Hylton Espey is the chef-owner of Falmouth’s Culture Restaurant. He moved to Cornwall from his native South Africa to take on the role of Head Chef at Rastella, the restaurant at boutique Falmouth hotel Merchants Manor. During his six years at Rastella Hylton gained 3 AA Rosettes along with a reputation for inventive cooking and championing Cornish produce. Influenced by his love for the outdoors, Hylton’s food philosophy ensures that all dishes combine fresh, sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, keeping the use of imports to a bare minimum.

How have you honed your skills over the years?

I have always enjoyed cooking and from a young age spent many hours next to the braai/BBQ making my own dinner or breakfast. These skills were self-taught through trial and error, and I love showcasing them using open fire at my restaurant. Modern and more technical skills were all learnt through reading and working with some great chefs.

When working on new dishes, what is your development process?

I start with the inspiration, this could be a walk, travel, or new farm. I then observe the surroundings and try to bring everything together as they are naturally. These flavour profiles are already growing together so they already played well. Then it’s a case of presentation, texture and serving.

How would you describe your cooking style?

Modern, nature inspired cuisine.

How do you embed sustainability into your kitchen?

Our food miles can be counted on your fingers. We have very low food waste as I only serve one menu. By utilising the whole ingredient, we are not losing any potential flavours and explore new possibilities with humble locally grown vegetables.

Would you recommend others to follow in your path?

Yes, it is a wonderful industry. Work hard, play hard, don’t be late and be patient. Don’t chase money, chase knowledge.

Is provenance in food important to you?

Provenance is everything to us. We only buy direct from small producers and local farmers, our eggs are from one farm, lamb from another and pork from another. These relationships take time and we value them all.

Who do you look up to in the hospitality industry and why?

Gareth Ward, he stuck to his guns and serves what he wants to in a style that he wants. It is extremely inspiring.

With so many consumers choosing a vegan/plant-based diet, do you have a go-to vegan dish?

A curried layered sweet potato bake with lentil dhal.

What is your favourite chocolate dessert?

Chocolate fondant, super easy and still impressive for a dinner party

How do you support customers with different dietary needs?

We can cater for most dietary needs with enough notice. I do not use a lot of gluten in my menu so gluten free is quite flexible. We prefer to offer a plant-based evening which only focuses on plant-based tasting menus.

Do you enjoy baking as well as cooking?

I prefer savoury baking but if I was going to choose a cake it would be the chocolate fantasy cake from Books for Cooks.