Chantelle Nicholson: “I want to spend more time embracing the imperfection of food”

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Chantelle Nicholson discusses the launch of her new ‘offshoot menu’ at Apricity and teaching kids to expand their palate

Related tags Apricity Chantelle Nicholson Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards Restaurant Sustainability London Fine dining

The Apricity chef owner discusses the launch of her offshoot menu and teaching kids to expand their palate.

You recently launched a new ‘offshoot menu’. Tell us about it
It’s about finding new ways of using excess produce and further continuing our approach to zero-waste cooking. There’s no menu, as such. Dishes can vary from table to table depending on what produce is available. Anyone who orders for the offshoot menu is asked about their dietaries and from that we create a completely bespoke main course and accompanying snack, which is then served by one of the kitchen team who can explain the different elements of the dish.

What was the reason behind it?
There were two reasons. Firstly, August is traditionally very slow for restaurants, especially at lunchtime and early evenings, and so it’s great way to drum up some extra business and get a few more bums on seats. But also, it just allows for a bit more creativity from the team and, particularly when it’s a bit slower, give them some more motivation. We have a shelf in the kitchen where we keep the ingredients. It could be whey from the housemade ricotta, or leftover cabbage leaves fermented for the kimchi mac n’ cheese. It’s about finding new ways of using excess produce of the day and further continue our approach to zero-waste cooking.

How have guests responded to it?
It’s been positive. It’s priced at £29, and people have said they like how affordable it is. They’ve also said they like the dialogue with the chef. But the main thing they like is that they’re getting a dish that’s designed completely for them. It makes the dining experience really personal and special.

Given the challenges facing restaurants right now, did you feel an added pressure to broaden Apricity’s offer with the menu?
You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and see what your guests actually want. We knew this time of year was going to be quieter, and it’s about being a bit more proactive and not just sitting back and watching it happen. It also gives us something to talk about, which is important, but crucially still aligns with our values.

It's set to run until the end of August. Could it become a more long-term thing?
Absolutely. It’s working well across the board and really helping with filling those slightly earlier booking slots that aren’t usually as popular. And it’s a good way to keep that in check as well as continuing to push our creativity and approach to zero waste.

You’ve also recently became an ambassador for the Chefs in Schools charity...
Chefs in Schools do incredible work, and they need people to amplify and support the work they do. Being an ambassador gives me the opportunity to do that, as well as allow me to work directly with the chefs on their team and show them how to be more aware of zero waste practises and how to be more sustainable. It’s really important work. I’m so grateful to have a space to boost that message.

Presumably it will also give you a chance to do present some classes and demonstrations too?
We actually had a session with some kids this morning at Apricity where we showed them how to make their own doughnuts. The response we get from the attendees it great. It allows them to explore ingredients that they don’t like, and it gives them a new environment to try things in – introducing new tastes and textures they wouldn’t normally try.

Is that also something you incorporate into the kid’s tasting menu​ at Apricity?
It is. A lot of the dishes on the menu feature ingredients that kids may not normally like – mushrooms, for example. But we serve a crispy oyster mushroom with a tofu purée, and they really like that. Often, it’s not that they don’t like an ingredient, but they don’t like how it’s been cooked when they’ve had it before. So, with our Culinary Kids menu we’re giving our younger guests the opportunity to explore new horizons and expand their palate.

Apricity was named Innovator of the Year at the National Restaurant Awards​ and has received a Michelin Green Star. Do you have ambitions to also earn a Michelin star in the future?
For me it’s about creating something progressive and principled across the board. So, to have those accolades is important. It’s a wonderful affirmation of what we’re doing and it’s about pushing that further. If a star comes then that’s great, but the focus is on continuing to work on how we operate build on that. Michelin is about consistency, and I’m not against that, but for me I want to spend more time embracing the imperfection of food. And promote that to both my diners and the wider industry.

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