.