PUBLISHED: 11:35 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:24 20 February 2013
Romford's award-winning celebrity chef, Steven Walpole, tells Pat Parker about his high-flying career and offers some top tips for making your traditional Christmas food taste better than ever...
Celebrity chef Steven Walpole has crammed so much into his culinary career that its hard to believe hes still only 34. Steven, who lives in Romford, has appeared on a variety of TV shows, catered for the Queen and Nelson Mandela, presented cookery demonstrations across the world in countries from Pakistan to South Africa and has worked with some of Britains biggest names in catering.
His numerous awards have also seen him picked out as one of the finest young chefs in the country and as senior executive chef for the airline catering company Gate Gourmet, Steven currently devises menus for First and Club Class passengers on British Airways long-haul flights.
Weve brought passion, drive and enthusiasm back into the food, says Steven, talking to me at Ann Hoods Smart School of Cookery in Danbury, near Chelmsford, where he occasionally teaches.
Stevens other great passion is biking. He arrived at Danbury in style on his gleaming supersports Kawasaki, which he uses for the 120-mile round trip from Romford to his office at Heathrow every day. You get on a bike, put the crash helmet on and youre in your own world, he says. Youve got that free time to yourself and no one can bother you. I love my job and I love my bike, so why not combine the two? It is dangerous but so is cooking.
Steven went to Gaynes School in Upminster and admits he was pretty hopeless at anything academic. I was mad about bikes and food, so I could have either become a chef or a mechanic, he says. He got a Saturday job at Taylors Restaurant in Romford, owned by a Greek family but serving classical French cuisine. He started at the bottom, washing up in the kitchens, but soon worked his way up and went on to train at the presitigious Westminster College, where Jamie Oliver was a fellow student.
After a spell at a Michelin-starred restaurant, he joined the catering team at the House of Commons where he stayed seven years, winning several top culinary awards. I was in the elite banqueting team, so I got to look after the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, remembers Steven. We once prepared a banquet for Nelson Mandela and catered for the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament.
During the long summer parliamentary recess, Steven would work unpaid at top London restaurants, such as Quaglinos and The Lanesborough, to gain valuable experience. You could learn in three months at one of those establishments what youd learn in a year elsewhere.
At 25, Steven left the Commons to become the youngest full-time lecturer at Westminster College. He also worked with Jamie Olivers Fifteen students (disadvantaged teenagers who trained to become chefs at Jamies Fifteen restaurant in Shoreditch), taking a group parallel to the original 15 through to graduation. Several went on to work at Jamies restaurant.
Now Stevens greatest ambition is to open a restaurant of his own somewhere in Essex. Essex has wonderful fresh produce fish, sea salt, soft fruit, vegetables which doesnt get showcased enough, he says. In terms of farmers markets and fishmongers, Essex is phenomenal. Id love to have my own restaurant, with maybe a teaching school on the side, where I can source everything locally, and share my passion for food.
Steven is also a devoted family man and is keen to teach his 20-month-old daughter Jessica the joys of healthy eating. She eats what we eat although weve had to cut down on salt, he says. Shes not afraid to try new things and has even been known to partake of venison.
Christmas is Steves favourite time of year and he really goes to town, decorating the house with aromatic spices and, of course, doing all the family cooking himself.
I heat spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anise on a tray in the oven on a low heat, he says. Then I add dried orange peel and rice and tie them up in a muslin cloth to make little bundles of pot pouri. The warmed spices release a wonderful Christmassy aroma.
He also likes to spray pine cones with adhesive, stick on spices and scented oils like orange or citrus and then tie them to the Christmas tree with ribbon, along with homemade gingerbread men decorations. Christmas Day in the Walpole household always starts with a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. This year, for a change, hell be serving roast goose followed by his homemade Christmas pudding. A sumptuous festive menu if ever there was one.