Chef Manager Ash Hamilton
From The Curious Kitchen in Brixham
When did you start cooking?
I started cooking when I was about 13, both my brothers were enrolled in catering college and I picked up the bug from them. I started by making sandwiches in a pub kitchen for my first job. I loved being in a kitchen during a busy service with all the camaraderie. It’s still my favourite part of the job – being busy, working alongside my team.
Tell us about your personal style & how it's evolved over your career?
When I started, I wanted to be like Jamie Oliver; he was such a fresh perspective. As I got older, I ate at more fine dining restaurants and loved the food – however, as I looked into this more, I found the associated expectations and dining style too restrictive. I like more interaction with customers, and the freedom this typically promotes. At TCK I get the best of both worlds, with monthly supper clubs allowing a more refined dish, but with a relaxed atmosphere and waited tables. The day-to-day approach is much more informal, and I feel we have created a real community – like a family.
How have you approached the menu at TCK?
Typically, I will create two menus per season, and in addition, a tasting menu for our monthly supper clubs. The focus is always on seasonal produce and making food in-house as much as possible (jams, chutney, sauces, breads, sorbets, cakes etc!). I source as locally as I can; many of our suppliers are in Brixham, or the next town over, and they include independents wherever possible, to support local small businesses.
Have you any personal favourite dishes on the TCK menu?
On our most recent menu, we had a shakshuka dish; a baked egg dish with North African roots. It’s baked at a high temperature in a skillet pan with jammy tomatoes, peppers and onions served with lots of fresh herbs, sour dough and lashings of butter. Though if our customers voted, I suspect they would say our handmade gourmet doughnuts, which are available over the weekend with up to 10 different flavour toppings. We always sell out, and make hundreds of these each weekend.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Anywhere and everywhere. I am passionate about food; it consumes most of my thoughts. All my social media feeds and all the Youtube channels I subscribe to, each relate to food. I enjoy posting my ideas, hoping that others get inspiration and put their own spin on my dishes. I particularly like Australia and New Zealand at the moment, who are leading the charge in respect of making brunch exciting.
What are you passionate about?
People enjoying locally sourced, sustainable food. I keep on top of stock, and reduce wastage wherever possible, which encourages regular menu changes. I would hate for someone to come to The Curious Kitchen for months and always have the same thing – I want people to leave as excited about food as I am. It’s really easy in Brixham, with some of the best seafood in the world.
The desire for others to feel passionate goes for our staff as well; I like people to feel they are really part of a team, and can contribute their ideas. If staff are committed, it will always show in their interactions with customers and in the preparation of everything we do, which is how we maintain such a high standard.
I’m really passionate about teaching, and recently we came runner-up at the South Devon College Apprenticeship awards for Small Employer. Our amazing apprentice chef Owen won hospitality and catering apprentice of the year. I believe in giving him time and space to develop to his own ideas, and then giving him the platform on which to refine these. Catering is a difficult business to be in, so I support him to have as many experiences as possible. The majority of our staff have achieved qualifications on various schemes whilst with us, and wherever possible, we like to visit and learn more about our suppliers and their products.
Are you involved in any community initiatives?
Absolutely. Being a part of the community is hugely important to us – for myself and my team’s development, as well as giving something back to all our incredible customers. I’ve done cookery demos at Fishstock and local cooking schools, I take part in chef events at South Devon College – inspiring students and raising money for charitable causes. I’ve been a part of our festival, England’s Seafood FEAST, since its inception, and a huge ambassador for the incredible seafood landed on our doorstep.
Which other local restaurants do you usually like to eat out at?
I love a burger, so Meat 59 and Fat Cow Burger are favourites, and great for taking my family to, as they’re quite relaxed. I love the Elephant if I’m feeling a bit fancy – Simon Hulstone has set a benchmark for Torbay, and helped contribute to it being a food destination. On the Rocks (both the Brixham and Torquay sites) always hits the spot of high-quality food for good value.
Favourite cookery book?
I’m a huge fan of the guys from Sorted Food, who run an online community, and their books are great for quick references. The Thug Kitchen books from LA based (vegan) chefs are amazing; they mean I can get inspired to cater to as many people as possible. I’ve always been fascinated by Tom Kerridge, and by the fact that the Hand and Flowers is a pub, but still achieved 2 Michelin star dining in that environment.
When you are not at TCK, how do you like to spend your time?
Despite dining being such a social experience, as a chef it can be really anti-social, working when everyone else is enjoying themselves. As I get older, I’m finding more of a balance, and my kids and family are my priority.
These are uneasy & uncertain times. How have you as a business responded to COVID-19?
These are really worrying times for small business, and especially hospitality.
By not enforcing closures early on, the government left each business to make their own decisions about what’s best for them and the public. We had to adjust quickly to be able to continue trading, hoping to offer some respite to people who need it. We immediately set up a takeaway and delivery service, which had been a success with our customers and community.
Before the government announcement on Monday 23rd March, we made the decision to close for the safety of our staff and our customers. We then gave away all of our stock to the much deserving NHS workers in our community. Now, I’ll use this time to spend with my family and get creative in the kitchen, so when we’re back open, we’ll have some fantastic new dishes for you to try!
How can we as a community continue to support you as a local business?
Please follow us on social media, and we look forward to welcoming you in our restaurant once we’re on the other side of this.