Deciding to have a career in the food industry is one thing, but actually being successful at your chosen vocation is quite another.
One person who seems to have smashed most of his career goals so far is Frederick Forster, Executive Head Chef of the Don Restaurant, based in Bank, central London.
Frederick, a Master of Culinary Arts, is one of only a handful of chefs to have won both National Chef of The Year and the Roux Scholarship, the latter when he was Head Chef at The Ritz under Executive Chef John Williams. We are inspired by his journey in the notoriously difficult food industry and were thrilled to be given a chance to interview him recently.
Watch our interview or read some of the excerpts below.
Melan Magazine: Would you describe your heritage for me?
Frederick: I was born and bred in the UK but my family are from west Africa, Sierra Leone. My mother grew up there and my father actually from The Gambia and, so yeah, I am west African really at heart, but like I said I grew up in the UK and in Europe all my life really.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
My earliest memory of cooking, certainly I would say is my late mum encouraging me to go to the markets with her back in south east London, just carry the bags, carry the fish bag, carry the rice bag, so, I think that was my first foray into food as such really and then from them my mum always used to do a lot of cooking at home and I would always help her with washing up and peeling onions, so I think my mum was the biggest influence in terms of me cooking and then from there, you know, obviously when I got to school, secondary school, I started to show more of an interest in cooking and obviously it went from there but I would say my mum at home was the first person who encouraged me to get involved with food.
So, how much of an impact would you say those early memories had on your career?
Massively I think. At the time, you probably don’t realise how big of an impact but looking back on it now, I think if I hadn’t got involved in food at that age and found that I actually enjoyed it, I am not sure if I would be doing it now really, so, I certainly believe those trips to the market certainly had a big influence on me. I remember vividly after a few times of going on those trips I would try and create my own dishes at home basically, on the weekends, so, it certainly started from there, definitely, so it had a very big part to play in ultimately my career to date.
Have you any plans to set up your own restaurant one day?
I think it’s something that I have thought about in the past, you know, I think during my career. I think sometimes it was going to happen organically just because of where I had worked but I realised it just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes you’ve got to chase these things, you need to make them happen, so going forward I certainly wouldn’t rule out that opportunity, I think if it certainly presented itself to me, I certainly believe that is something I would take on board. Do I have the ambition to open my own restaurant is probably more the question, I would say yes. But I think it has to be the right circumstances. I think ultimately for me it’s all about enjoyment, you know, if I enjoy my cooking I am lot more productive. I think ultimately having my own business or being part of something that I can call my own, it’s something that certainly does appeal to me, especially as I get older and I have more responsibility. So, in a nutshell, yes, it is something I think I would certainly consider if all the parameters and the opportunities were there for me to do so.
What are your thoughts in the emerging popularity of African cuisine?
I think it’s great, it’s something that has been a long time coming. African cuisine covers a wide spectrum and I think more and more people are paying more attention to it. I think African chefs in general are being more confident now in talking about African cuisine and the commodities, the ingredients, the type of food, the type of flavours that you have. Even now, a restaurant recently opened up in Mayfair, I cannot think of the name of it now but I think it’s a west African restaurant and to find out they opened a restaurant in Mayfair, many years ago you would have asked yourself “are you sure?” So, I think obviously it shows how much it has come a long way since then and there are lots of talented chefs out there who have a west African heritage, who probably are not well known or not known at all really or don’t have the opportunity to talk about their heritage and talk about that level of cuisine but, I think, in this country we are becoming more diverse. Well, it’s a very diverse country but I think food in general is becoming a lot more diverse, people are more adventurous about trying different things and I think ultimately it is only a matter of time before African cuisine started to make some waves in the industry. It may take a bit more time than others but I think slowly but surely, it’s getting there.
What would you say to a young person of colour, who would like to be a chef, perhaps follow in your footsteps?
It’s something I have thought about quite a lot, I think, when I was starting out I don’t recall seeing many role models really that I could look up to and say I wanted to be like this particular person or I wanted to follow that particular route. Whether that was because I didn’t know what avenue to look for these people or not, I am not really sure but they weren’t just staring me in the face, like how maybe other chefs were really. One of the reasons why I went to Raymond Blanc is because he was always around and you could always see him in magazines and papers but, you know, I think that has changed over the years now and I would like to think that for any young black person wanting to come into the industry I would say go for it, you’ve got to believe in yourself. I like to think maybe someone like myself might inspire people, and I say that in a very humble manner. But I would say if you believe in yourself and you have a dream, you have a goal, you’ve got to put yourself in the right position and push yourself forward, because it can happen and I think I am a testament for that, ultimately. I think I came from humble surroundings and I don’t think I am doing too badly, so it can be done.