The New Brigade: In Conversation with Chef Theo Clench

The New Brigade: In Conversation with Chef Theo Clench

On a journey from producer to plate, chef and Krug ambassador Theo Clench celebrates camaraderie, culture and good cooking.

In partnership withKrug Champagne

This article appears in Volume 33: Collective.

a fizz of excitement as Theo Clench, Krug ambassador and
former Head Chef at London’s Michelin-starred Portland restaurant,
recounts his most memorable meal: a nine-dish affair featuring
cauliflower salad, dahl and freshly picked vegetables cooked over
an open fire. The chefs? A family of onion farmers hailing from a
small village just north of Jaipur.

We’re exchanging tales from our travels across India. Me as a
wide-eyed backpacker and Theo as one of 11 chefs chosen by the
champagne house Krug to unpeel the history of its ingredient of the
moment: the onion.

Each year, a cohort of chefs and Krug lovers come together to
celebrate the act of elevating the simple to the sensational, much
like the humble grape is transformed into a glass of champagne. In
the past, this exploration of single ingredients has seen peppers,
mushrooms, potatoes, fish and eggs put on a pedestal. Now, it’s the
turn of perhaps the most elemental of ingredients. Grown and used
in multiple ways across the world, onions form the base of sauces,
marinades and curries. In Asia, the chefs would discover the
multi-layered vegetable’s origin.

This year, it’s not just the onion stepping up to the proverbial
plate. Theo dwells on his first invitation into the Krug family. “I
was a bit starstruck,” he says. “I was on a rooftop in Jaipur,
sharing cooking stations with some of the world’s best chefs –
Tristin Farmer, Simon Davies, Hiroyuki Kanda, Heiko Nieder, Ciccio
Sultano. Though once we sat down and talked, I realised we share a
common goal: to feed people and make them happy.”

In their journey to unearth the history of the onion, the group
of chefs descended on Samode in north India in time to celebrate
Holi before gorging on feasts home-cooked by local families and
farmers. Farther south in Jaipur, they would devour bowls of dal
baati churma as they wandered among street-food stalls.

When pressed on whether there were any wild anecdotes from the
trip – after all, the Krug Grande Cuvée was flowing – Theo laughs
coyly. “No, it was professional at all times.” It’s not the first
time I’ve seen this camaraderie that is defining the next
generation of culinary greats; it feels worlds away from the heyday
of Gordon versus Marco and Anthony Bourdain versus, well,

It was the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever eaten.

Theo Clench

Big-name chefs are no longer working in silos in vain pursuit of
a constellation of Michelin stars at the helm of prestigious
kitchens. Instead, they’re part of teams that forge relationships
both in and out of the kitchen. Food-focused expeditions such as
Krug’s Chef Encounters trip help strengthen these connections.

“I hit it off with Angus McIntosh from The Farm at Brush Creek
in Wyoming,” Theo continues, his voice becoming more animated as he
reveals his plans to travel to the US as McIntosh’s guest chef.
“Angus grows all his own veg. He said: ‘send me the dishes you want
to cook three to four months in advance, it’ll get my growers on

The pandemic may have some collaborations on pause, but the
cooperative nature in which chefs now operate runs much deeper than
pop-up restaurants and partnership trips. From suppliers to
front-of-house staff, the community of people that puts food on our
plates does so with a collective, committed passion.

So how does that passion, from producer to plate, manifest for
Theo when he’s in the kitchen? “I have a solid relationship with a
small circle of suppliers. I can call Dan the Duck Man on
Sladesdown Farm in Devon and say I need ten ducks for Tuesday,
knowing I’ll get the best.”

Theo laughs. His girlfriend must think he’s cheating, though
he’s just sorting out his catch of the day, “I’m on the phone to
Shaun at Henderson Seafood at 5am every morning. I know which boat
my sea bass or monkfish is coming from, which makes developing
recipes so much easier.” He pauses. “Everything starts with that
main ingredient. If you’re getting the best, then you need to do
very little with it. Just respect it. No gimmicks. Cook it well and
let the plate do the talking.”

There’s no denying that the past months have been incredibly
tough for restaurants lumbered with curfews and Covid-compliant
rules. Yet when asked about the pandemic’s impact on the industry,
Theo reels off examples of chefs banding together as a community.
Sharing sugar and suppliers and giving each other shout outs on
social, many chefs have worked hard to remain positive – and Theo
is proud to count himself among them.

“We’re a resilient bunch,” he says. “It’s tough times for
everyone, but we’re a team. I want everyone to survive this.” Chefs
coming together in times of adversity? Let’s raise a toast to

Theo Clench’s Guide to London

What are your favourite restaurants in London?

Trinity is brilliant and my time working under Adam
Byatt really trained me as a chef. I also have my fingers crossed
that The
Ledbury in Notting Hill
reopens soon – I’ll be making a
reservation the moment it does.

Which under-the-radar spots should we try?

Kurisu Omakase in Brixton. It’s run by a guy called
Chris Restrepo who’s Thai-Colombian. On select days each month, he
serves an omakase menu to just eight people. It’s not your
traditional Japanese feast; it’s something completely different and
really exciting. I took the team there before Lockdown 2.0.

Where do you gravitate towards for post-service drinks?

We usually end up at The Wigmore or somewhere like the Horse & Groom in
Fitzrovia. I like a proper pub.

Any restaurants worth visiting on a day trip?

I love what chef Tony Parkin is doing at The Tudor Room in Windsor. The food is incredibly
theatrical and yet only the best possible ingredients go on his
plates, just like my style of cooking. It’d be great fun to

When you’re not in the kitchen…

You’ll find me scouring the stalls at Maltby Street Market in
search of new produce to try. I enjoy nipping into Borough Market
and Neal’s Yard too.

What should we try cooking at home?

Not sourdough or banana bread, please! Homemade pasta is a
fantastic recipe to try and it’s a really good one to get your
friends and family involved in. Put some music on and crack open a
bottle of Krug – moments like that beat the run-of-the-mill baking
everyone else is doing.

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