July 1, 2011 10:02 pm

FT Foodies: Henry Dimbleby

Henry Dimbleby

Henry Dimbleby

Do you believe the maxim, never trust a thin chef?

I know some really good thin chefs. Bruno Loubet, who was my first boss and one of the best chefs I know, is unbearably handsome and slim.

What are your earliest food memories?

As a boy I once caught a conger eel. We were staying in Devon with my grandmother and I caught it on Start Bay; it was taller than me at the time. It got cut up and put into the freezer – we were eating it for about five years. It has a meaty white flesh – mum made a curry from it with curry leaves, ginger, garlic and coconut milk.

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Did you ever consider, or train for, another profession?

At university I did physics and philosophy. I met Bruno Loubet at a party during my finals, and he offered me a job. I sort of fell into food. Although I loved it, I realised I was too messy to be a chef. I went on to be a gossip columnist, management consultant, and then I went back to food when we set up Leon.

Whose food business do you envy?

I love the idea of running one restaurant rather than owning multiple ones, and the simplicity that might bring. I used to envy Russell Norman’s Polpo – but then he said he was thinking of rolling out more [restaurants]. I said, “don’t do it, it’ll be a nightmare”. He’s done it, and it’s very successful. In terms of fast food, the real challenge is to deliver consistency. Julian Metcalfe at Itsu is best at that – the design of the dishes is done in such detail. It’s very clever.

Is the customer always right?

The idea of customer as king is dangerous; it’s unhelpful in trying to resolve issues. The people in your business work incredibly hard; if they’re subservient it doesn’t enable them to do their best work. But I’d say always try and understand what the problem is and go out of your way to apologise.

What have you had to improve?

We serve most people in about 40 seconds, but if you get that wrong people are very precious with their time and it upsets them. People are also very protective about [Leon’s] Original Superfood Salad. You have to get the right amount of feta, broccoli, peas, lemon juice, with the quinoa at the bottom. If you get it wrong they pick up on it.

If you had to eat in one country for the rest of your life, where would it be?

India. The light, delicious vegetarian cuisine in Kerala, then the curries – all the bold flavours. The variety is incredible.

Henry Dimbleby is the co-founder of Leon restaurants

‘Leon: Naturally Fast Food Book 2’ by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent is published by Conran Octopus (£20)

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