Last Word: Paul Johnson

This month: Paul Johnson, chef/owner at The Ship Inn, Wylam

What do you eat for breakfast? Porridge most days – it’s quick and keeps you going. If we’re off work we’ll often go to Daniel Farm in Wylam and have something there.

And your go-to guilty pleasure? I’ll be honest, I do like a kebab now and again. I like the richness and flavour of the meat cut through perfectly by the pickled cabbage; it’s a pretty well-rounded dish. When I’m in the kitchen I can go through a lot of Tetley tea. My grandad always drank it and I used to play with the collectable figures as a kid.

What would you choose for your last meal on earth? It would have to be seafood. I really enjoy fish cooking so I’d go for a nice fruits de mer platter. We ate some amazing fish when we were living in Cornwall and I’d happily go back for that.

What can I find in your home fridge right now? Not a lot because we’ve got the pub kitchen downstairs. There’s cheese, olives and my partner Kelly’s big on crisps and hummus so there’s plenty of those.

Which ingredient would you choose if you could only have one? Anchovies. I love them for their amazing umami flavour. They’re brilliant with lamb, beef and in loads of sauces.

You must have loads of recipe books. Which is your favourite? It’s true, I’ve got a big collection ranging from Nigella and Mary Berry, who are great for cakes and biscuits, through to Gordon Ramsay and Pierre Koffmann. My favourite is Rick Stein’s English Seafood Cookery. It goes from preparing fish and the different cuts through to some amazing classical recipes.

Out of all the things you make, what’s your favourite? My sticky toffee pudding, which is an amalgamation of lots of recipes and ideas which I’ve got from books, working with other chefs and lots of trial and error.

Who’s the most famous person you’ve cooked for? Pierre Koffmann and Gordon Ramsay both visited Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in Cornwall, where I worked until recently. Gordon bought a house over the road so we’d see him quite a lot. He’s a big guy and can be quite daunting when he grabs your hand to shake it.

What’s your most important bit of advice? Nathan Outlaw taught me about looking at food from the customer’s point of view. Chefs can get carried away with what food looks like on Instagram and they neglect to think how hard it can be to serve or to cook consistently. Food is all about the taste.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef? I got into cooking really early with my mam, nanna and grandad so I haven’t thought about it too much. I’ve always found business interesting so I may have gone into something following a business
studies qualification.

If you only had £10 to spend on food, what would you buy? Fish and chips from Rick Stein’s in Padstow.

Last one, who gets your vote for greatest cook ever? Nathan Outlaw. Working with him every day was so inspirational – seeing what he could do with just three or four ingredients was incredible.

Paul Johnson recently took over as head chef and owner of The Ship Inn, Wylam alongside his partner Kelly Hopkins having returned to the North East following three years with double Michelin-starred Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall.

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