Chef, Author & ‘King of Pies’

Widely acclaimed as the ‘King of Pies’, Calum Franklin has made people around the world sit up, take notice and think again about British food and most notably – the potent pie. With his success at the Holborn Dining Room and bestselling book – The Pie Room – helping to put pies on a pedestal, Calum has now taken his repertoire to the mean streets of Paris with the opening of Public House in March. We caught up with Calum ahead of the launch.

Tell us how and why you first became interested in food and pies?

My mum was a great cook and we would always eat at the table together. I was born at Guys Hospital in London Bridge and brought up in Grove Park in Southeast London, so pies were always a key part of our weekly menu at home. Pies always remind me of a better time. Saying that, my younger years were the late 80s and 90s where processed food ruled so I would be lying if I said a Happy Meal didn’t feature in my early food memories.
I wasn’t really that academic, that was both my brothers, and as a teenager I really couldn’t envisage a career behind a desk. On leaving school, like many chefs, I got a job dishwashing in a restaurant. From the get-go, I was entranced by these brutish, shouty chefs doing the most delicate, skilled work in the kitchen and producing beautiful dishes. I remember finishing my first day and going home and saying to my older brother that I knew exactly what I wanted to be. That was quite unique as my brother and most people at that age didn’t have such clarity. I soon asked the chef to help with prep and I was on my way. I got my head down and absorbed as much as I could.

When and how did your interest in pastry begin and develop?

I have always been passionate about improving and testing myself, so following my time at Chapter One, I went on to work in kitchens at The Ivy, Aurora at the Andaz Hotel, The Savoy, Indigo at One Aldwych Hotel and Roast in Borough Market. I always loved pastry, but it was really when making Beef Wellington or Salmon en Croute when I was working with Rory Lumsden from the Savoy, that I realised just how spectacular pastry could be. The craft, art, discipline and the labour-intensive nature of it. This is where my fascination truly began and after being appointed Executive Head Chef of the Holborn Dining Room in 2018, my life of pie really took off.
Early on, it was probably all about modern European cooking but pies helped me reconnect with my love of British flavours and cooking heritage. That was my path to piemaking. What I have realised since is that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what British pies can be. There is so much we can do and so much I plan to do to put British pies on the global map. I simply want to make the best pies in the world, anything else is a bonus.

Who has inspired and mentored you on your journey?

I have learnt from and been supported by so many, but Andrew McLeish from Chapter One and Rory Lumsden showed me what fine dining at the highest level was all about. Tony Fleming was another inspiration, who is now at D&D. He drilled into me that you should never accept compromise. If something isn’t good enough, it doesn’t go out. When you start compromising, that’s when standards slide.

Tell us about the opening of Public House in Paris

I want to be a beacon for British cuisine around the world so Public House is the first expression of this. It’s been two years in the making and we have had a year developing the menu. We have a team of 35 chefs prepped and ready to go so we just need to blend it all together with the front of house team as we open so everyone has the same mindset.
Nothing easy is worth doing and I felt after 20 years cooking in London, it was getting too comfortable for me so I decided our first project abroad had to make a statement and you couldn’t really beat the heart of Paris. It’s about showcasing British cuisine, hospitality and how we do pastry, pies and a host of other classic dishes. We’ll also have other beauties like scotch eggs, sausage rolls, gin-cured salmon, the best fish ‘n’ chips Paris has ever seen and sticky toffee pudding. We’ll also have a great selection of British cheeses as there really are some world-beating producers and varieties coming from these shores.

What are your goals for 2024?

I’m always looking ahead. I feel momentum with Public House now, so my brain is starting to give time to the next projects. I can’t say too much but I expect more to be happening towards the end of the year or early 2025. I’m working on a new book, which I’m very excited about, that is going to look at Britain’s pie heritage, the regional classics, the stories and people behind them. I made a pie from Norfolk and after posting it on Twitter (I’m not calling it X), a row erupted on what the traditional recipe should be. The pie passion was insane and kicked off my regional research. I want to produce a pie book in a similar vein to Magnus Nilsson’s Nordic Cookbook, which is unreal. I want it to be a historical reference for pies for eternity when I’m gone.

What’s your favourite pie?

It’s obviously a tough one but I ate a hot pork pie in the pub – The Kingham Plough in the Cotswolds, and it is a key moment in my pie-lights to date. I had it with hot gravy and it has been a mainstay on my menus ever since.

What are your tips for Pie-fection?

Correct pastry for the filling – if you have a wet filling, delicate pastry isn’t the way to go. You need hot water crust pastry or suet.
Don’t over egg wash – give it a light coat before, maybe another during but keep it light. Less is more.
Not including my cookbook – The Pie Room – but for any other recipe you see in a book, add ten mins cooking time to the recipe. The pastry should be a rich mahogany in colour.

Who are you most proud to have cooked for?

I had my stag do planned a few years ago and suddenly a booking came through at the last minute from the great Pierre Gagnaire. Him of 14 Michelin stars. It was a tough but easy decision. I told the lads to celebrate my stag without me. It’s not the thing anyone in my position would turn down and it was a wonderful night and experience for me and for the kitchen team who all got to meet him.

Extract taken from The Pie Room by Calum Franklin, published by Bloomsbury on 24 September 2020, (£26, Hardback)Photography © John Carey