The Gannet Q&A

Stephen Toman

12th June 2018

Interview: Killian Fox

Stephen Toman was born and raised in Belfast, where he now runs the brilliant restaurant Ox with his friend Alain Kerloc’h. The two men met at L’Arpège in Paris, where Stephen was doing a stage and Alain was maître d’. They ended up back in Belfast working for competing restaurant groups before opening a place of their own in 2013. When Ox celebrated its fifth birthday in April, they were joined at the pass by their old Arpège boss Alain Passard – a sign of how highly the great chef rates the work of his protégés.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

Alain and myself travelled to Copenhagen a few months before we opened Ox in 2013. My friend Christian Puglisi organised us a few days with him at his restaurant Relae. We worked and ate there and also at Noma and both meals will always stand out in my memory as mindblowing. One incredible dish at Relae was turnip cooked, dehydrated and then rehydrated, served almost like pasta in a light cream sauce with mustard seeds. As we sat in Noma excited and nervous about returning to Belfast to start Ox, both reflecting on our few days there and busting with ideas, it began to snow heavily outside. We both just stared out onto the sea watching in awe. I remember it like it was yesterday.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

My favourite is Michel Bras’ Essential Cuisine. I bought it shortly after it came out in 2002 and it still amazes me now every time I open it – standout recipes include his lamb with “florentine” onions in saffron bouillon and the fromage blanc tartine with butternut confit and chives. I also love The Cuisine of Frédy Girardet, with recipes like lightly cooked salmon with fennel and olive oil or stuffed escalopes of foie gras. He was one of the greatest of French cuisine. For reference I always go to Larousse Gastronomique, it’s the bible for chefs.

What’s your biggest food or drink aversion?

I don’t like too big a portion of anything – I find it hard to start if I know I’m never going to finish. I’m not a fan of craft beers – they are too heavy in hops.

Describe your perfect breakfast.

Eggs benedict and fresh grapefruit juice, finished with a good coffee – usually an americano with milk or a cappuccino, then espressos the rest of the day.

Of all the restaurants in the world, which makes you happiest, and why?

I’d have to say L’Arpege and L’Astrance in Paris, as they’re where my inspiration came from, when deciding the direction I wanted to take in food, and they’re the kind of the restaurants I’ll always look up to. Alain Passard [at L’Arpege] is my food hero, he changed the rules.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

Our playlist during prep is as random as it can get. From Tupac to Rolling Stones to old 90s rave tunes. It all adds to the mix, like the different moments in the service ahead. Although I do turn the volume up when Gimme Shelter comes on by the Stones. Tune!

If you could only drink one thing, aside from water, what would it be?

Nothing beats a good cup of tea with a splash of milk. Everything stops for those few minutes.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

My grandmother’s vegetable broth. She would spend all day Friday making it and we enjoyed it on the Saturday for lunch. She cooked it with beef shin-bone and boiled potatoes to finish.

What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

Knowing pastry and savoury, it’s a must for any good head chef.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

My daughter’s birthday cake. I always make her a cake for her birthday, this year it was chocolate with icing.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

As it’s almost summer now, I’ll say verbena, my favourite herb.

Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

Mandoline, we use them for so many different things.

If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

French: it’s seasonal and regional.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

A server without a smile.

What’s your biggest food extravagance?

Winter truffles

What’s your favourite food and drink pairing?

Apple ice wine with cold foie gras ganache and raw asparagus. We discovered a great Irish apple iced wine from Killahora Orchards.

Ox is at 1 Oxford Street, Belfast ; www.oxbelfast.com

Follow Ox: Twitter | Instagram

Posted 12th June 2018

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Interview: Killian Fox

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