Steven Edwards

Steven Edwards

Steven Edwards

One of the youngest winners in MasterChef: The Professionals history, Steven Edwards is a chef bursting with both ambition and creativity. This is clear for all to see at his restaurant etch. in Hove, where his accomplished, modern British cookery has won him numerous accolades.

There’s a common misconception that high-end food always needs to be incredibly complicated. People hear 'fine-dining' and immediately presume that the food will be highly complex and contain a vast number of different elements, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Sometimes the most elegant, refined plates of food are those that showcase just a few exquisitely prepared ingredients, in all their glory. Over the course of his career, Steven Edwards has earned a reputation for his two-ingredient approach to cookery, which forms the basis of his menu at his acclaimed Hove restaurant, etch.

Steven grew up in Windsor, with both parents working in the hospitality industry – his mother a housekeeper and his father a general manager – meaning he was used to professional kitchens from a young age, ‘my dad worked at Eton College for a bit,’ he recalls, ‘so during the summer holidays me and my brother would go to work with him; we’d play hide and seek in the kitchen and mess around in the walk-in fridge. It was silly but it meant that kitchens never scared me, whereas I think they can be quite daunting places for a lot of people.’ The food itself was always the main appeal for Steven though and he still has fond memories of the food he ate at home, ‘it was typical eighties food like pop tarts and crispy pancakes,’ he smiles, ‘but also great home-cooked food. It’s those nostalgic flavours which still inspire me to this day.’

Through his father’s connections in the industry, from the age of just fourteen, Steven was able to start working in professional kitchens during his school holidays, including that of renowned chef Paul Rankin. By the time he needed to decide what to do after school, becoming a chef was the only thing on Steven’s mind and he began applying for apprenticeships. Training at the Burnham Beeches hotel, he was able to learn classical technique and get qualifications whilst continuing to work in a professional kitchen.

It wasn’t  until Steven worked at a hotel in Bray after finishing his apprenticeship, however, that he began setting his sights on the upper echelons of the UK’s restaurant scene, ‘I was working at this place called Monkey Island,’ explains Steven, ‘and I didn’t understand why the restaurant was so quiet. Then someone explained to me that it was because people staying nearby were going to The Fat Duck instead, which was working its way up all the best restaurant lists at the time. I just had no idea about that world at that point, so I then went for lunch at Le Manoir and that was a turning point for me. From then on, I wanted to push myself in the direction of high-level fine dining.’

Steven went on to spend time working under Andrew McNaughton at Hartham Park in Wiltshire but it was his next move to South Lodge hotel that would prove a key point in the young chef’s career. Working under head chef Matt Gillan at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant The Pass, Steven quickly gained a wealth of experience, both in terms of seeing up-close how a top restaurant was run but also developing technical skill. ‘It was the perfect place for me at the time,’ he says, ‘I was part of a small team, serving a tasting menu to only twenty covers and working with Matt was just amazing. He was pretty unpredictable and we’d sometimes go into service not being sure what was on the menu, but he moulded me technically into the chef I am today.’ Having quickly worked his way up the ranks at The Pass, Steven moved to South Lodge’s second restaurant Camellia, where he got his first taste of managing a team under executive chef Lewis Hamblet.

Ultimately going on to spend seven years at South Lodge, Steven unsurprisingly found that his style at that point was very influenced by his mentors. However, that soon changed when he entered MasterChef: The Professionals in 2013, after being encouraged by both Matt and Lewis, ‘I was reluctant to enter the competition at first because it felt like a risk,’ explains Steven, ‘but Lewis in particular kept nudging me to do it, and I’m so glad he did.’ It was judge Michel Roux Jr though, who guided Steven towards his own distinct style, ‘I think at the time I was making the mistake of sometimes adding one ingredient too many to my dishes,’ he says, ‘Michel liked it but said I was trying too hard to be different and guided me towards doing two-element dishes, which is something I’m known for now.’

This new-found approach to his cookery helped Steven win the show at the age of just twenty-six. Fresh from the competition, he split his time between working at South Lodge and travelling all over the world doing demonstrations, but Steven soon realised that what he really wanted to do was open a restaurant of his own. He began doing pop-ups across the country whilst also trying to raise funds, before eventually finding a space in Hove, which he eventually opened as etch. in 2017, ‘it was a long process getting to the point where we opened, so it was very exciting,’ says Steven, ‘at the same time it suddenly felt like a lot of pressure, but I thrive under pressure.’

At etch., Steven is able to fully showcase his two-ingredient style whilst also changing the menu regularly throughout the year, giving people a reason to come back, ‘the name came from the idea of something being etched in the memory,’ he explains, ‘so, my biggest aim is for the food at etch. to leave a lasting impression but I also always want the menu to be evolving throughout the year. We’ve probably got close to one-hundred-and-fifty different dishes coming onto the tasting menu each year and I think that’s quite rare. Hopefully it also gives people a reason to come back.’ This is just one of the many reasons why etch. has proved a hit ever since opening and continues to consistently be ranked in the top hundred restaurants in the country

Steven hasn’t just stopped at etch. though. Since opening his first restaurant, he has also gone on to open another at Bingham Riverhouse in Richmond, which serves a less formal a la carte menu, and has plans for further spots down the line. It takes a chef with real talent to win a competition like MasterChef: The Professionals, but to continue riding the wave of success afterwards requires character, and Steven continues to prove that he has bags of the stuff.