I think I always wanted to be a chef," Stevie Parle reflects. "But I guess I didn't realise it was an option until I was about 14."
Achieving big things at a young age has been something of a theme for the prolific restaurateur, who has so far launched five successful London restaurants. Only the first of them – the popular Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove – is no longer open.
From that early realisation, it took him only two more years to put his plan into action, leaving his hometown of Birmingham for Ireland at 16, to begin his culinary training at the Ballymaloe cooking school. Less than one year later he "blagged", as he puts it, his way into a job at the River Cafe. Even now, 15 years on, Parle remains one of the youngest cooks to have been employed there.
While his time at the River Cafe clearly inspired his cooking style, which he describes as "always stripped-back, super simple and based on produce," the Italian influence would show through later. After opening Dock Kitchen in 2009 – where Parle was serving the likes of Nigella and Mick Jagger out of designer Tom Dixon's "really cool little wooden shanty sheds" – the chef's career snowballed.
With a cookbook, a couple of years writing for the Telegraph and a TV series with Channel 4 under his belt, Parle went on to open Rotorino, a southern Italian restaurant in Dalston, in April 2014. The following year came CRAFT London – another collaboration with Dixon, this time on the Greenwich peninsula – where he began exploring ancient British cooking techniques, before returning to an Italian theme with Clerkenwell's Rome-inspired Palatino in 2017, followed by fresh seasonal pasta at Pastaio in Carnaby later that year.
Parle's Italian inflection isn't just because he loves pasta (which these days, as Pastaio finds its feet, he tells us he eats for almost every meal). Instead, Parle reckons, "London is moving from more out-there dining experiences into something more relaxed and comforting. The Italian style of eating is really applicable to modern London life."
To find out how his journey in food translates to the plate, we invited Parle to the Foodism kitchen to create five dishes from his past and present. Prepare to feel ravenous…
Chicken liver with pomegranate molasses
"This dish, made with liver, pomegranate molasses, seven spices, yoghurt and flatbread, is one of my favourites. It's a Dock Kitchen classic. I ate it in Lebanon years ago, brought it back with me, and it has just been on the menu ever since. People would come up to the pass and say 'I didn't think I liked livers, but that dish was amazing.' It was always a bit heart-warming for me, somehow, to hear that."
"Gnudi, meaning 'nude', is like a ravioli without any pasta. It's a brilliant dish and it's almost always on the menu at Rotorino. Throughout the year we try out different recipes, sometimes with peas, squash, or mint. To make it, we season the ricotta and roll it in the semolina, then let it sit there until it forms its own skin. After that, we poach it until it makes this incredibly light, delicious ricotta dumpling. I first learned to make it at River Cafe and then I made it with April Bloomfield at The Spotted Pig in New York when I worked there years ago. I knew I wanted to put it on the menu when I opened Rotorino."
"This dish was born out of my obsession with Googling weird stuff about cooking. I was looking at ancient British cooking techniques, and clay-baking was very important if you didn't have an oven. If you wanted to cook something that you couldn't do directly over the fire, it was a good way to do it. So we developed this way of cooking a duck at CRAFT. It's quite a complex process: we make miso out of broad beans, which we paint the skin with, then we bake it wrapped in fermented cabbage and clay, and break it open at the table and people love it. It's been on the menu since we opened and it'll be there till we close."
Cacio e pepe
"I've been obsessed with making cacio e pepe for as long as I can remember. It's a recipe that was in my first cookbook, which I wrote when I was 24, and when I opened Palatino last January, I really wanted to have it on the menu because it's a classic Roman dish. It sums up all that is good about Italian food for me: there are no fancy ingredients – it's just cheese and pepper and pasta – but when you put it together in the right way, it creates something that's just so much more than the sum of its individual parts."
Grouse, pork and veal agnoli
"Pastaio is the pasta restaurant that I recently opened in Soho and, obviously, we serve mostly pasta there. My favourite dish that's on the menu right now is the agnoli – it's a bunch of different wild meats cooked slowly together with juniper and red wine, and then stuffed inside little pasta parcels. It's great – I love it."
For more information, go to stevieparle.co.uk