Ones to watch: Dom Auger

by Henry Coldstream 15 November 2021

When a knee injury thwarted his plans to join the army, Dom Auger decided to channel all his energy into cooking – and has never looked back. He is now the head chef at Hackney Coterie, where his menu showcases his passion for zero-waste cookery.

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Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs. Having previously written pieces for a variety of online food publications, he joined the team in 2021 and helps with all editorial aspects of the site. When not writing, Henry can usually be found eating and drinking his way through London's many restaurants and bars, or cooking in his kitchen at home.

One of the unique things about the restaurant industry is the massive range of different people it attracts. No two chefs are the same; not just with regards to a chef’s style or the cuisine they cook, but also in terms of how they found their way into the industry and what motivates them. After leaving university, Dom Auger was all set on joining the army but just five years later is instead turning heads with his zero-waste cooking at Hackney Coterie, having already worked in some of London’s most highly regarded kitchens.

Growing up, it wasn’t a case of Dom not being interested in cooking but rather it wasn’t something he’d really ever considered as a career. Deciding to go to university to study engineering, where he was sponsored by the army, his plans suddenly changed when he completed his degree in 2016. ‘I was meant to start at Sandhurst but I had a knee injury so that got postponed for a year’, he explains. ‘There didn’t seem any point in trying to a job in engineering for only a year so I thought I’d just try something else for a bit, and I’d always loved cooking food.’

Initially getting a job working at a local pub near Windsor, after four months Dom decided he wanted to see what it was like working in a more intense kitchen before joining the army. He started working at gastropub The Oxford Blue under chef patron Steven Ellis – a protégée of Gordon Ramsay and Clare Smyth – and began to notice similarities between army training and the professional kitchen. ‘It was so regimented that it felt almost exactly like the same sort of discipline,’ says Dom. ‘If not even a little bit harder sometimes!’ It was the time he spent at The Oxford Blue that made Dom realise being a chef wasn’t just something he was doing to fill time; it was something he wanted to pursue. ‘By the end of the year I was just addicted,’ he says. ‘You have great days being a chef but even after the shit ones, the buzz you get from a service is unlike anything else.’

After two-and-a-half years spent working on different sections and learning to perfect the classical British style of cooking that Ellis was renowned for, Dom felt it was time to move on and explore different cuisines. His hunt to learn about new styles of cookery and ingredients eventually led him to Ramael Scully's eponymous Asian fusion restaurant in St. James. ‘I knew a fair amount about cooking by that point but I remember looking at Scully’s menu and thinking ‘what the fuck is half this stuff’,’ laughs Dom. ‘It was that curiosity about his food and an urge to learn more about ferments and preserving that attracted me.’ Over the course of his two years at Scully Dom saw a whole new side to cookery, using the restaurant’s huge fermentation chamber and developing an appreciation for the ancient techniques being used to preserve ingredients.

Working his way up to the position of sous chef at Scully, things began to change for Dom when the Coronavirus lockdown first hit and he moved out of London. Deciding to use the time he suddenly had to develop dishes of his own, he set up his own fine dining at-home kit business called Mirepoix all whilst working out of a home kitchen. Returning from lockdown reinvigorated, Dom joined the team at Ollie DabbousHIDE – an operation that was on a completely different scale to anywhere he’d worked before (‘it was crazy – every service it was a case of being a small cog within a bigger cog within a section’). For the eight months he was there, Dom was able to see first-hand how Ollie worked and learn from the way he cooked. ‘What I learnt from Ollie was that you don’t have to have loads of things on a plate,’ he explains. ‘None of the flavours were crazy but everything tasted just how it should. His onion purée for example was the best one I’ve ever tasted. It was just amazing to see simple elegance done so well.’

Despite thriving at HIDE and learning a huge amount, Dom knew he wasn’t cooking the type of food that he’d ultimately be producing in a kitchen of his own. So when he was approached by Anthony Lyon, who wanted him to lead the kitchen and design the menu at his new concept Hackney Coterie, the offer was too good to refuse. ‘The only thing we discussed at first was that there needed to be avocado on toast on the brunch menu,’ smiles Dom. ‘Everything else was up to me which was particularly great having developed so many at-home dishes for Mirepoix. Putting those into a commercial kitchen was amazing because they went from dishes that people could cook at home, to something much crazier.’

Hackney Coterie opened its doors in mid-2021 and provided Dom with the opportunity to showcase his bold but approachable style of cookery, with a particular emphasis on incorporating a zero-waste mentality as much as possible – something he’s always been aware of. ‘Even when I was growing up, my parents had a little vegetable garden,’ says Dom. ‘Everything was always used, so I've always strived to reduce what goes in the bin.’ That’s why Dom uses everything from fish heads to crisped up salmon skin in the restaurant, allowing him to open people’s eyes to food they might not have eaten before. ‘I want to challenge people to eat slightly differently,’ he explains. ‘But it’s all about making these dishes approachable and dressing them up so they look nice.’

As Dom muses about bringing his clean-cut yet challenging style of food to a restaurant of his own one day, he tells me about an unusual white fish and cherry dish he’s been working on for a few months but is still yet to perfect: ‘I will get the balance right soon,’ he says determinedly. This isn’t a chef who’s happy to serve dishes that aren’t quite right; Dom puts a huge amount of thought into every element of his food, from his flavour combinations to finding ways of using of every part of an ingredient to good effect, and that’s sure to stand him in great stead as his career continues to progress.