For a chef who specialises in creating eclectic, vibrant dishes, who pioneered an style of cooking that felt new and fresh in London, and whose talent has seen him identify and mentor a wave of London's best chefs, Peter Gordon in the flesh is surprisingly calm and unassuming.
Known as the mastermind of fusion food, Gordon's career has taken him from setting up the Sugar Club in Wellington, New Zealand and later in Notting Hill, to chef-patron of beloved Marylebone restaurant The Providores and Tapa Room above it, setting up (and sadly closing) Kopapa, and helping found Crosstown Doughnuts along the way.
When he first arrived in London, Gordon worked at Kensington-based fine-dining restaurant Launceston Place, and went on to work with Fergus and Margot Henderson at the French House, among stints elsewhere, adapting and refining his forward-thinking approach to cooking until, one day, he had full control over the kitchen at private members' club Green Street in Mayfair.
"People seem to think that fusion was something that I decided to make my own," Gordon says. "In reality, the way I cook now came through by simply thinking, 'What does this thing taste like?' I've always looked at ingredients as individual flavours rather than entire cuisines." This means anything from using soy sauce instead of salt to pairing sweet potato with miso, or slow-roasting sweet cherry tomatoes with tamarind.
At the time, this approach had largely never been seen before, so it's no surprise that budding chefs flocked to Gordon's kitchens to learn more. Notable alumni include Anna Hansen of The Modern Pantry, Selin Kiazim of modern Turkish-Cypriot joint Oklava, Miles Kirby of Caravan, Skye Gyngell of Spring and several more. About these achievements, like with much else, Gordon remains humble, verging on casual.
His quiet confidence and his commitment to a style of unconventional cooking streets ahead of its time shine through in his five dishes – testament to a chef who was never afraid to do things his own way.
Pasta with smoked sausages, coconut-tamarind sauce, pears and seaweed
I made this dish when I was going on a hike in New Zealand's Abel Tasman National Park. When most people go hiking, they take lentils and terrible food that tastes awful. I've always been a pickler, a bottler and a chutney maker, so I would make sausages, poach them, smoke them and vacuum pack them. Then I'd take some dehydrated coconut milk, dehydrated hijiki seaweed, pasta and dried shiitake mushrooms, and I'd turn up at a camping site and get a pot and some water and make a delicious dish – and it ended up on the menu at the first Sugar Club.
Sweet potato miso hash with chorizo, cashew praline and a boiled egg
We first started doing breakfast at The Provs in 2001, when restaurants weren't really doing that sort of thing, and we introduced the flat white to the UK. This dish made it on to the menu because chorizo is one of the things I can't live without, and we do many things with it. It came about because we had a potato and miso mash, so we tried it with sweet potato. It was too wet to be a side dish, but it worked really well when you mixed a herbed labneh through it. It went on the menu 14 years ago – we've tried to take it off, but we had protests, so it ended up staying. It's just fancy sausage and eggs, really.
Crumbed cheddar-stuffed ox tongue with salsa verde and nam phrik nam
When we opened Kopapa in 2001, this was one of the first dishes I put on the menu. It was served with a Spanish sauce that usually accompanies fish, and then we swapped that for salsa verde – but it still needed something else. In Wellington, I tried to make something like a som tam green papaya salad with pounded tomatoes, dried shrimp and coriander. I couldn't get green papaya in New Zealand, so I tried unripe mangoes. It still didn't work, so I threw the whole thing into a blender with some oil and some fish sauce, and that's how I invented this nam phrik nam dressing.
Coconut yuzu tapioca, avocado mango sorbet and roasted pineapple
When I went travelling around Asia, they had a category of desserts, bubur cha cha in Malaysia and cendol in Singapore, which involve a bowl of shaved ice with mung beans cooked in sugar syrup or jackfruit pieces and lots of tapioca and sago. I love the way tapioca and sago suck up flavour. I'd been asked to make a vegan cold rice pudding, so I tried sago. I'd made an avocado mango salsa that I wanted to put on a dessert with a bit of yuzu, but when I went back the next day it was really mushy, so I made it into a sorbet. Then we just roasted the pineapple and added a scoop of fresh passionfruit.
Seared tuna with tamarind roast tomatoes, cucumber and pistachios
This is the most recent dish, and it's on the menus at both The Providores and Tapa Room. It's a nice starter or light lunch – yellowfin tuna that we run really quickly in a super-hot pan then throw into iced water to stop the flesh cooking inwards. It's served with little cherry tomatoes, which are roasted with tamarind that's been puréed with garlic and ginger. Then it's served with a salad that comes from my second-to-last book, Savour, which is made of salted cucumbers tossed with mint leaves, lemon juice and topped with roasted pistachios.