An exclusive interview with Michelin-starred chef Theo Randall, and a giant board of antipasti
When I first started blogging, my knowledge of food, chefs, and ingredients was practically non-existent. Over the years, I’ve explored London in as foodie a way as I can, and as a result, have learned more about all of the above, including discovering Michelin stars and chefs. One of these discoveries is Theo Randall – a name I’ve seen on bookshelves and at the Taste of London, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this week, along with a giant board of antipasti!
Randall earned a Michelin star whilst working at The River Café, and has since opened his own restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane. In addition to this, he owns a stake in ASK Italian and works closely with the team to develop their seasonal menus. As part of this collaboration, and to celebrate their new autumn menu, ASK Italian created a 10-metre long antipasti board, which was put on display at their Gloucester Road branch earlier this week. To call it impressive would be an understatement – I couldn’t believe my eyes. 16kg of cured meats, 13kg of cheese and 13kg of vegetables… all arranged from 5am that day. They’re submitting it for a Guinness World Record, so fingers crossed!
Whilst many Michelin-starred chefs immediately demand a certain price point and exclusivity, I was pleased to discover that Randall was extremely down to earth, both in his manner as well as his food. “My food is all about sharing.” he said proudly, praising the concept of antipasti as a way to start an evening. “Put a plate like this in front of a group of friends, and it’ll be gone in 30 seconds,” Randall laughed. As we eyed up the giant board of salumis, cheeses, and fresh foccaccia, as well as the much smaller version in front of us, we had to agree. Although his restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane is slightly more upmarket, it shuns formality and includes a sharing antipasti board for this precise reason. “Food should be social,” Randall proclaimed. “People eat out a lot more than they used to, and it has become more than just a precursor to going to the cinema – it is the occasion.”
I couldn’t believe my tastebuds once I dug into the board. After my trips to Italy in 2015 and 2016, I’ve noticed more and more that great Italian food is very simple, and each dish contains only a few ingredients, but each one of them is top-notch. “What else do you need?” Randall said. My mouth watered as I lifted the first piece of salumi off the board. The buffalo mozzarella was gloriously stringy, particularly when combined with the supremely flavoursome olive tapenade, and don’t even get me started on the fresh and warm rosemary & sea salt bread…
British-born Randall has focused on Italian cuisine throughout his career due to extensive trips to the region during his childhood. This is something that continues even today, as he sources most of his ingredients directly from Italy. Not only that, all of ASK Italian’s ingredients are DOP (learn more about DOP ingredients here) and they exclusively use Le Ferre olive oil, neither of which one would necessarily expect from a chain restaurant!
In planning the menu for ASK Italian, Randall works with the managers and chefs to change the yearly menu and ensures that the logistics and seasonality of ingredients work together in perfect harmony. They trial the menu at certain sites up to six months in advance, before rolling it out across the suite of restaurants – a process that sounds exhausting, yet extraordinarily rewarding.
Randall’s vast knowledge of and passion for Mediterranean cuisine was evident as we spoke. He didn’t hesitate when I asked him about underrated areas of Italy, immediately naming Bologna as “the unknown home of parmigiano reggiano”, calling Puglia’s food “hearty and underrated, with great wine”, and praising the heavier, but no less delicious, food of Northern Italy. It made me want to plan another trip to this most culinary of countries!
Speaking to Theo Randall was an absolute pleasure, and one that involved zero pretence or snobbishness. He openly shared many of his experiences with us – from his mother’s signature beef stew dish (which features in his new book, My Simple Italian) to a kitchen disaster involving choux pastry. He also recommended his favourite restaurants and markets in London – my already long list has gotten even longer! I look forward to trying the new ASK Italian menu, now that I’ve heard more about how it was created, and fingers crossed that Guinness adds a new category to their list of world records…
ASK Italian are awaiting confirmation of their Guinness World Record. I was invited to review it and to interview Theo Randall, but as always, all opinions are my own. Due to the lack of a recording device, the interview quotes may not be 100% accurate!