Last Word: Ralph Hellens

Head chef, The Blackbird, Ponteland

What do you have for breakfast?
I’m not one for breakfast because I find it slows me down a bit, so I tend to just make a cup of Ringtons’ Earl Grey tea and grab a chocolate digestive.

What’s your go-to guilty pleasure?
I’m partial to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – the whole thing in a single session – so I have to try to avoid them when they’re on offer in the supermarket!

What would be your last meal on earth?
Anything with duck – I love it cooked in traditional French style, simply roasted, as pâté en croûte, or Peking duck with all the flavour of Chinese five spice.

What’s in your home fridge?
There’s always a good stock of snacks and packed lunch things for the kids. On my days off, you’ll find some good steaks in there or a chicken ready to be roasted along with lots of vegetables. There’ll also always be some Marks & Spencer red onion chutney and marmalade.

Which ingredient would you have if you could only choose one?
Good salt. I like to cook with Maldon Sea Salt, and quality black pepper is essential in every kitchen.

What’s your most important piece of kitchen kit?
We have a few toys in the kitchen and I’m a big fan of the vacuum pack machine and water bath for both preparation and storage, and for the consistency and precision they help us achieve when working at a fast pace.

What’s your favourite cookbook?
I have a vast collection of cookbooks, some may say too many, but they’re vital sources of information and inspiration. I have a good collection on pastry, having trained in that, and the Roux brothers’ books are phenomenal. I’m also a huge fan of Gary Rhodes’ books, which are fantastic and very well written.

What’s your most important piece of advice in the kitchen?
Keep a notebook and make notes on ideas you have, recipes, and bits of advice from senior chefs and your colleagues. Listening to what’s going on, writing it down and taking it in is essential when you’re coming up in the kitchen.

What would you be doing if you weren’t working in food?
I have no idea! I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was a kid, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

If you only had £10 to spend on food, what would you buy?
It would have to be a good quality sandwich. I think I’d go for some roast chicken, a bit of stuffing, some bacon, and a peppered mayonnaise – that would be ideal.

Who is the greatest cook ever?
I was inspired to cook by my mam, watching her in the kitchen on a Sunday making pies, cakes and cooking from scratch. I was in there from about the age of eight helping, eating cake batter from the spoon and learning, and I’ve wanted to be a chef ever since.

The Blackbird, North Road, Ponteland, NE20 9UH, tel 01661 822 684,

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