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Dean Parker

Dean’s real break came when he helped Robin Gill open The Dairy in 2013. The two had already worked together for a few years at Sauterelle back in 2009, where their mutual love and respect for produce resulted in a strong friendship. Starting out as sous chef when The Dairy first opened, Dean was soon promoted to head chef. ‘We started growing our own produce and looked after beehives on the roof,’ he explains. ‘I’d learnt about produce working at Lamberts and with Tom Aikens but Robin’s light touch and approach to food really resonated with me. At the time a lot of chefs relied on butter and fats to make food taste good, but Robin didn’t go down that route and it resulted in much more flavourful dishes.’

Around six months after working at The Dairy, Dean was given a book called The Art of Fermentation by John Lanchester, a writer at the Financial Times. This, combined with a two-week trip to Copenhagen to do a few stages (including one at the celebrated Amass), helped to kick-start a new obsession. ‘I read the book back to front while I was out there, and the second I got back I started fermenting everything I could,’ he says. ‘Being in Copenhagen really opened my eyes – dishes like fermented potato flatbreads and the way the chefs out there were using things like chicken skins was fantastic. It was all very simple and ingredient-led, which was something we were trying to do in the UK.’

Dean started incorporating these ferments into dishes at The Dairy, realising the technique could bring out natural flavours in ingredients. This in turn led to The Manor, Robin's second restaurant. The concept was created by Dean, Robin and The Dairy's general manager Dan Joines, and Dean took over as head chef with complete control over the menu. Naturally, he let his love for kombucha, kefir, preservation and fermentation run wild. It was a huge success, and with the help of Igor Vaintraub from Indie Ecology, Dean and Robin finally had access to the quality ingredients they’d been searching for.

In early 2018, The Manor shut its doors and, after a two-week renovation, reopened as Sorella, an Italian restaurant inspired by Robin’s time there. Dean went on a trip with Robin to the Amalfi Coast to learn all about the style of food, and came back ready to create a menu that took the best of the country’s approach to cooking, but still allowed him to ferment, cure and preserve to his heart’s content. When asked about his cooking style, Dean says he doesn’t really have one – instead, it’s all about getting as much flavour out of an ingredient as possible. ‘That might mean using the liquor reserved from fermenting fennel and using that to cook fresh fennel in, or stirring miso through bread dough to bring out the grains’ natural flavour,’ he explains.

It’s this drive to get the best out of produce – even if it means using techniques that take long amounts of time and plenty of work – that makes Sorella one of the most exciting Italian restaurants in the UK. And without Dean at the helm, surrounded by his jars of preserves, tubs of homemade ricotta, bottles of house-made kombucha and his own strung-up charcuterie, it wouldn’t have that unique twist that makes everything taste just that little bit nicer.

Three things you should know

Dean one day hopes to open either a bakery or restaurant where bread is the focus, thanks to his love for baking and experimenting with bread recipes.

A love for preserving might be what sets Dean apart from other chefs, but he is also a fantastic cook when it comes to more classical techniques.

Dean grows some of the fresh herbs and vegetables used at Sorella round the corner from the restaurant in raised beds that are open to the public.