Scarlett Dixon (The Gun, The Panther's Whiskers, Crumble)
If you haven't visited The Gun pub on Well Street, then where have you been hanging out for weekend drinking sessions? It's small but perfectly formed, serves great drinks and always seems to be full of mates playing some records - essentially, like Cheers, we've finally found a place where everyone knows our name.
Anyway, the pub has just opened their upstairs roof terrace and their brand new kitchen will be cheffed by Scarlett Dixon of The Panther's Whiskers and Crumble food. We sat down with her on the aforementioned terrace to chat about what sort of food to expect on the menu, the global cuisines that influence her cooking and the secrets behind those triple-cooked bacon chips.
How did you get into food and cooking?
I've always enjoyed cooking and I was sent to work in Oslo as a lawyer and I did quite a few supperclubs over there called The Travelling Chef and I really enjoyed doing it - they've really got their work life balance sorted over there. The city is also smaller than London, so I was able to get around to all the smaller shops I liked to make Asian meals or Indian meals. When I moved back to London I suddenly didn't have the chance to do that anymore because I was too busy in the office.
How did you get into the food scene in London?
I really missed it and my friend Lyndell [Sabine] had started her own catering company called Crumble and she wanted to expand and we always joked about doing something together. At the same time, my husband Olly [Dixon] - who co-owns The Gun - asked me about running the kitchen there, so I thought, "maybe I can make a go of this". I didn't mind law, but I wasn't passionate about it like I am about cooking and eating.
When did you decide to sack off law?
I made the decision at the end of October and my last day as a lawyer was the 17th of December. Then on the 19th I went straight to Switzerland to work in my friend's deli in the kitchen and it was a total baptism of fire. Like, "make 120 canapes in 30 mins!" Although it was pretty highly stressed, it was great as I still loved every day of it - that's how I knew I had made the right decision.
How did you make the transition to food full time?
It was working on Crumble with Lyndell. It started off we were doing hearty, healthy and fresh lunches for offices and now we've expanded to do things like a three-day corporate glamping event in Somerset, providing three meals a day for 120 people. We're also doing weddings, canapes, office events. It's so busy, so it's great.
Is it just you guys working in the team, or is there anyone else?
We've got a good number two at Crumble, his name is Arthur Clamant and he actually used to work at Smokey Tails with Lyndell, as she was the head chef there.
You're self-trained and Lyndell is professionally trained - does that bring something special to your kitchen?
I think it's definitely helped that Lyndell has had professional training so she knows the difference between three types of meringues and things like that. Our skills set complement each other though - we have a good crossover in terms of style and flavours.
Travelling and picking up new dishes and flavours is something you've said feeds into your cooking a lot. Where have you visited recently that's inspired your cooking?
I visited Beirut which was just incredible - there were all these spices out there which I was learning all about, for example, did you know there are two different types of Za'atar?
There might even be more, but I brought back Syrian and Lebanese Za'atar. So when we did the corporate event recently, we did a "make your own posh shawarma" meal, where we slow-roasted 14 lamb shoulders with the spices I had brought back from Beirut. Then, on my honeymoon in India I learned the difference between Northern and Southern cooking - ghee versus mustard oil, fenugreek leaves versus curry leaves, all coconut down south...As my personal preference, I think I prefer the Southern style of cooking as it's a bit lighter.
What's your favourite style of food to cook at the moment?
I'm really into Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian. I do love Asian food, but I think so many people cook it so well, places like Som Saa, and you're like, "yeah, I'm just going to leave them to it" as it's so amazing. Obviously there's places like Ottolenghi, but I don't think there's that many pubs doing Middle Eastern cooking. So our menu will be a mixture of those flavours with traditional pub snacks.
What's the plan for the menu at The Gun?
Crumble will do the food midweek and it will be fresh hearty salads with meat and vegetables. There will always be The Gun Bacon Banger which we're just perfecting at the moment, we want to make sure we have the perfect bread - I think it will involved streaky and back bacon and the mixture went down well. Then there'll be pulled pork and jerk chicken croquettes and cheese toasties. On the weekends we'll do brunch, then in the evenings we'll do a more elaborate meal where you choose your meat or veggie main, then there will be five or six sides and you'll choose two or three of them - a mixture of warm salad, flavoursome potato salads, dips...
How often will you change the menu?
I think it's going to change every three or four weeks. I'm keen to go seasonal - we have a good relationship with our fruit and veg supplier so I'm hoping they'll tip us off for some specials.
Can you talk us through the triple cooked chip and bacon salt dish?
That was Arthur's invention. He was given the task of chip research and he came back with Heston's triple-cooked recipe. He made the bacon salt by crisping up bacon and mixing it with Maldon Salt. The sweet potato wedges will have cardamom salt on them and each week Arthur wants to do a different salt rub for the chips.
Where you do you like to eat when you're not working?
Som Saa - it was my birthday a few weeks ago and they got in the Cornwall Project and their wild sea bass and they steamed it and it was incredible. Dotori - it's a Korean and Japanese restaurant in Finsbury Park that's really good, but it's so hard to get a table at. Oh and Jago - that was a really good meal, too.
What would be your last meal on earth?
We play this game in the car a lot! I think I'd have a Thai starter - those betel leaf ones that Som Saa do. I love a really good lasagne, so a really good one of those. For dessert, definitely chocolate salted brownie with peanut butter ice cream. To drink it would be some sort of margarita as I'm a huge fan of them.
The Gun kitchen opens on the 16th June and there's 50% off food for the first week of service.