Chef's Talk: Grilling with Individual Restaurants

Chef's Talk: Grilling with Individual Restaurants

As a group, Individual Restaurants wouldn’t be able to serve much of the food it does without combi ovens, grills and barbecues, for its concepts rely on them. For some, their reliance on this equipment is as clear as day, with The Restaurant Bar & Grill and Opera Grill creating an immediate focus. These names steer guests towards the experience they can expect, generating images of sizzling steaks and a fiery heat from the kitchen all within an exciting environment.

The inclusion of the cooking equipment in the brand name suggests the appeal that it has with customers and the importance that they put on it. Include ‘grill’ or ‘barbecue’ in your name and you will instantly give them certain expectations of your restaurant style and menu.

When speaking to Individual Restaurants’ head of food development Andy Owen, the spotlight on the grill does carry from the sign outside through to the kitchen. As attractive as this equipment is, much thought, planning and skill needs to go into any restaurant that uses it, as he explains.

What’s your background with grills?

Cooking over charcoal has always been a favourite method of cooking for me, both at home and at work. I think we all learn the basics of grilling from early on in life, cooking for family and friends at home on the barbecue – it can be great fun. I’m lucky enough to be able to also do it for a living, working at Individual Restaurants, developing our seasonal menus for the grill restaurants for the last 19 years.

How do you approach grilling? Do you have any beliefs that you stick to?

Successful grilling is all in the preparation. It is important to know your grill, as each one can be different. If using charcoal, use the best, natural lumpwood charcoal with no added nasties. Also, know your ingredients – carefully sourced, sustainable and seasonal where possible. And, finally, use some great marinades, dressings and sauces that complement the main ingredient.

How important is the grill to Individual Restaurants?

Since opening our first grill in Manchester in 2000, we have come a long way, opening grill restaurants around the country, designing bespoke grills and creating some great dishes that have become guest favourites over the years. During the summer months, when hopefully the sun shines, our guests can enjoy our many outside terraces and we have a bank of go-to recipes that are perfect to enjoy al fresco.

What types of grills do you use in the restaurants?

We have varying styles of grills depending on the restaurant and what is best suited. We have open-theatre grills, robata-style grills and Josper grills, all of which use natural lumpwood charcoal.

What types of dishes do you create using the grills?

At The Restaurant Bar & Grill, we serve internationally-inspired classic dishes using outstanding ingredients. At the heart of our menu is our charcoal grill where our seasonal ingredients are simply prepared, enriched with flavours of smoke and fire. We also specialise in the best steak cuts from around the world, provided by our very own butchers in Cheshire.

What is your favourite dish to cook on the grill?

My favourite dish from our grill menu is one we created for the opening of Opera Grill in Chester and still features on the menu there today – black cod with miso and pickled onions.

This is a classic example of what you get when you blend together a quality ingredient with a tasty marinade and a skilled grill chef. The black cod is marinated in sweet white miso, sake and mirin, skewered and suspended over hot coals for around eight minutes. Then, the skewers are removed, the cod is de-boned and folded in a hoba leaf before returning to the grill on a higher grill shelf on a lower heat to finish cooking. The result is a supremely moist, well-flavoured, slightly sweet tasting black cod fillet which we serve with pickled red onions.

How much staff training is involved?

Before being let loose on one of our grills, our chefs need to be signed off by our executive chef. We offer all of our chefs the opportunity to aspire to the enviable position of grill chef, but not before they undergo a robust training programme.

What should a chef look for in a grill? What specifications are vital?

The first thing is it has to be a charcoal one. There’s nothing wrong with gas, but you won’t achieve the same results – food rich with flavours of smoke and fire. The second thing you need is a lid; this helps to lock in flavour, maintain temperature and add an extra smoky kick to your food. This is also a technique used in restaurants with various off-the-shelf grills or your own bespoke design.

What are your three top tips for cooking on a grill?

One – know your grill, especially if using charcoal. It is important to manage the distribution of heat; it’s good to be able to cook fast, but also have the ability to slow things down.
Two – use carefully sourced, sustainable and seasonal ingredients for quality, guilt-free cooking.
Three – marinades, dressings and sauces; it’s great to have some trusted recipes up your sleeve when grilling, as a few simple recipes can really enhance your cooking.

What other types of cooking equipment do you use?

As well as just simply grilling, we also cook sous vide, as it’s a great way to control the time and temperature for long, slow cooks. This is a technique we often use in recipes such as our baby back ribs slow cooked in an Asian master stock before grilling and basting in our signature rib glaze.

We also use Rational ovens in our kitchens, mainly for pastry items, Yorkshire puddings for our Sunday roasts, and to warm bread freshly prepared by Davide, our master baker at our very own bakery in Cheshire.