AN INSPIRED CHEF

Celebrity chef Paul Askew talks cooking, kitchens and Elton John’s fish and chips.

Genial Paul Askew is Chef Patron of The Art School restaurant in Liverpool. Born in Sunderland, he moved to Merseyside when he was four.

“I went to Wirral Met College for my first formal qualification,” he says, “and my first job was at Thornton Hall Hotel in Thornton Hough, as a little lowly pot washer, gutting fish, peeling spuds and generally having things thrown at you like all good KP’s experience.

“I ended up working for De Vere hotels across the country, then I went to New York as a Sous Chef, and when I came back I joined the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society – the Phil – as Executive Chef and Catering Manager.

We did everything from cooking for Elton John at the Summer Pops, the three Tenors, Nina Simone, even Her Majesty the Queen at Liverpool Town Hall, an amazing seven years including non-stop corporate hospitality, cooking sometimes for as many as 500 people as well as doing tiny bespoke dinner parties. That’s how I began to build my reputation.

“In advance of Elton John arriving we had this enormous catering rider sent in advance, a rider being the special menu required by an artist. It took me about four days to pull it all together. We even had to line his dressing room with white calico, organise a certain type of lily, special teas, a certain type of honey, you name it.

Anyway, Elton arrived by helicopter, walked in, didn’t even look at the dressing room and said, ‘You know what? I really fancy some fish and chips tonight. Would someone go out and get me some?’ I wanted to throttle him for a moment, and then you think, ‘Fair enough, he’s a musical genius and a global star. He can have what he wants.’ Later, Paul became Founder Chef and Food and Beverage Director of the London Carriage works on Liverpool’s Hope Street. After 13 happy years he decided to branch out on his own.

“The Art School is the sort of restaurant I’d dreamed about since I was 16, somewhere I could focus all the experience and repertoire I’d built up in the meantime. We’re in our fifth year and all is going well. We have a private dining room now, and a champagne bar, and I’m sure The Art School will continue to evolve and make people happy.” As someone who spends a lot of time in a restaurant kitchen Paul should know a thing or two about them. But what about domestic kitchens?

“If someone is dreaming up a new kitchen then it’s important not to worry exclusively about how it looks. Looks are vitally important, of course, but design isn’t just about aesthetics. The kitchen here cost a couple of hundred thousand and it has to earn its money, and that means efficiency. “To be honest, if I was designing a new kitchen for home I’d probably think as much about practicality as I would about its appearance.

A kitchen is a room with a purpose as well as a place where people gather, so it has to be able to deliver. If you’re entertaining you want cooking to be as easy as possible so you can enjoy the occasion along with everyone else.” Paul is now a familiar face on TV. He’s appeared on Celebrity Masterchef, the Great British Menu and Saturday Morning Kitchen, and is back on Sunday Brunch on May 12. He will also be showing off his considerable skills in our Heswall showroom in the summer.