I believe producing good food is about creating cravings. When I look back and think where my cravings started, I trace it back to childhood. There was an Italian family-run coffee shop in Carmarthen called Conti’s. My mother would take me every Friday during the warmer months for one scoop of their ice cream. I would demolish it in 30 seconds and start to contemplate how I was going to get through the next week before I could have it again. I was an overweight child and I was only allowed one scoop as my mother believed that was enough; however it wasn’t enough for me.
In 2013, Scott did a talk at the DO Lectures in Wales about the dark art of running a small gourmet food business in Wales. This talk can be watched by clicking here.
Scott Davis is Executive Chef and MD at Strawberry Shortcake, a bespoke catering company in West Wales. He has worked with some of the best 12 chefs in the world.
Other things I look back to as a child were the hours my father would spend fishing on the Gwilly River where we lived. The Gwilly is predominantly a sewin (sea trout) river however, every now and again, it would welcome the king of the river, the wild salmon. This was an occasion to behold. When all the other children were out playing rugby in the field, I would anxiously be waiting by my mother’s side for that salmon supper accompanied by Pembrokeshire new potatoes. Not any variety it had to be the rocket variety. To this day some people believe that the turbot is the ultimate fish but that’s rubbish.
At 15 I took a job in a bakery for a year. The nights were long, but my memory of eating bread fresh out of the oven at 5am accompanied by good, salty, Welsh butter is something that stuck with me and something that I always try to replicate for the customer. Bread is such an important way to start a meal. It gets the saliva flowing and allows the cravings to start. Eat too much of it and it can ruin your meal, but eat the right amount and your tastebuds are primed for the next course. A discipline I had to learn all those years ago at the Conti’s cafe, by just having the one scoop of ice cream.
My love of food led me to London. My first job was at the Vong Restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel, where I worked for Jean-Gorges Vongerichten. He was a French chef who had been brought up in Alsace and had moved to Hong Kong and Bangkok to learn Asian flavour. The style of food was Thai/ French. This guy is my inspiration. His food changed my palette forever. I remember the smells on entering the kitchen on my first day, all of which were alien to me. I think back like it was yesterday. The smell of grinding spices, coriander, lemongrass and Thai basil. And to this day a lot of my food comes back to one place.
I have fluctuated between French and Asian food my whole career. When I worked in French restaurants, I loved the technicality and the way they use fat to carry flavour but equally I craved Asian food as they use different parts of the mouth to carry flavour. Asian food is built on fresh clean flavours and the use of fresh enzymes to create the flavour explosions in your mouth. When working in the Japanese restaurant Nobu, they once kept me on the soup section making only Miso Soup, Acadashi Soup and Clear Soup for six months. It would drive me wild. I was already an accomplished chef at this stage and could not understand why they would keep me on this section for so long.
The fact of the matter was, quite simply, I couldn’t get it right. My palette was accustomed to western flavours. I had to retrain my palette which was quite a big thing for my ego to get over. But one day it all just clicked. The Japanese Master came over and tried the soup and gave me the nod as if it was acceptable. Within the week I was off the section and focusing on fresh fish which was the real reason why I had gone to work there.
What the Japanese don’t know about fish is not worth knowing. I lapped it up. I was like a sponge hungry for information hanging on their every word. And to this day those skills stay with me, whether I’m sharpening a knife or filleting a fish, those skills remain branded in me. On leaving Nobu, Nobu Matsuhisa shook my hand and gave me the best piece of advice...
"Work hard and don’t make excuses."
And to this day these are the words I pass on to any young apprentice.
My fascination with food has taken me across the world and each adventure has exposed me to new cultures and new food. When travelling in Vietnam I remember I was staying in the demilitarised zone in Hue and I tried a dish of hot chopped pork with salty caramel and steamed rice. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever tasted. From the moment my feet landed back on British soil, I was determined to recreate that dish. The craving had taken over. I was on a mission to get the balance of that dish right for myself.
When I look back on my travels I realise how lucky we are here in West Wales and what wonderfully raw, untouched ingredients and opportunities there are here. I’ve spent the last five years forging relationships and investigating all the best local suppliers. I’ve learned so much already from the primary suppliers, fishermen and farmers. I’ve learned about the seasons and about the earth and I rub my hands in relish to think about what else they can teach me.
Now as a mature cook, when I create new dishes I genuinely believe, to get people’s attention, I have to create cravings. I want them to eat my food and remember. To anxiously look forward to the time when they can revisit that memory which brought them such pleasure.
That’s when I know I’ve got them.