THE ROTA ARCHIVE

ANDY OLIVER AND MARK DOBBIE - THE HEAD CHEFS

"I'M NOT INTO SHARK FIN, I HATE THE CONCEPT"

- Andy Oliver

"I DON'T THINK I COULD DO ANYTHING ELSE, IT'S A JOB WHERE I FIT IN, LIKE I DON'T THINK I COULD BE IN AN OFFICE AND I DON'T HAVE THE STRENGTH TO BE IN CONSTRUCTION"

- Mark Dobbie

Follow them on Twitter & Instagram @andy_oliver & @Kabe_Morbid and see what they are cooking @somsaa_london 

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1. What was your first job in hospitality?

Andy: I worked in a Tesco’s coffee shop, I washed dishes and I served fry-ups to builders in the morning, when I was like 15, maybe a bit older - 16 or 17.

Mark: I started in a diner style café cooking and serving steak sandwiches, when I was 16.

2. What is your favourite cuisine to eat – preferably not the one you work in?

A: I think British food. What is happening to British food is exciting, being in this country it’s stupid not to use all the amazing ingredients we have and the seasonality. That’s something we can’t do as much in Thai food because obviously it’s exotic produce and while we do have seasonality it’s not to the same extent.

M: I might be a little too close to Thai, but I think it’s probably Chinese. I liked that even before I was cooking Thai food, and to see the cross over now is cool. Any type of hand-pulled noodle is a good noodle.

3. Which dish do you most associate with childhood?

A: I think it’s your Mum’s cooking isn’t it? I’d probably say, my Mum's lasagne. But I mean it’s pretty much 50% tomato puree but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

M: Does it have to be a good dish? (laughs) Probably chicken and peach bake which my Mother used to serve me and I got failed for cooking it in hospitality class when we had to cook a family recipe.

4. What’s the soundtrack to your first love?

A: Oh no. Pass. (laughing) You’ve put me a bit on the spot there. It was probably something awful, like horrible. Maybe Travis or something.

M: I think my first girlfriend and I listened to a lot of Salmonella Dub, which is like a New Zealand reggae band. I think that’s still good stuff to listen to.

5. What do you crave after a long shift?

A: Warm food? I don’t know, I normally go home and eat cereal and go to bed. It’d be nice at the end of a shift to eat proper home-cooked food - that would be a massive luxury. Most of the time you’re so busy trying to get the last train, trying to clean down and you don’t want to eat scraps of the food you’ve been serving all night, so you get home and there is nothing in your fridge and you have to get up early and it’s already 2 o’clock, so you’re not going to make a stew.

M: Yeah and whoever is going to cook that for you is already asleep.

A: Yeah, or they’ve dumped you.

M: I’ve been on a Crunchy Nut Cornflake binge for the last 4 days.

6. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – what do you have? 

A: Depends if it's one of those days where you haven’t had enough sleep and by the time you wake up and you’re already thinking ‘I need to get to work!’ There are some days where you manage to get up and buy yourself a bit of time in the morning, you have to be in an hour later and you went to bed at a reasonable time, like before 2 o’clock. Those days I like to try and have a swim and eat eggs, basically eggs sort you out. You just want to eat a decent breakfast because you might not eat dinner.

M: I try to go for granola, yoghurt and fruit, even if I am eating it out of a take-away container on the train. Everybody hating me for it. It’s a sloppy thing to do.

7. What is your favourite word?

A: Jebroni. (laughing)

M: (also laughing) I don’t know, what do I say?

A: Jebroni (again laughing)

M: It’s a Hulk Hoganism isn’t it?

A: It’s basically a name for an idiot, you know you work with some chef who decides to call people a Jebroni and then it sticks. There is a lot of idiotic behaviour that goes on in kitchens, kitchen porters trying to figure out how to press the buttons on the machine and people smashing things, there are all sorts of annoying stupid and idiotic things that go on in the kitchen that makes your life harder and so you need to have ways to call them up on it.

M: It's like a soft way of saying you’re upset with somebody.

A: Yeah, you know – ‘you’re a Jebroni’ or ‘what a Jebroni’

M: We should make a cocktail called Jebroni

8. If you could go on a culinary extravaganza-eating holiday – where would you choose to do so?

A: I think Japan maybe, just because it’s really expensive and quite inaccessible in terms of the fact you need to know where you are going; if you’re going to go on one of those adventures you need to go to one of those places which is really challenging to eat. Get into the food. I just think if you did it well, Japan would be amazing.

M: I think if it wasn’t Thailand I’d want to go back for a proper food-eating trip in Australia, because I’ve not really eaten out there since I left. Well obviously I have eaten out there since I left, but when I’ve been back I’ve only eaten like 3 or 4 good meals. I think because of limited funds. There are so many good things happening there right now, down in Melbourne like Attica and then just outside of Melbourne, Royal Mail Hotel, stuff like that. Having space for a full farm, to go straight from the farm into the restaurant, I think it’s exciting. They have a lot of things that are familiar to me but maybe not to the rest of the culinary world. Native ingredients and stuff like that.

9. All at the same time or coursed out?

A: Depends on your mood, I think most of the time you want it just to come, not to have really formal courses. It’s really rare that I want a tasting-menu format, but I think the way certain restaurants serve food, like Lyle’s or Quality Chop House, where it’s somewhere in between the two is good. There are some things at the start but it’s not like a really drawn out tasting-menu format. You’re getting reasonable sized portions, you get a little nibble at the start, you get something at the end, but it’s not too little or too stuffy. 

M: I like sharing, like family style, obviously with a tasting menu it’s got very nifty components and spaced out is good but going back to Asian food it’s all about sharing.

10. What is the one area of working in a restaurant you wish you knew more of?

M: Maintenance.

A: (laughs) Yeah maintenance, Mark’s actually better at maintenance than I am.

M: I don’t know if I would want to know more though, I kind of like throwing my hands up at it.

A: Yeah, I think maintenance is boring, but it’s so useful.

11. What is the best cure for a hangover?

M: Pedialite and Panadol

A: My housemate is really into sports science and he’s got this drink, all the athletes have it, it’s like this green vegetable powder and you mix it with water. And if you neck a pint of that before you go to bed, it really kind of sorts you out. 

M: It’s really sort of similar to Pedialite - I don’t know what Pedialite’s called over here, is it called Pedialite?

A: Yeah, but maybe it just makes you neck a pint of water before you go to bed. It’s like hangover avoidance as opposed to a hangover cure. I am not sure about hangover cures. Not having to do anything that day is probably the best cure. 

12. You’re allowed one shift drink – what is it?

A: Whiskey Soda

M: I usually go for whatever beer is on tap.

13. What is the one thing that guests do that drives you mad?

A: Umm…there’s loads of things (laughing). No I’m kidding. I think here one of our bugbears is that we’re always trying to educate people about the food and the way you eat the food. If you eat the food wrong you could end up having a bad experience. Like a jungle curry or something that is really really spicy, if people come with the idea to just have a bowl of jungle curry and have all that and not share it with their friends, they are probably not going to have a good time because it’s really really hot and it’s much better eaten with the other dishes. So if one person orders a whole deep-fried fish to themselves and one person orders a jungle curry to themselves and another person orders another curry to themselves, they are kind of losing out a bit, they are not getting the full experience and that is the concept of Thai food, to eat things family style and sharing food. While we would never tell people ‘you can’t do that!’ we try and encourage them. 

M: I think what Andy touched on as well, it’s quite accurate. You know coming somewhere here it’s essentially like adventurous eating and if you’re going to be a bit stubborn about it and not share, you’re probably getting too strong a flavour, it’s not meant to be eaten à la carte. A lot of it is designed to be eaten with rice, and if they are not eating with the rice they might not enjoy it. Hopefully we can get better at coaching people how to eat the food. I don’t want to gripe about the guests too much, they’re pretty good overall.

14. Do you have any rituals during a shift?

A: Um, no I think everyone’s got their own OCD about the way they set-up and the way they run their section and stuff like that. There’s no weird rituals in here, we don’t like sacrifice a goat before service. 

M: I think that is probably something someone looking in would notice, like that’s not something you would notice yourself, but someone else might see it and you’d just be like ‘that’s just what I do every day’. Andy’s pretty determined to have good music on at all times, which is not a bad thing.

A: Nobody can hear any of the orders so it’s like – ‘how many chicken is that? Sorry what?’ but, it’s fun.

15. What’s the last film you saw?

M: It would have been on an airplane coming back to London, hmm, oh I watched Chef and Tammy on the airplane over here. Chef was good, I liked it. I think the end of it was a load of crap but the rest of it was good.

A: I watched Shaun the Sheep the other day.  If you have a joint before it’s alright.

16. Best thing that has ever happened to you in a restaurant?

M: Ummm, Serving Mike D from the Beastie Boys was pretty good. It was where I was working in New York, Pok Pok. He lived right near there and you’d see him like cycling by in regular clothes and just be like, ‘is that Mike D with a helmet on?’ He’s a real regular person. (laughs)

A: Hmm I don’t know. I mean I’ve had some pretty good meals. When I did Master Chef they sent me to Arzak to cook for the finals, so I spent like three days in the kitchen and ate at the Chefs' table with Juan Mari and Elena and smoked a cigar, that’s pretty much a highlight. I don’t even like cigars but I wasn’t about to say that.

17. What’s your tagline/motto?

M: Uhh I don’t think I’ve coined one yet.

A: Tagline? It’s not very British to have a tagline. BLANK! A series of dots.

M: it’s a work in progress

A: Don’t be a Jebroni? 

18. Photography while eating – yay or nay?

A: No.

M: Well yeah, in this day and age, yeah.

A: I mean I do it myself, I take the odd picture of food but If I was to choose between never being able to do that and doing that, I would choose never doing it, enjoy the moment and don’t try and fucking Instagram it - but I know we all do it.

M: I think short-term memory is becoming worse and worse and you need to remember everything in your phone.

A: it’s quite a good training aid, and when you’re travelling and stuff. Like you see a dish and the dish is a whole story in your head and you just need something to spark that off. Like you could completely forget a dish but you see a picture and then you can remember all the ingredients that are in it.

M: I say go for it. I mean if a regular person is taking a photo and if it’s only bringing back a bad memory, that’s more our fault than theirs. Hopefully it brings back a good memory and they will come back and eat again.

19. Rank the following in order of priority: wine, food, sex

A: Oh no. Food, sex, wine?

M: Yeah, I would agree with that. Food, sex, wine.

20. What would be your last meal – drinks included?

A: It’s really boring but I think I’d want to eat like crab and then I’d want to eat steak and chips and I don’t know what I’d want for dessert, I don’t think I would even care at that point. I’d just want crab and mayonnaise, steak and chips and a nice bottle of red wine, that’d probably do me. 

M: Am I on death row? Is that what’s happening? If I was on death row I’d want something that would make me feel sorry for myself, like serves me right to die, like a load of fried chicken. I mean if it's death row I wouldn’t want something to remind me of how good life could have been. 

21. What makes you happy?

M: Listening to music and food.

A: It’s a long list, like all the normal stuff – friends, family, music, food, days off. I think I get a lot of satisfaction in a restaurant when everything is working right. A lot of the time you focus on all the problems, but sometimes you get a moment where everything seems to be pulling in the right direction, and you’re happy with every dish you see. You walk in the dining room and everyone seems happy. You get rare moments where you look around and you stop worrying about all the tiny little problems. Like oh fucking hell, there’s quite a lot of people having dinner and enjoying themselves. That’s a nice thing.

22. How do you relax?

A: I think getting out of London helps, my family is from Devon, and I grew up there, so if I can get out of London and get away from distraction and get away from computers, that is relaxing. Or it’s just getting down the pub basically. You can try to relax at home, but you can sort of half be relaxing, half be doing some work. I just want to go to the pub but getting out of London is even better.

M: I think seeing close friends. A lot of my close friends aren’t necessarily intertwined with my work. So it’s an easy way to break it up. I caught up with some friends the other night and we just literally talked shit, nothing relevant, just chatter. It was just great to do that. Nobody knew anything about each other’s jobs. You know? Just chatter.

23. What is the background on your phone?

A: Mine is like a, um I can’t even be asked, it’s like a picture of a Japanese water house that I saw – but Dobbie wins, much cooler.

(Lot’s of laughter as Dobbie pulls out his phone.)

M: That’s a Nokia 106 with a Tesco’s logo. So I have Rainbow dots, Tesco’s logo.

24. Favourite Instagram accounts to follow

A: Probably, John.  We’ve got like a social media correspondent. @englishhippy – he’s a chef but he’s a social media correspondent masquerading as a chef. He basically takes photos of the same things that I occasionally do only they look 100 times better. I follow his stuff because we’re crap at social media. He’s like our de facto social media person.

M: @kitchentape – that’s a good one. It’s like mislabelled kitchen labels.

A: We could probably put up a few posts up on there - ‘Lame juice’

M: Yeah or instead of ‘Raw Pork’ you get ‘Raw Porn’. But umm, @theskinnybib is good.

A: @Prowlergram just because of his unstop-ability. He’s everywhere.

25. What is the best thing about working in hospitality?

A: Never being bored.

M: Yeah, um, I don’t think that I could do anything else, it’s just a job where I fit in, like I don’t think I could be in an office and I don’t have the strength to be in construction.

A: The other thing is knowing. In some jobs at the end of the day you don’t know what you accomplished. Before I became a chef I worked in an office and at the end of the day you’re like ‘yeah, I’ve done quite a lot of stuff, I’ve sent a lot of emails’. But in a restaurant I know that I fed 50 people tonight and you know whether it's gone bad or well, you can see what you produced, it's something to be proud of or to be ashamed of. It’s a real connection to what you are doing. Despite all the stress it’s good for the soul.

26. Which restaurant are you ashamed to NOT have eaten at?

A: That’s quite a good question and I can’t answer it.

M: I think you have to try and figure out whether you’re ashamed of not eating there because it’s your friends restaurant you’ve never been to, or if it's like a high end restaurant that you’ve never made it to. Which is actually less of a reason why you haven’t eaten there, because you just want to go because it’s desirable to go there.

A: Up until recently it was Lyle’s because I still hadn’t been. But now I’ve been. Also, well I am not ashamed, but Kitty Fishers is run by Tom (Tomos Parry) who used to run Climpson’s Arch and a friend of mine and I really like his food. It’s only been open a couple of months but I am eager to go.

M: Probably ashamed I haven’t eaten in Jerry’s restaurant, and I am even more ashamed that I can’t remember the name of it. Pho nom! I had dinner with her and I still didn’t make it to her restaurant. I’m a real jerk. And I genuinely feel ashamed of that. More than anywhere else.

27. Who is the person you most respect in the industry?

A: I think Bo and Dylan of Bo Lan. Dylan used to work in the same restaurant that we did, Nahm, and he moved to Bangkok with his now wife Bo and together they opened a restaurant just with the aspiration to cook the best Thai food they could in Thailand and do it seasonally and do it the hard way. They are both still in the kitchen, it’s still very much a passion project for them and they’ve worked tirelessly for I don’t know, 8 or 10 years and they are still there every service, they are still doing it the hard way. I worked out there, and just the way they run their kitchen. You know normally if you have a boss, after a few months you have a few gripes with them. You know all their faults, you know what they are good at and you know what they are bad at, and what really winds you up about them, obviously that still can mean you get on with them, but with Dylan I couldn’t even think of any criticism at the end of it.

M: And they do so much outside the restaurant, like trying to work with people that are farming and using good practices in Thailand, which is pretty hard out there. And we have to say David Thompson as well, if he hadn’t of done everything he did 20 years ago we probably wouldn’t be cooking this food. He transformed Thai food for the western world. I was saying to Ellen, my wife, when I came to London for the first time, I was planning on probably not cooking anymore, but I was like ‘well I better just go do a trial at Nahm’. I went and did the trial and ended up working there for 5 years. I regained my passion and stuff just through his wealth of knowledge. It just reminds you how to be a really good cook.

A: Even if you take a tiny little bit, just a tiny little gram of David Thompson you will make everything more delicious.

28. What is your go to party trick?

M: Chefs always end up in the kitchen at a house party.

A: I normally break something, I just get really enthusiastic and then dive on the garden furniture and smash it up.

29. Finish this sentence; I eat everything except:

A: I’m not into shark fin, I hate the concept. There are certain endangered animals, and chopping fucking fins off sharks and throwing them back alive for some bullshit dish that doesn’t really taste of anything, just to be perceived as wealthy. I know it’s culturally different but I can’t get my head around it. I am not down with that.

M: I don’t know, there must be something I don’t like eating. 

(Nokia text message beep. Uproarious laughter.)