By Marc Kristal
If London’s culinary scene has improved in recent decades, at least part of the credit must go to Theo Randall, who spent seventeen years at Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray’s now legendary Italian restaurant The River Café, many of them as head chef. In 2006, Randall struck out on his own, opening his eponymous establishment at The InterContinental Park Lane – which, two years later, won the London Restaurant Award in the Italian cuisine category. Apart from remaining ever-present in his kitchen, Randall offers seasonal master classes focusing on different aspects of Italian cooking, is one of the chefs headlining the city’s four-day Taste of London food festival at the end of June, and remains hard at work on his second book. And like Mark Hix, for Randall, it’s all about the ingredients.
THEO RANDALL: I don’t have an Italian bone in my body, but I’m very engrossed in the whole Italian philosophy of food. It’s all about the produce, and not mucking about with it too much so you can actually taste what’s there. I use the best things I can find in England. But if you cook Italian food, you need to have Italian vegetables, things like tomatoes and wonderful peppers. The buffalo mozzarella we have comes in twice a week from Naples.
MK: The restaurant’s in its sixth year – how has it evolved?
TR: Restaurants are very organic – they kind of grow. You have an idea, but it takes a bit of time to really create it. You want it to feel comfortable, inviting, great food and professional but friendly service – you want the right kind of atmosphere and that depends on the kind of people you employ. And over time that has happened.
MK: Why did you choose to open at the InterContinental?
TR: I’d been thinking about leaving the River Café – I felt I needed to do something myself. But it took a few years – it was the usual story, you either lose the site or you lose the investor. I was talking to this chap and he said, ‘You’ve got to come and have a look at this site, it’s in a hotel.’ It wasn’t what I was looking for, really, but it just seemed like such a great thing. I really liked the team here, and having your name up in lights on Park Lane is quite an accolade. And I thought, you know, I can’t turn this one down, this is too good.
MK: How do your master classes unfold?
TR: They’re very good fun, not too serious – it’s more a kind of ‘cooking with Theo.’ We start at 9:30, everyone comes in and has a coffee, and we have a little chat about what we’re going to do. And then they come into the kitchen and we start cooking. After they’ve had me chatting at them for a couple of hours, we have a wine tasting, and after that they’ll have a three-course lunch with wine, and then they finish about 4 o’clock – it’s a lovely, leisurely day.
MK: That sounds almost as delicious as Taste of London.
TR: The Taste of London in Regents Park is billed, this year, as the greatest restaurant festival in the world. It’s big – 80,000 or 90,000 people come over four days come, and 36 of the best restaurants in London have pop-up places.
MK: One of them will be yours?
TR: Yes, and we’re also doing a five-course menu for San Pellegrino, for their VIP enclosure there. It should be fun. Very busy.
MK: You’re working on your second cookbook now. What about the process do you enjoy?
TR: My mother’s an artist, and she was an art teacher for many years, and her teaching side has rubbed off on me. I love teaching people. The thing I always say is that cooking’s all about confidence, and the more you cook, the more confident you become. That’s what I try and give to readers – not a book about myself, but one for people, that they can learn from. If you’ve got a cookbook in the kitchen covered in tomato sauce and olive oil, then you’ve succeeded.
Visit Theo Randall
Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor ofAIA/J, and has written for The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Wallpaper, Surface, and numerous other publications. In 2003, he curated the exhibition ‘Absence Into Presence: The Art, Architecture and Design of Remembrance’ at Parsons School of Design, and in 2009 he was part of the project team that created the award-winning Greenwich South planning study for the Alliance for Downtown New York. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011), both from The Monacelli Press. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart. He lives in New York.