In today’s Coffee Break column, we sit down with one of the UK’s hottest young chefs – the current MasterChef: The Professionals champion Alex Webb – who at just 25 years old, was one of the youngest participants in the hit BBC show’s history when he swept to victory at the end of last year.
The Essex-based chef is a real ‘rags to riches’ story – starting in the hospitality industry as a pot washer aged 14 in his local restaurant, later having stints at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and another at The Savoy before winning the famed BBC show.
Since winning the show, he has left his post as head chef of Square One restaurant in Great Dunmow, Essex and turned his hand to being a private chef for dinner parties. He is hoping to open his first restaurant later this year.
Having been described by celeb judge Marcus Warening as “the future of cooking”, he is also a huge coffee drinker, revealing how important it is for a chef to stay alert with a latte or macchiato – and claiming that it was one of the reasons why he won the show!
How do you like your coffee and what is your favourite?
I drink two or three coffees a day – it’s integral for my career as a chef.
If I’m not working and am relaxing, I will go for a latte with an extra shot, with a bit of a caramel in there as well or some frothed milk.
If I am working in the cut and thrust of a kitchen, under a high pressure environment, I always have a double macchiato.
If I am waking up early working a long shift, I need that extra boost of caffeine to sort me out as my day goes on – whereas my latte is just for enjoyment of the taste.
When I first started drinking coffee, much like everyone it was because you were told growing up that it was the thing to keep you more alert – but now I really appreciate the taste of most coffees.
Coffee was an integral part of my time on Masterchef – I’d go so far as to say it helped me win the show! Every day I turned up at the studio, a runner would put a coffee in my hand to start the filming off right.
During the day, there was a fridge full of fizzy drinks and energy drinks – but I always asked for a coffee instead, I couldn’t function without it!
Do you ever cook with coffee and what are your top tips?
I normally use coffee in cooking more for desserts – such as cakes and ice creams. But increasingly, I am using coffee in savoury foods.
For example, recently I made a coffee jelly, the bitterness, and strongness of which goes really well with fish such as salmon to create a really nice distinction of flavours.
Coffee jelly is tricky to make – either you can use espresso or you can make it straight from the beans themselves. The best way is to sieve it through a fine chinois using a J-cloth to get all the sediment out of it. Then mix it with gelatine to make small little bite sized cubes to go perfectly with your fish or meat.
I feel people should use coffee more in main dishes and starters as well as for desserts as a point of difference – coffee has a traditional association with food and it’s hard to see it in a different light.
But much like using chocolate in savoury sauces has become popular in recent years, I am starting to see more chefs treat coffee as a distinctive taste. It adds great depth of flavour, particularly given how many different varieties of coffee there are from all different parts of the globe.