Fermented strawberries and lacto-fermented Jerusalem artichokes – executive chef Steve Lancaster takes a bold approach at his first restaurant Poise, an intimate space where he reinterprets European classics using Nordic fermentation techniques.
Many chefs start out by working their way up the kitchen ladder. Executive chef Steve Lancaster nailed the brief perfectly, working as a dishwasher in a pub at 13 years old before building up an impressive resume by working at several Michelin-starred establishments around the world and honing his talent.
Not only was Lancaster part of Singapore’s two-Michelin-starred Saint Pierre team for three years before going solo with his first restaurant, Poise, but he is also an alumnus of the prestigious The Fat Duck in London and Oaxen Krog by Magnus Ek (one of Sweden's most influential chefs) in Stockholm.
Lancaster says it was the latter that had a huge impact on his career, as he spent years working with leading Nordic chefs for an in-depth understanding of the inventiveness of New Nordic cuisine, its deep connection to the land and people behind every ingredient, and a distinct freshness and balance in every dish. Indeed, a wall of seasonal ferments sits across his open kitchen, transforming ingredients through natural methods of preservation into his final creations across degustation menus.
Now, despite sourcing prime ingredients from Europe and Japan for his produce-led cuisine at Poise, the 33-year-old Briton has already carved out a name for himself with the ability to transform even the most humble of ingredients into something original without any pomp and show, and letting his creativity take centre stage.
Modern European dishes with strong Nordic connections are showcased at the restaurant, celebrating nature and paying a tribute in equal parts to Scandinavian culinary culture as well as his British heritage. Behind each of his dishes are myriad techniques applied in Nordic cuisine, including fermentation, ageing and pickling – all to create a different dimension to the natural flavours of the produce.
Thanks to a firm foundation in sophisticated haute cuisine techniques and a palate for purity and balance in flavours, Lancaster’s calling card is reinterpreting classics into new but familiar creations, offering a menu that is full of flavour and well-rounded from the hits of fermentation, but without any cloying richness. Here, he shares his favourite ingredients to ferment, and why humble produce such as the potato can still surprise people.
What makes you identify so much with the Nordic cooking techniques that you predominantly espouse in your kitchen?
The techniques have changed the outlook of the cuisine which I grew up with. Besides making non-seasonal ingredients available throughout the year, the use of fermentation, pickling and preservation techniques adds new depth to the rather heaviness of European cuisine.
What are some of your favourite ingredients to ferment and pickle that most chefs don't do?
My personal favourites to ferment include potatoes, white asparagus and strawberries. That said, I wouldn’t think that I am reinventing the wheel here. Fermenting is an age-old technique used by cultures all around the world – every ingredient out there must have been fermented by somebody at some point in time!
Have you made any mistakes that actually helped shape and propel your career and skills as a chef?
I actually moved to Sweden with the intention of opening a restaurant. That fell through really quickly, so you could see it as a mistake of sorts. But that also led to a critical move in my career as I ended up working with Magnus Ek who taught me so much about the New Nordic food scene.
Which chefs inspire you and why?
Clare Smyth, chef-patron of Core in London, and the first and only British female chef to hold three Michelin stars in the UK. Her ability to use humble ingredients and turn them into spectacular dishes is a demonstration of pure skills and creativity.
What are some of the new creations diners can expect at Poise?
We are heading into autumn, so you can expect interesting flavour combinations like mushroom and dark chocolate for dessert, and some lovely seasonal produce like barbecued hispi cabbage and lacto-fermented Jerusalem artichokes. We’ve got a lot more excitement on the Autumn Menu, so why don’t you come and see?
Which dish are you most proud of?
Potato Miso. It is amazing how many people are so surprised by how unique and good it tastes. It is an everyday ingredient but the fermentation process created many layers of flavours in it, and I love how many guests are amazed by its complexity and deliciousness.
What do most people not know about Steve the chef, and Steve the person?
Steve the chef is one of the most stubborn people you will ever meet. I don’t compromise on anything, unless I have absolutely no choice. Steve the person uses less hair gel than most people think I do. I also have a dry sense of humour.
Sum up your culinary vision in one sentence.
Creating elegant yet balanced food with a rocking atmosphere.