Our delicious autumn recipe Rustic Courgette de Nice comes from Nick Sandler, Pret’s Creative Chef, and his treasured wood-fired oven.
It’s an inspired combination of ingredients fresh from the local farmers market. So inviting, our photographer couldn’t make up her mind whether to eat it or take pictures of it. So she did both.
What made you become a chef?
A strong survival instinct. My mum’s a terrible cook. She can’t see it herself – she still swears she’s better than me.
What’s been your biggest inspiration?
An important part of being a cook is looking at things and picking them up. As a child I loved wandering through the woods, taking in surroundings, picking the herbs and mushrooms. Later I moved from foraging to fishing.
What makes a great chef?
A great recipe is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. There’s the exciting bit when the idea comes to you. And then there’s the hours of trial and error that go into getting it exactly right.
That’s what Pret’s about. Every single sandwich and salad we make has to be so delicious it’s worth walking 10 minutes down the road in the rain for. With so much competition out there it has to be.
What do you do to relax?
Cook. This weekend for instance I’ve got some amazing rare breed black-footed pork coming down from Yorkshire. I’m going to experiment with different ways of making salami.
You’re the cook of the house at home too?
I love it. I’ve built my own brick oven. It works exactly like the one in the 17th century kitchens at Kew. You feed it with wood – cherry, pine, ash, all sorts – and get a white hot fire burning for 2 hours. You then sweep it free of wood and in goes the food. Bread is amazing. It rises so fast, and then it bursts open from the steam.
What’s your favourite food to cook?
It changes all the time. I often get excited by an individual ingredient. One thing I always go back to is broth. I have my own special recipe that involves pigs trotters and chicken carcasses. It’s the basis of lots of great dishes and it’s so flexible. The kids often have it for breakfast.
What does the future hold?
A lot more fishing. And a lot more cooking.