Fish cooking tips from Michelin-starred chef Gary Foulkes

Simple food, big flavours: Gary Foulkes at Angler

by Pete Dreyer 8 August 2017

After a career spent at some of the UK’s best restaurants, Gary Foulkes is making a name for himself at Michelin-starred seafood restaurant Angler. Pete Dreyer popped into the restaurant to learn more about how he’s making his mark on the menu.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs and trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. Although there’s very little he won’t eat, his real passion is health and nutrition, and showing people that healthy food can be delicious too. When he’s not writing or cooking, you’ll probably find him engrossed in a bowl of pho.

Cheffing has always had a strong whiff of romanticism about it. Today, the divide between chefs and artists is probably as narrow as it has ever been, especially given the power and reach of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook; showing off has never been so worthwhile. But in Gary Foulkes, Angler has found a realist – a chef with his feet firmly planted on solid ground, who values flavour above all else.

‘You could have the most perfect looking dish in the world, but if it doesn't taste of anything what's the point?’ he says. ‘Food is for eating at the end of the day.’

Even his start in the food industry was straightforward. ‘There’s no romantic story where my grandmother was making noodles,’ Gary laughs. ‘When I was at school I got sent on a work placement at a hotel, and at the end of the week I spent a day in the kitchen. I really enjoyed it – everyone was really into what they were doing, and it was really good fun. When you’re fifteen or so, that’s all you care about isn’t it? You just want to go and have fun. I never thought about where it could lead.’

Angler is perched atop the South Place Hotel, near London's Moorgate Station
Gary has retained Angler's Michelin star since his arrival in summer 2016

Even if he had thought about it, he couldn’t have known the path that food would lead him on. After working as a trainee at the Chester Grosvenor, Gary moved to Manchester at seventeen years old to work under the tutelage of Gary Rhodes – a man he freely admits has been a huge influence on his style.

'You could see Gary treated ingredients differently to other people I’d seen before,’ he says of his first mentor. ‘He’s very natural, and his food is very simple. Everything is cooked properly and treated with respect. That’s something I brought into my cooking – it’s not complicated food, it’s just a really good ingredient, cooked correctly, with things that accompany it naturally.’

Gary’s career led him into the kitchens of a whole series of celebrated British chefs, including John Campbell at The Vineyard and William Drabble at Aubergine, before he landed a sous chef role under his next great mentor – Phil Howard.

Puglia burrata, white peach, veal tartare and fennel pollen
Roast Newlyn cod, spring peas, Cornish squid and girolles

‘Working at The Square was huge,’ he says. ‘There’s obviously Phil, who’s been a huge influence, but Rob Weston was the head chef when I started, and he’s a fantastic cook too. It was at The Square that I really learned to understand food, based on what I’d learnt and seen on a daily basis from Phil and Rob.’

But after five years as sous chef, Gary left – not for another position in another restaurant, but to go travelling. Doubtless there were some at the time who saw it as a strange decision, but Gary’s three years abroad was as fruitful as his time spent in the kitchen. ‘I think it’s something everyone should do,’ he muses, ‘but especially as a chef, you just see so much – so many different ingredients, and different ways of doing things. I’ve been back to Japan three or four different times now, and every time I go back I see something different that I can take and build into my style.’

Tartare of yellowfin tuna, hass avocado, wasabi and shiso
Cornish turbot, line-caught squid, Japanese mushrooms and bonito dashi

Gary returned to a head chef position at The Square, and spent three more years at the iconic Mayfair restaurant before heading to Angler, where his food is now free to spread its wings. Dishes like Cornish turbot, line-caught squid, Japanese mushrooms and bonito dashi or tartare of yellowfin tuna with Hass avocado, wasabi and shiso show off Gary’s Asian influences, as well as perfectly displaying his style – simple food with big flavour using top quality seasonal produce.

‘Nature writes the menu a lot of the time,’ he says. ‘Things go in and out of season and as a cook, I follow that. In my opinion, if people don’t cook seasonally, they’re just being lazy, there’s no other way around it. You won’t see raspberries or strawberries on the menu at Angler in December.’

Yorkshire rhubarb tart with blood orange, white chocolate and vanilla
Mango pavlova with yogurt and lime

So far, Gary has made his mark, and Angler has been very successful under his stewardship. The restaurant has retained its Michelin star, whilst creating a new reputation for itself based around Gary’s unique cooking. ‘We started here a year ago, and the food is very different now compared to what it was then,’ he explains. ‘It’s becoming more about the style – people see a picture of the food now and they know it’s mine, as opposed to wondering, ‘I wonder whose food that is?’

As a veteran of multiple two Michelin star kitchens, Gary is under no pretences about the goal at Angler – once again, he’s a realist when it comes to the future. ‘I think any chef that tells you they don’t think about awards is a liar!’ he laughs. ‘I was head chef in a two Michelin star restaurant, so now I’m head chef here, my natural progression is to say, ‘right, let’s get two’. I know how much it takes to get there and then to maintain it, but you might as well give it a go, right?’