An Interview with Chef Jason Atherton
By Shaun Curran
Jason Atherton is a Michelin starred chef and TV presenter who owns 17 restaurants – and counting – all over the world. The man behind London’s Pollen Street Social explains how his love of dessert inspired his new book
Long before he was a Michelin starred chef with 17 establishments in his ever expanding global restaurant portfolio, Jason Atherton had something of a sweet tooth. “If I’m eating in a restaurant I’ve always had a dessert,” he says, “and if I’m cooking at home I’ll always make a dessert. It’s just a really nice way to end a meal, even if it’s something simple like homemade ice cream or a parfait.”
“A chance to pass on my skills to people at home”
The 43-year-old’s restaurants, including his flagship and ‘total priority’ Pollen Street Social in London, have therefore always put the spotlight on the final course of a meal, tailoring recipes to each particular clientele. “Every restaurant has its own concept,” Jason explains. “Pollen Street Social is fine dining, Michelin starred, everything is more refined, a lot more sculptured, a lot more elegant. Whereas if you go to one of the tapas bars, the dessert might be something like crèma Catalana. It all depends on what the concept of the restaurant is.”
Jason has crammed his pudding expertise into his new book, Social Sweets. Written over a 12 month period and featuring over 100 recipes for everything from Bakewell tart to sticky toffee pudding and the former protégé of Gordon Ramsey wanted to highlight the necessary skills, as well as flavours, required to ensure your sweets hit the spot.
“Pastry is a very disciplined skill,” he says. “So as well as running my day to day kitchen where the savoury part of it is concerned, it’s always been a massive passion of mine making sure that my pastry sections are immaculate. Make sure that the skills are there in soufflé making, bread making, pastry making. So it’s always been a massive thing for me. So many young chefs overlook how disciplined the pastry section is. In any kitchen I worked in, I’d always work in the pastry department. So one day if I was lucky enough to own my own restaurant I would have the skills to be able to train people properly. And when I got asked to do my own book I jumped at the chance. It gave me the chance to pass on my skills to people at home.”
“I am obsessed with soufflé making”
As Atherton acknowledges, the people at home might need the skills, but they don’t need much encouragement to get their apron on and give it a try. Atherton is a self- confessed soufflé fanatic. “I am obsessed with soufflé making at the moment, I love a good soufflé” – but is pleased, if slightly taken aback, by the nation’s Great British Bake Off-inspired baking addiction.
“I can’t believe how obsessed Britain has been with baking. Whoever could have predicted that? It’s insane, it’s incredible. I’ve never known anything to grip a nation like that before, it’s like ‘wow!’
“Whoever thought Victoria Sponge would be our new British hero?”
Social Sweets by Jason Atherton is published by Absolute Press, £25.
Photography © John Cary