Theo Randall

Theo Randall

Theo Randall

Inspired by the trattorias and wood-fired pizzas of his childhood trips to Italy, Theo Randall has developed a life-long passion for Italian food. His 17 years at The River Café instilled a respect for seasonal ingredients, carried forward to his eponymous restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel, Mayfair.

Born in Kingston, Theo Randall grew up in an artistic household. His father was an architect and his mother an artist, and his own early interest in cooking vied with other creative pursuits of metalwork, sculpture and photography. From an early age he was taught to appreciate food through his mother’s culinary enthusiasm – he describes her as a fantastic cook who taught him to prepare pasta and sent him to school with homemade bread and fruit from their garden for lunch.

His family holidays consisted of trips to Italy and France, where he was in awe of the chefs and would enjoy watching the dramatic pizza-making process. He recalls eating spaghetti alle vongole in Venice as an early food memory, and has created his own version of the dish with linguine and the inclusion of courgette.

At age 14 he began his first job as a kitchen porter in a local restaurant, and later worked on the vegetable section. Eager to progress and broaden his knowledge, he accepted a job as a kitchen apprentice at Chez Max in Surbiton after meeting chef proprietor Max Magarian on his 18th birthday. Cooking French food with a ‘huge emphasis on produce and doing everything from scratch’,he cited Magarian as a mentor who taught him the importance of frugality. To this day he places value on the individual flavour of well-sourced, quality ingredients over complex techniques.

In 1989 he began working at The River Café, turning his skills to seasonal Italian cooking for 17 years. During this period he spent a year in California, working under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. He was promoted to head chef and partner of The River Café after returning from California and oversaw the restaurant as it grew into a renowned eatery, receiving a Michelin Star in 1997.

Ever ambitious, Theo Randall was keen to put his name to an independent venture. In 2006 he opened Theo Randall at the InterContinental Hotel. Based in Park Lane, Randall is insistent about his food staying true to the traditional fare he enjoys in Italy. Inspiration for the menu is taken from Randall’s frequent trips to this country; to the relaxed and friendly trattorias, where an appreciation of ingredients can transform a simple pasta course into something worth recreating at home. Authentic pasta dishes such as Ravioli with butternut squash, marjoram, sage and butter are made fresh every day. He uses Italian tipo 00 flour and eggs sourced from Genoa, where the chickens are fed a diet of carrot and corn resulting in a stronger coloured yolk and a pasta of rich yellow.

Known for being vegetarian friendly, he offers both a vegetarian à la carte and set menu. Theo Randall expresses his enthusiasm for cooking vegetables, from his use of both Italian and English speciality suppliers to revolving each dish around what is in season. His fruit and vegetables are supplied by Natoora, an online supplier whom he began working with whilst at The River Café. The importance of using fresh, top-quality produce direct from Italy is an ethos that has remained with him, at the same time that he focuses on maximising the flavour of the individual vegetables – here, thinly sliced chicory shoots with red wine vinegar, anchovy and capers become a starter in their own right. His vegetable antipasti encompassing the likes of Swiss chard, red peppers and asparagus showcases his deep understanding of the ingredients required to create a good vegetarian plate.

Artichokes, a favourite ingredient of Randall, appear throughout his menu providing a classic pairing with roast rack of Somerset lamb in his Costata di agnello. Other meat and fish dishes that are a feature of his cooking include Linguine with Dorset blue lobster and San Marzano tomatoes and Spatchcock pigeon on bruschetta with cavolo nero, pancetta and porcini mushrooms. These dishes, underlined by seasonal vegetables, prove extremely popular with diners and critics alike.

Theo Randall is used to working in restaurants with signature desserts: in the past, at The River Café with its infamous Chocolate nemesis cake, and with his Lemon tart at the InterContinental, which was described by Jay Rayner as being ‘the best [I] have ever eaten.’

Some of his easy to follow recipes can be found in his two cookbooks Pasta (2006) and My Simple Italian (2015) allowing his passion for top-quality Italian food to become accessible to all. Theo Randall provides details on both cooking from scratch and dry pasta recipes, giving ideas on the best places to source ingredients for his pared-back meals. His books are informative, detailing how different food is used regionally in Italy – such as chicken livers in Rome, creating Tagliatelle alla Romana – and his enthusiasm for Italian cuisine shines through on every page.

Theo Randall was approached by Pizza Express in 2008 in order to create four bespoke pizza recipes to feature on their menu. His Piedmontese pizza – complete with red and yellow peppers, fontal cheese, red onions, Lilliput capers and anchovies – perfectly demonstrates that his profound influence on Italian-style cooking in Britain extends beyond fine dining.

Theo Randall’s no-nonsense approach to rustic, good-quality Italian food has seen him become a great success in Britain. No doubt his acclaim will continue to grow worldwide as he is set to open a new restaurant, Theo Mio, at the InterContinental in Bangkok in late 2015.