FT Foodies: Mark Poynton

At the age of 15, Mark Poynton started working part-time as a waiter at the Queen Hotel, Chester. After six months, he crossed over to the kitchen, training under executive chef Ian McDowall. Various chef jobs followed before Poynton took over his first head chef position at Cambridge’s Alimentum in 2008, becoming chef/patron in 2010.

What are your earliest food memories?

How bad my mother’s cooking was! I used to pray for the days when my dad would make a pan of stew or a Sunday roast. I think this is part of the reason – subconsciously at least – that I became a chef.

Did you ever consider another profession?

When I was 17, I very nearly joined the army. I thought it would be a great way to see the world and learn a trade, but didn’t want to go into battle so I bottled it.

What was your most hated chore as a trainee?

Making sandwiches for the office girls at The Queen Hotel in Chester: they used to complain that they were not nice enough and that I should try harder.

How would your sous chefs describe your management style?

A bit Jekyll and Hyde. I am generally very calm and concise, but if standards are not met or kept I am known to be quite ruthless. Saying that, I try to be firm but fair and treat all the staff the same regardless of position or experience.

Do you have a culinary role model?

I admire Brett Graham from The Ledbury for the way he continues to push the flavours in his food but always allowing the seasons to dictate the menus.

Is it important to buy local?

I buy British produce whenever possible, but if something that takes two hours to get to me from Scotland or two hours from Dorset tastes better than something from Cambridgeshire, why shouldn’t I buy that?

Which is better, gastronomically – Oxford or Cambridge?

For me, it’s Cambridge as we have a one- and two-Michelin-starred restaurant, and Oxford as a city has none. And we won the boat race.

Where are your favourite restaurants?

I have a few personal favourites over the country: Midsummer House in Cambridge; The Ledbury and José in London; and Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk.

Who would work in your dream kitchen?

Daniel Clifford (Midsummer House) on fish; Russell Bateman (Colette’s at The Grove) on meat; Dean Yasharian (Bar Boulud) on garnish; Martyn Compton (Tanners) on larder; Michelle Gillott (my wife to be) on pastry; Matt Gillan (The Pass at South Lodge Hotel) on the pass; and me on pot wash – so I can eat all the scraps from these great chefs.

Mark Poynton will be in residency at the Landmark London’s Winter Garden restaurant from November 20 to December 8, Tuesdays to Saturdays, dinner only. www.landmarklondon.co.uk; www.restaurantalimentum.co.uk

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