Tim O'Brien, head chef
How long have you been at Forge & Co?
I've been here since the beginning, so since March. I was previously working at Bedford & Strand in Central London, then I was brought on board to help create the menu about four weeks before we opened.
The whole venue seems to be built with that "creative hub" vibe - how did that inspire the menu you created? Were you given a specific brief to fit around it?
The brief was a British-style farmer's table, so it was all created around that.
How did you get in to cooking in the first place?
My parents, I suppose. They were in the industry and owned pubs and restaurants in Devon. So I started off working in the kitchens as a kitchen porter, but I was always watching what was going on, how the chefs were working and I just followed suit.
Was cooking just something you just picked up, or were you taught professionally?
I was professionally trained in a place called The Imperial Hotel, which is a five-star place in Devon. Then I moved to London and ended up working for Marco Pierre White.
How was that?
It was good. I worked with him in The Belvedere.
Marco's known for being pretty intense in his kitchen. Like, the famous time he threw all the cheeses from the cheese plate on to the wall of his restaurant because he thought they were presented a bit shittily. Do you rule your kitchens with the same iron fist?
No, not really!
What was the most important thing you learned when working with him?
Just be organised and know what you're doing. Don't try and blag something you don't know.
What was next for you after learning these important life lessons?
I was at Wheeler's of St James and moved on to The Gherkin, I worked with Richard Corrigan, then I came back to Shoreditch and worked down at The Light Bar. I've been all over the place really.
While you were working in all these kitchens, were you beginning to to create in your head the sort of food you wanted to cook?
Yeah, I think everywhere you work you take on ideas from other people and you begin to find your own niche.
What inspires you with the food you create? How would you describe your style?
I like to play with stuff, like cuts of meat that haven't been used before and try and do something different with them, like perhaps braise them. I like to do something different with foods and see how that works.
What would you say your signature dish is?
I think potato dumplings. They're a bit of a signature dish for me.
What makes them special?
We serve them with Portobello mushrooms, sunflower seeds and vegetarian parmesan.
Oh, so quite healthy then - when I think of potato dumplings, I think with stews or heavy gravy...
No, they're almost like gnocci, actually. They're pan-fried and are really good.
What would you say is the signature dish here?
I would say the ox-heart burger. It's a dish that time and time again, people say "Ooh, I'm not too sure if I'm going to like it," but they try it and love it. We sell a lot of them. It's very simple, it's just ox-heart mixed with minced rump beef, caramelised onions, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, mushroom ketchup and seasoned. We cook it on a Josper grill which is like a Spanish barbeque in an oven. It goes up to 500 degrees - we generally cook stuff at 300 or 400 degrees - and the intensity and smokiness of the oven works with the ox-heart as it's has quite a smoky flavour naturally, and it's amplified even more. And the burger patty just comes into its own once it's cooked. We serve it in a brioche bun, with a little Gem salad and that's it.
How many do you get through in a weekend?
A hundred, easily.
The whole set-up here seems very casual and relaxed, how does that reflect in the menu you've created here?
I tried to make it all very accessible. The menu is very easy to understand and I try to put dishes on there so there will be something for everyone .
Have you had any kitchen disasters recently?
Yes, I've got one dish at the moment that I'm trialling for the new menu, but it just doesn't seem to work. It's stuffed marrow, real allotment vegetables stuff. I've played with it three times and I'm actually going to play with it again today to see if it works.
Has it become your quest to perfect it?
Yeah - but it just looks too '80s at the moment.
Where do you like to eat when you're not working here?
Are there any chefs around that you think are smashing it at the moment?
Yes, he has a very interesting way of doing stuff. He just makes a play with everything he does, it looks fun. The way he's doing things and what he's putting out is just very interesting.
Finally, what would be your last meal on earth?
Cassoulet. With a nice bit of Cabernet Sauvignon.