Interview: Mark Sargeant

Interview: Mark Sargeant

Mark Sargeant is one of those Chefs that seems to have done everything. He worked with Gordon Ramsey for over a decade, has a Michelin star for his work and now has multiple restaurants as well as numerous books.

He’s now started working with The Groovy Food Company to show us how to use quality, healthy ingredients to make amazing meals. Is there anything this man can’t do? We find out!

What was is that sparked your interest in food in the first place?

“I was about 8 years old and I always used to bang on about being a chef so it was something that I wanted to do from a very early age.

“I was obsessed with watching Keith Floyd and Delia Smith on TV and when I got to about 13 years old I got a part time job washing up in a local steakhouse, which although it was simply classic steakhouse style food it was just good to be in a kitchen.

“Even though I went to a Grammar School where you’re expected to go to college and university, I left after I had got my GCSEs and went to a catering college. I worked in a local restaurant at the weekends whilst at college and then when I was 18 I went out into the big bad world!”

A big part of your career involved working with Gordon Ramsey, how did you find working with him?

“Well you wouldn’t stay working with someone for 13 years if it was all bad would you? It was very exciting. I started working with him at 24 years old and left when I was 37 so I worked with him for a long time.”

How did it come about that you started working with him?

“Oh just like anyone, I applied for the job. He was like the main man when I was younger and I always wanted to work with someone like him so I spent a few years after college working in a few places and then I won Young Chef of the Year in 1996 and he was one of the judges.

“That was my introduction to him and so I asked if I could come and work for him and he said yes so that’s where it all started!”

Is he anything like he is on TV or is he a big softie?

“Let’s just say that TV is all down to editing.”

As you said, you have a number of awards for your work, how did it make you feel when you won them?

“Any chef or restaurant owner will tell you that the best reward you can get is bums on seats but as you go through your career it’s always nice to win awards for you work.

“I won Young Chef of the Year in ’96 and Chef of the Year in 2002 and at the same time won my first Michelin star and all those things are very good, they’re nice pats on the back but as you get older and start running your own businesses the most important thing is having successful and busy restaurant and lots of regular happy customers.

“There are so many Michelin star restaurants out there that close down because they don’t have customers. So it’s nice to have loads of awards but if you haven’t got anyone coming through your door then you aren’t going to do very well.

As you said, you’ve opened your own restaurants now, was that just the next step for you?

“It’s really weird actually, when I started working for Gordon I thought I’d work for him for a year then go off and do other stuff and eventually open my own restaurant – that’s every Chef’s dream.

“But after working for him for so long, I opened Claridge’s for him in 2001 and I felt that it was my very own restaurant. I wrote the menu, did the services, won my Michelin star there and I was there for 8 years so it felt like my restaurant.

“To be honest, at the time I thought that I would finish my career still working with Gordon but things change and when you get into your mid-thirties you want to do your own thing so I revisited the idea of having my own restaurant again and it was really about the opportunity that arose.

“I think these things have a way of presenting themselves to you really and that was what happened for me.”

You’ve appeared on a number of TV shows with your cooking, does being in front of the camera add extra pressure?

“No, not really. Being with Gordon for so long and helping write his books and the demonstration shows, working with him in front and behind the camera, it all became second nature really.

“I think a lot of people out there now feel that TV is something you have to do but I do it because I enjoy it. It’s something I’d actually like to do more now, especially with being a business owner.

“If you look at people like Rick Stein, TV has made his business go from this great little restaurant to international success.

“Being a business owner, I know the importance of TV but it doesn’t mean I’m going to spend the rest of my life desperate to be on telly.

“I think a lot of kids these days go to catering college to be on TV not because they actually want to be a Chef.

“TV should be a little bit of a break, it’s fun and it takes you away from the humdrum of everyday life and in this career it’s nice to do something a little bit different.”

You’re now working with the Groovy Food Company, encouraging us to eat healthier, what would your tips be for eating healthy in the New Year?

“I have to be honest, and I’ve been honest with the Groovy Food Company, I’m not an ambassador for healthy eating, I just don’t eat unhealthily.

“I think you can eat whatever you want as long as you’re eating a varied diet. I’m a Michelin star Chef and I love a McDonalds, but I don’t have a McDonalds every day, I’ll have one every few months.

“The reason I got interested in Groovy Food’s to start with was the actual product itself is delicious and cooking with it is amazing. The health benefits on top of it are a bonus.

“I mean, if you go back to the old days you think healthy and you think bland so it’s fantastic to see products out there now that are amazingly tasty, great to cook with and on top of all that, are really good for you.”

Are there any foods we should be cramming into our diets over the winter months?

“Green vegetables are always good because they are full of iron and vitamin D as the sun is something that will give you vitamin D and so when there isn’t any sun you need to top up your vitamin D.

“This SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it is real because you’re not getting what you need from the sun so it does have an adverse effect on how you feel, especially after the washout of a summer we had last year.

“I think your body tells you what you need as well, after Christmas when you’ve eaten a lot of meat, I personally find that you start craving foods and that’s your body telling you it needs the things you’re missing.

“Like the other day I really, really wanted some broccoli and green veg so I did this Thai Green Curry and as I ate it I was just thinking ‘God, I really needed that!’ so I do think there is a lot to be said for listening to what your body is telling you.”

If it was your last day on earth, what would you last meal be? What are your favourite foods?

“It would be a really, really long one with about 50 courses but I don’t know, it’s a hard one.

“But it would be my mum’s lasagne, if it was the last day you were going to live I think it would be something that is the ultimate comfort and something that takes you back.

“My mum’s lasagne is something I grew up on and whenever mum would ask me what I wanted it would be lasagne so it would have to be that.”

Do you think your lasagne is better than hers or not?

“It’s different. But then again it’s all about memories, I mean when she makes it I always have to go for the salt and stuff but it reminds you of a time that was less pressurised. You’d go home from school and your dinner was on the table and the most pressured thing you’d have to do was your homework.

“If only we were all back at school again, you don’t know how good you have it!”

Lastly Mark, what can we expect from you next? What does the future hold for you?

“Well, lots of exciting things. Some I can’t tell you but some I can! We’re looking to do a new project in Brighton, so that’s not going to be opening until 2014 but this year is geared to working towards that and that will be at the I360 in Brighton.

“It’s basically the Brighton version of the London Eye, albeit very different, and it’s on the site of the West Pier and that’s going to be this incredible café/restaurant/bar/fish and chip kiosk all on the pier, so that’s my plans.

“I’m also writing a new book this year and that’s hopefully going to be coming out this year as well, so lots of exciting stuff.

“Most importantly just focusing on my restaurants and making sure they have a successful second year.”

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