Ever wondered what it’s like being a chef?

Working in a fast-paced environment, producing top quality food that satisfies the taste buds of every customer that walks through the door is an experience like no other. Cooking and styling fresh ingredients and creating visually stunning meals is an art form; it’s something that can stick with us. We all have fond memories of the best and most unique meals we’ve ever eaten. So what must it feel like to be the person who made that meal? 

Jack Wilkinson, Head Chef at The Harbourside Refuge, and his Sous Chef, Lewis Nicholas, have answered some burning questions of what chef life is like and how rewarding it is.

Jack Wilkinson

My name is Jack, I’m 26 years old and originally from Preston, Lancashire. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a chef and at 16, I completed my qualifications in catering. What I love about being a chef is that this job can take you geographically anywhere and I’ve been lucky to have worked in multiple destinations across the country before heading to Oxfordshire, where I worked in a quintessential country pub in my first Head Chef role. My work eventually took me across the world to New Zealand where I was Sous Chef at Wanaka’s most highly rated restaurant. Living in such an inspiring place with the freshest of ingredients around you really sparks your imagination as a chef and it was an experience I will never forget. But, my heart drew me back to the UK and I now call Cornwall my home. Cornwall has truly stolen my heart, I feel blessed to have the sea on my doorstep and all the incredible produce the region has to offer. I now act as Head Chef at the Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven and I’m proud and honoured to represent Micheal Caines’ name.

Jack Wilkinson. Head Chef at Harbourside Refuge.

When/why did you decide to become a chef?

I’ve always loved food! Growing up, my mother would work wonders with humble ingredients. However, my passion to become a chef was sparked when I first stepped into a real working kitchen at the age of 15. The atmosphere was electric, the produce was vibrant and varied. The smell of demi-glace reducing on the stove filled my nose and the sound of spoons against pans, basting foaming butter over beef fillet was almost like music to me. A room full of warriors dressed in white, working in a state of symbiosis creating truly stunning plates of food… wow, it’s safe to say, I was hooked.

How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy?

I’d say that quality and care is paramount. If you start with amazing, fresh, local ingredients and show them some love, give them some time and use a little knowledge you’ll end up with something delicious.

Describe your cooking style in three words.

If I were to describe my cooking style in three words I’d have to say, creative, calm and charismatic.

What is your favourite dish to cook at home?

I hate to see food go to waste so Sunday’s roast chicken tends to turn into Monday’s Ramen. I’ll shred the chicken off the bone and turn the carcass into a broth. Once strained off, I’ll add soy, mirin, and miso as well as ginger, garlic and chilli, finished with bean sprouts, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, rice noodles and some crispy chicken skin. It’s rich, warm and a great way to use those leftovers.

Name the proudest moment in your chef career.

Now, this is a very difficult question as there have been many moments in my career where I’ve felt a huge sense of pride. The past year has been riddled with challenges for most of us. That being said, I’m probably the proudest of the place I am right now. I started working for Michael Caines at The Cove in October 2020 as junior sous and through hard work and passion, I’m now head chef at The Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven a year later. I’m absolutely loving the new challenge.

Lewis Nicholas

Hi, my name is Lewis Nicholas, I’m 20 years old and from Honiton, Devon. I’m currently the Sous Chef at the Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven. I moved to Cornwall to take on my current role after living in Devon for many years. I started my career in hospitality back in 2017 where I did my apprenticeship at the Deer Park Country House Hotel achieving my NVQ level 2 in Professional Cookery. In October 2018, I left Deer Park to progress my career further and began working at the Castle Hotel in Taunton where I stayed until early 2020 before taking a break from the industry due to Covid-19. I eventually returned to the kitchen and took on the position of Sous Chef at The Harbourside Refuge, Porthleven.

Lewis Nicholas. Sous Chef at Harbourside Refuge.

When/why did you decide to become a chef?

I’ve always had a passion for creating and testing food, and I wanted to pursue a career as a chef for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I tackled a number of food allergies and intolerances, some of which I still have now. Going for meals with family and friends was very difficult due to the risks that came with eating in a restaurant with my severe allergies. This spurred me on to become a chef and open my own restaurant which caters to those with severe allergies like myself and allows them to experience tailored meals that I couldn’t be provided with as a child.

How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy?

I believe that ‘fresh’ is always best and every day is a school day. 

Using fresh local produce and knowing the traceability and sustainability of the produce I’m using is important. If using meat or fish, I like to use as much of it as possible rather than wasting anything. Appreciate the animal for the life it lived and show it the respect it deserves by showcasing them in good food. I believe that food should not only be a meal, but it should be an experience too. A plate of food should have a story behind it, every mouthful should take you on a journey.

Are there any chefs you admire and feel inspired by?

I’ve always been inspired by Michael Caines. Being local to Exeter meant that I could follow him on his journey at Gidleigh Park and the start of Lympstone Manor. After I left secondary school, I had planned to join the Michael Caines Academy at Exeter.

Name 5 ingredients that are essential in any kitchen. 

In my opinion, the 5 essential ingredients in any kitchen are salt and pepper, butter, vegetable oil, and olive oil.

Name the top three kitchen tools you couldn’t live without?

Three tools I couldn’t live without in the kitchen are my chef’s knife, a palette knife, and my spoon.

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