This summer we have a new regular guest tutor starting with us. Christian Sharp will be leading all of our Fish in a Day seafood cookery courses, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him join the team. Christian is one of the best fish chefs in the country, having trained and worked under Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall and London and then going on to work as Head Chef at Tom Brown’s award-winning The Cornerstone in Hackney Wick. He’s now back in Cornwall, and we’re very lucky to have secured him to share his knowledge, skills and experience on our fish courses.
Christian led his first course last week, and just before it we sat down to ask him some questions about his career and his love of fish cookery.
What was your journey into cooking in professional kitchens?
My journey into professional kitchens is probably a bit different to most other chefs. I first started working in a kitchen back when I was a teenager, working in a bakery and deli, and then at the local pub. I went off to study IT at Truro College and then after a gap year I went to study IT at university. I decided though that the classroom was no longer for me and that I was much better at learning in a hands-on environment, so I left university and I decided to comeback to Cornwall. I approached Nathan Outlaw on a bit of a whim. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I just needed a job and I had all this kitchen experience from working in Di’s Dairy and at the Pityme Inn in Rock through my teenage years. Nathan decided to take me on as a commis chef at the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock back in 2012. Whilst working there I joined Cornwall College and went back to study part-time to get my level 2 and 3 qualifications. I went from commis to demi chef de partis, then chef de partis, and I then went to work at The Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac and was a sous chef there when we were awarded a Michelin star. I then went back to St Enodoc and ran the Seafood and Grill restaurant until we closed down the operation there in 2015 to move to London for Nathan.
And how did you end up specialising in cooking fish?
That all came about because I learnt my trade under Nathan Outlaw. It was very fish focused. I would say that I was also fortunate though, because working in St Enodoc Seafood and Grill and at Outlaw’s at The Capital we were also cooking with meat, so I had a fairly broad culinary education. I’m happy that I’ve ended up focusing on fish, though. I love fish and working for Nathan and then for Tom at The Cornerstone, and it’s part of my Cornish heritage. My grandfather was a crab fisherman from Port Isaac, a long time ago, and so it’s something that’s very close to my heart.
You were part of the vanguard of young Cornish chefs who worked under Nathan Outlaw and took London by storm in 2015 (?). What were those years like, initially at Outlaw’s at The Capital and then at The Cornerstone?
Just before we moved to London, I closed down the St Enodoc Seafood and Grill. Tom had already moved up there because at the same time Nathan was opening a restaurant in Dubai. It was a big transition period throughout the company. For me, moving to London was massive – I was excited but it was the first time that I was properly moving away from home. I’d been on a gap year and been to university, but home was always home and this was the first time I was leaving my parents house really. Going to work out at Outlaw’s at The Capital was an eye opener and a bit of a culture shock, but it was brilliant. Even though it was the same kind of food, Nathan’s food, it was a completely different restaurant. It was amazing. I was surprised that St Enodoc never got a Michelin star but The Capital did, because it was exactly the same, really. It was the same food, the same standard, the same team. The Fish Kitchen had a Michelin star, but I think I took it for granted at the time. Coming to work at this five star hotel in the middle of Knightsbridge was a whole new experience though, especially at 24 years of age.
After a year or so at Outlaw’s at The Capital I was ready to take the next step in my career. Tom had always had plans to open The Cornerstone and going to work with him there was a great opportunity. The Cornerstone was my first head chef job. It was a massive new arrival on the restaurant scene in London and we took it by storm. I don’t know if we were quite ready for it! I put my absolute all into it, but there was no self-care and I was just all about the restaurant. I would do anything that I could to make sure that the restaurant was successful. We hit the ground running super fast, but it definitely took a toll on me – it started to impact on my health and wellbeing. My mental health started to suffer and so that’s the reason that I left and have come home to Cornwall. I still love the restaurant to bits and I keep in touch with some of the team there still. I’m working at Flying Fish now, supplying fish to the best restaurants in the country and am really excited about these courses at Philleigh Way. It all carries on my passion for fish. I love cooking it, dealing with it, supplying the restaurants in London with the best fish. I feel like I have so much to offer in that field. I’m looking forward to giving back to the industry.
From where or whom do you take your inspiration?
Because I worked with Nathan and Tom for so long, that’s very much led my cooking style in terms of it being simple, seafood cookery. I don’t like to overcomplicate things, I’m more than happy to do fish with a sauce and some vegetables. For me you’ve got to keep that fish nice and simple. If you buy the best fish then you don’t want to mask that flavour. So my inspiration originally came from Nathan, and from Tom. I like to read a lot from Mitch Tonks, I think his seafood cookery is amazing. I also like to step outside of my box in terms of the different kinds of flavours, but then simplify it so that I’m not taking all those flavours and detracting from my fish.
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of provenance and some of the issues surrounding the fish that we eat. What opportunities do you see for positive change and how do you hope to see things develop?
People are definitely becoming more aware about that. Across the world there are issues with harmful fishing practices, and that’s come to the public’s attention again recently. Fish is very good for you, it’s full of omega 3 and a great source of protein. I feel that we should always know where our fish has been sourced from and how it was caught. Your local fishmonger should know this (if they don’t, then you should probably find a different fishmonger!) There has to be traceability, and there has to be sustainable fishing methods. If you buy line caught fish from British day boats, or even fish that has been gill-netted, they’re more sustainable fishing methods. We have good fishing practices in Cornwall and all around the UK. So find out where you fish comes from. It’s the bigger picture, when you start looking at imported fish, and in lots of other parts of the world there are problems with overfishing. If we look after our local fish stocks then we shouldn’t need to worry about it.
If you could bust one myth about seafood, what would it be?
Lots of people say that seafood is difficult to cook, but for me this is not true. One of the things that I’m looking forward to sharing at Philleigh Way, is how fish doesn’t need to be difficult to cook, or overcomplicated. I want to share simple, unique and delicious ways to cook seafood. Some species are hard to get hold of, but I’ll also use species that you can get hold of really easily from supermarkets and show that it needn’t be intimidating
Do you have a favourite dish, to cook or to eat?
That’s a really difficult question to answer, because when I’m cooking fish, it really depends on the time of year. In the summer, who doesn’t love putting a mackerel on the barbecue? Then in winter, something nice and meaty like monkfish. It all depends on what fish is in season at that time, when that fish is at it’s best, that’s when I’m going to enjoy cooking it the most. The top restaurants only really use fish that’s in season because that’s when it’s at its best.
I love cooking turbot on the bone and just basting it with butter, or something as simple as cooking a fillet of lemon sole that takes less than a minute. I love eating all fish, and I love Nathan’s versions of a cream based sauce, it’s basically a mayonnaise but it’s let down with stock and you get the same effect as a cream sauce but it’s a lot lighter. It’s so clever. But then also I don’t mind just a nice piece of fish kept very simple, with a lemon wedge and a bowl of potatoes. Let the fish shine.
Having worked for and alongside so many other talented and high profile chefs, what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
I’ve been given a lot of advice over the years, although I’ve not always taken it all onboard! The one piece that I stand by every day is not necessarily to do with the kitchen though.
Because I was so stuck into my career and wanted the best for the restaurants I worked at, I really damaged myself. So the best piece of advice was from a chef called Phil Howard. He used to have The Square and I worked with him at Elliston Street for a month or so. It’s helped me get back to where I am. It’s simply that you need to look after number one. You’re the most important person to you, and if you don’t look after yourself then how can you do your job?
I worked hard. I worked long hours and hard shifts, and I didn’t look after number one. I would probably still be cooking in London, if I had. But I burnt myself out. I’m back in Cornwall now, but I’m not disappointed about that at all. It was a tough time, but now I’m back, and I’m settled, and I’m getting a different kind of enjoyment from cooking. Now I get to share all of my experience from the top fish restaurants in the country with all of the people who’ll be coming on these courses, which I’m really looking forward to.
And what piece of advice would you share with enthusiastic home cooks?
Always use what’s in season. The best ingredients, when they’re at their best. It’ll elevate everything. When an ingredient is that good, the less you have to do to it. Give yourself plenty of time. Keep it simple.
And, a workman should never blame his tools but a good pan, a good knife, and a good chopping board will help you no end… you’re only as good as what you’re using. Treat yourself to some of that.
What skills and recipes are you looking forward to sharing on your courses at Philleigh Way?
Coming from fish restaurants, the temperature of your frying pan or the cooking method and technique is going to be something that I really want to share on these courses. For example, if I was going to pan fry a piece of hake I’d use a hot pan, if I was going to pan fry gilt head bream, I’d start off in a cold pan. I love the variation in how to cook fish. Even not having to cook fish! I love eating raw and cured fish too, so we’ll be looking at some of those recipes. Little tips, like lightly curing your fish before cooking, to draw out a bit of the moisture and firm it up so that you can pan fry flaky fish like hake and cod and it’s easier to cook and it doesn’t fall apart in the pan. I want to share my tips for how to get the best results from your fish, because it can be an expensive ingredient and I want people to enjoy cooking it, and enjoy eating it.