Dean Parker

Dean Parker

With an unwavering dedication to finding the best ingredients around and amplifying their flavour through a variety of techniques, Dean Parker is an exciting young chef who rose through Robin Gill's restaurant empire and now heads up his own restaurant in Glasgow.

Despite the huge number of restaurants that seem to open every year in London, there is a serious shortage of skilled chefs to cook in them. So when Dean Parker started working for Robin Gill in his acclaimed (yet sadly now closed) restaurant The Dairy, he must have been a saving grace. Originally in charge of Robin's Italian restaurant Sorella before becoming the fantastic head chef at Darby's (both of which he also co-owned), in 2021 he ventured out on his own with his wife Anna to open Celentano's in Glasgow.

Dean has set himself apart from the crowd by being an incredible baker and experimental preserver as well as having the skills needed to run a high profile restaurant. And it all stemmed from his time growing up in South Africa at his grandparents’ hotel. ‘My grandparents were always involved in the kitchen,’ he says. ‘My gran used to do loads of baking and my grandpa used to be growing stuff in the garden. I guess my love for food stemmed from that, although I didn’t actually decide I wanted to be a chef until I was about sixteen.’

At the time, South Africa's cooking scene wasn't as evolved as Britain's, so Dean decided to move to the UK aged just nineteen to learn the ropes. ‘My gran was originally from Brighton, my sister lived over here at the time and London just seemed like a really cool city to be in,’ he says. ‘I worked at a few different places – a restaurant called Harlem in Bayswater and doing some in-house catering for places like EMI Records – but it wasn’t until I went to Lamberts Restaurant three years after I arrived in the UK that I really started to understand food.’

Lamberts was where Dean discovered just how important produce was to creating fantastic food and why it was important to respect the environment. Visiting farms to see the ingredients first-hand and discovering suppliers like Kernowsashimi, which Dean still works with today, instilled a dedication to using the best produce he could get his hands on. ‘Lamberts is certainly one of the places that helped shape me into the chef I am today. I realised working in a restaurant meant you developed fantastic relationships with the people you worked with, which was something that was missing in the more corporate jobs I’d been doing before.’

Dean’s next big gig was working under Tom Aikens for just over a year, getting experience in creating stunning looking plates of food. ‘The way Tom worked with produce was borderline obsessive, which I loved, and the way he could make plates look beautiful was something that really stuck with me,’ he says.

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.

That ethos continued when Dean moved on to lead the team at the celebrated restaurant Darby's – another of Robin Gill's openings. Towards the end of 2020, however, Dean felt the calling to open a place he could truly call his own, and ventured up to Scotland with his wife Anna to open Celentano's. This Italian-inspired restaurant takes everything Dean has picked up over the years – the fermentation, the baking, the Italian cooking – and combines it into something very special indeed.