Food philosophy

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Mark Sainsbury, executive chef of The Montagu Kitchen at Hyatt Regency London—The Churchill, on his relationship with food

Interview: Ellie Costigan


1. I’ve got a bit of an Aussie twang because I’ve been overseas about 25 years, but I was born in Sevenoaks. My school holidays were spent in a bakery there. I loved the buzz and the noise. I thought baking was wonderful.

2. What I love about hotels is the broadness of the experience: the people you meet, the things you do. I still enjoy doing big events—the challenge of organising, planning and executing.

3. When I got this job, it was about going back to my roots, cooking again. I’m always looking at books and websites, thinking of ideas, sharing them with the guys. My cooking is always evolving. That’s what keeps it interesting—it inspires new dishes, and it inspires customers to come back.

4. When I joined The Montagu Kitchen, I was asked what I thought a British restaurant should be. I thought of the hills and the valleys, the sea. We thought about how we could connect all that with Winston Churchill, so we went to Chartwell House for inspiration. It’s stunning. We’ve based the menu on the gardens there.

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5. As chefs—and as people—it’s important we have respect for the food we eat. There is a finite amount of resources on this planet and it’s taken too long for people to take heed of that.

6. We’ve really looked at provenance. This year we got really good grass-fed lamb from Romshed Farm in Kent. We get our lobster from Brixham, and we’ve had some beautiful trout from Chalk Stream, towards Somerset. I met another farmer in north London who is rearing native beef. But obviously, there is a cost factor—we have to be competitive. It’s been challenging trying to balance that.

7. I tried to teach my son how to chop and he’s not interested, but my daughter is getting into food and it’s fun. Food is a social thing, that’s the way it should be. Sunday roast should always be family round the table.

8. I love doing hands-on things, like making marmalade the old-fashioned way. I’ll make enough to last a couple of months. Giving those sorts of things as a gift means so much more than just buying it in a shop.

9. We love our Josper grill. It’s fired with oak, beech and British charcoal. It cooks at a very high heat, about 350C, so a ribeye steak will cook in three minutes. The flavour is really elevated.

10. We don’t want to be a ‘hotel restaurant’—that has a lot of stigma. It is important to us that the restaurant has its own identity. We don’t just get hotel guests here: we have people who live in Marylebone, people who are just shopping in the area, local businesses.

11. In the kitchen, you have to really be on point. Carlos, our head chef, does most of it but when things get busy, I’ll jump on the veg section or on the pass and help the guys out. That’s the way an exec chef should operate. Nobody has any excuses then!

12. These days everything is grown quicker, and sometimes never sees the light of day. When you taste an organic tomato that’s been grown with care, it’s amazing. It tastes like it did when I was a kid, biting into a cheese and tomato sandwich at school.