From a young age, Liam Sweeney worked at various award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants, including Auberge du Lac in Hertfordshire. Due to his spontaneous nature, Liam spent time fine-tuning his culinary skills in kitchens across the world, from Sydney to Paris, before making a name for himself in the UK with stints at Galvin Restaurants and FERA. In 2017, Liam was part of the team that launched Alchemilla in Nottingham, which went on to earn a Michelin star, and now brings his passion for great food and exceptional cooking to The Corn Stores in Reading.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I had a fairly idyllic childhood, and you could say I was quite sheltered, so when I started work experience at Swinton Estate at age 15, it was a culture shock to say the least. I was supposed to do two days in the kitchen but felt so passionate about it that I asked to spend the whole two weeks there and was offered a Saturday job. I realised that I’d always enjoyed cooking and watching cookery shows on TV but had never thought of it as a career until I was in that environment and fell in love with the buzz.
Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?
I’d say my parents. They always taught me just to go for it, even if that meant moving halfway around the world to follow my dreams.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at The Corn Stores at all?
I think it would be impossible for them not to. Food is an opinion; it’s subjective and people disagree but ultimately nobody is wrong. The menus are based on my opinion and what I think tastes good, what I find interesting and what is high quality.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Produce-driven cooking with unexpected flavours.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
I love cooking at the start of summer, it seems to be the time of year that everybody gets excited about food. Deliveries become more frequent and there are more interesting ingredients to work with than during the bleaker months. In terms of eating though, my favourite time of year is autumn. Whether its game, mushrooms, stews or crumbles – I love it all!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
Funnily enough, I was just thinking about this recently when I was ill with Covid and lost my sense of taste. I think I would be a carpenter or cabinet maker like my father. I grew up with the smell of sawdust and I love making things and working with my hands. I think that’s the only job that would give me the same satisfaction as being a chef.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
I have two: Ynyshir, the Michelin-starred restaurant by Gareth Ward near Snowdonia National Park, and Trinity in Clapham Old Town, both of which are exceptional.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
I’d have to say molecular gastronomy. My philosophy is to use simple techniques to showcase the natural flavours of our ingredients, rather than over-complicating the cooking process to that level.
How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?
Firstly, we see what’s in season then chat with our amazing suppliers to order the best ingredients we can get our hands on. We cook up some dishes and then talk about what’s good and what needs improving before making any final adjustments.
How would you describe the food you create at The Corn Stores to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?
It’s tricky to describe what you do to somebody without sounding a little arrogant, but I like to think we cook food that makes people happy. We create dishes with care and our menu offers a nice mix of the familiar and unexpected to satisfy our guests and give them something to talk about.