With a successful career in food in full swing, Theo Randall has amassed many a happy customer to his restaurants over the years as well as a Michelin Star, two cookbooks and regular television appearances. Beginning his career and classic French training at London’s acclaimed Chez Max, before joining The River Café in 1989, where he made it to head chef and was awarded a star in 1997, it was his love for Italian cooking and rustic, produce driven foods that led him to open Theo Randall at the InterContinental in November 2006.
A firm favourite of his loyal followers, food-lovers and critics alike at the prestigious address of No.1 Park Lane, he remains true to his culinary roots and can be found in the kitchen for most services. We sat down with Theo to discuss his inspirations, top ingredients and his happy place.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Growing up I was fortunate to have parents who were really into good food. My mother is an excellent cook and would cook every day, make bread and bake delicious cakes. We would spend our summer holidays going to France and Italy, so I got to taste regional food and was very impressed by restaurants and, ultimately, chefs.
When I was in my teens, I got a job working at a local restaurant washing dishes to earn extra pocket money. This was when I thought about becoming a chef, I loved the atmosphere in the kitchen and enjoyed helping the chefs prepare the ingredients. After a couple of years, I decided this was what I wanted to do so I got a job in a very good French restaurant called Chez Max and worked with the great Max Markarian. Over a period of almost 4 years I worked extremely hard and learnt the techniques of the French cuisine. Then I went to The River Café and my early memories of visiting Italy and tasting delicious food all came back to me.
What’s your signature dish?
We have many at Theo Randall at the InterContinental but the one that is most popular is Cappelletti di Vitello. This is a fresh pasta dish stuffed with slow cooked veal with a porcini mushroom sauce.
You have just recently launched the all-white truffle menu, what are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
With white truffle you must consider their flavour and create a dish that complements them without overpowering them. That is why a simple pasta like tagliarini with butter works so well. Carne crudo is another good example, the chopped raw beef is seasoned with salt and pepper and olive oil dressed with some rocket and Parmesan shavings. On its own it tastes nice but with a generous number of truffles, the combination is amazing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
It would have to be something creative. When I was young, I used to love working with metal and gained quite a lot of experience working on a forge. I did think about being a sculptor and thought about advertising as I always love coming up with marketable ideas.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
I love cooking risotto at home because it’s one of those dishes that has to be served immediately to everyone at the table, but the most practical dish I cook at home is my minestrone verde. It is always fun to make a big pot, which I always do, and see how much has been eaten when I get back from the restaurant late. Everyone loves it and I am convinced word gets around that I have made it because there is very rarely any left when I get home.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?
I have many but the one I cannot live without is olive oil, it is the base for any good sauce and perfect to add to a simple pasta dish. When the new season oil comes in I tend to put lots of dishes on the menu that complement it, and there is nothing better than a good slice of sour dough bread lightly rubbed with garlic, a generous drizzle of new oil and a pinch of sea salt.
When are you happiest?
When I am cooking, especially when I am cooking for my family on holiday. We go to Puglia for our summer holiday and I am always first up and to the market to get the best ingredients so we can have a big lunch. Whether I’m off to the dairy that makes burrata each morning or the fish shop that has just the best seafood in the morning, I am not the only one as this is normal Pugliese practice, so there are always queues. The snooze after lunch is always very well rewarding too.
If you fancy sampling some of his Italian delights at Theo Randall at the InterContinental, visit theorandall.com or call 020 7318 8747.