Isaac Carew is not your average male model. In fact, despite a decade of campaigns and catwalks, he’s now better known for his cooking. Over the last three years, he’s built up a cult following for his website and YouTube channel, The Dirty Dishes, alongside more than 500,000 followers on Instagram.
Carew has Michelin-star credentials, too: he cut his teeth with Angela Hartnett at the Connaught before being asked by the Ramsay protégé to join her next venture in Miami. We caught up with him in London ahead of the launch of his first cookbook, The Dirty Dishes.
When did you first know you wanted to become a chef?
My father and godfather were both chefs. Dad used to work at a restaurant called Joe Allen in Covent Garden. One day, my mum took me to see him. I was sat on a stool by the kitchen, my dad was busy cooking and one of his chefs gave me a huge multi-tiered chocolate cake. I looked into the kitchen over the pass and thought, "this is what I want to do."
What was your first job?
I worked in a greengrocers in Hackney from 12-14 years old. Every day, I finished school at 3.15pm, and I’d start at the greengrocers at 3.30pm. I’d run across the fields, grab the train to London Fields, then run to Well Street.
Then I worked at a butchers from 15-16 as a Saturday boy. I'd been to the butchers once before I began working there: I was on a work placement at my godfather’s restaurant, and he sent me there for "some steak, some chicken, and a long wait". I stood at the counter for 20 minutes before I realised.
Where was your first job as a chef?
My first serious cheffing job was at The House hotel in Hampstead; then I went to the Junction Tavern in Kentish Town. The team there said "You should do Michelin-star food". I thought it was way out of my league; it's not for me. I passed it off, but they sent in my application for me to the Gordon Ramsay Group. The first I knew about it was then they gave me the letter saying I had an interview.
How was life working at a Michelin-starred restaurant?
The first week of working at Angela Hartnett at the Connaught was like an initiation. Neil Borthwick [Angela Hartnett’s partner] was hammering down on me; shouting at me. Even if I did something well I'd get a bollocking. They were testing to see if I could go the distance. I ended up staying there for more than a year.
What did you learn there?
The first lesson I learnt was 'Yes, chef.' I started as a commis chef; my first section was salad. When you’re doing Michelin-star cooking, even the salad section is a really hard job. I went from salad to the pass, then on to the pasta section. That’s where I found my love for pasta. Angela's family roots are Italian, so pasta was a big thing there.
Did you ever work directly with Gordon Ramsay?
I didn’t work with Ramsay directly. But one time he came in to the restaurant when he was filming for TV. I was cooking a risotto. He said it was nice, but then followed with, "You’re so lanky you should have been a basketball player, not a chef!"
I thought Michel Roux Jr was going to be scary, but he was charming and lovely
Which chefs do you look up to?
I really like Eddie Huang. He co-owns BaoHaus, a Gua-Bao restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan. I love his style of cooking – so many flavours. And I was starstruck meeting and working with Michel Roux Jr. I thought he was going to be scary in real life, but he was charming and lovely.
How did The Dirty Dishes come about?
Around 2016, I was posting things I cooked on Instagram and I didn’t think much of it. But my friends said I had to do something with it. I was fed up with how many books and Instagram feeds were about 'healthy this' and 'clean-eating that'. I wanted to do something different. What do you get after every great meal? Dirty dishes. The Daily Mail picked up on it – and then it took off. From that I got a book deal.
What do you need in your kitchen?
A Vitamix blender. And you don’t need a bunch of knives: just one main chef’s knife and a nice paring knife. Oh, and a speed peeler – the cheapest one you can find; the one that costs 50p. No silly bougie ones – they don’t work properly.
Top cooking tip?
Always measure your salt with your fingers, never a spoon – otherwise you’ll over-season.
Favourite restaurants in town?
Padella is my old faithful – it’s incredible. And I love Blacklock on a Sunday: it’s the best roast you’ll find in London. The 'All In' platter is just an amazing pile of meat – beef, pork and lamb chops.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I’m a sucker for Haribo, Freddo, Terry's Chocolate Orange. At school we’d have competitions about who could bring in the most penny sweets. I can appreciate the work that goes into, say, a gateaux, but I’d much rather have a Curly Wurly.
The Dirty Dishes is out on 7 March (£13.99; Pan Macmillan)