Kitchen Spy: inside the home of Heston’s right-hand man, Ashley Palmer-Watts

Ashley Palmer-Watts, executive chef at Dinner By Heston Blumenthal, shares his kitchen must-haves.  Photo: Pat Scala.

He was the head chef at the Fat Duck in Bray, UK, when it received three Michelin stars, and now runs Melbourne’s Dinner By Heston Blumenthal at Crown (also in London). But most people know Ashley Palmer-Watts, 38, as Heston’s right-hand man, a relationship that started in 1999.

He lives with his wife Emma and their two children, Max, 6, and Sophia, 4, in a semi-detached Victorian cottage in a quiet part of Maidenhead, just a short drive from the Fat Duck restaurant and its experimental kitchens, in Bray.

“We try and eat really, really healthily and expose the kids to different foods and evolve their eating,” he says. “Emma usually cooks during the week and then I cook on the weekends.”

The staples

My pantry

I have lots of spices, a couple of salts, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame and white soy, which we use a lot at Dinner (it’s very savoury, with lots of umami and great as a seasoning in broths and sauces). We eat a lot of long grain brown rice and the kids love pastas, so we eat a lot of that. And there’s always parmesan, comte and good English farmhouse cheddar cheese.

Your pearly whites aren't fans of the citric acid in lemons.Lemons are a fridge favourite of Ashley Palmer-Watts. Photo: Edwina Pickles

My fridge

We always have chutneys, lots of garlic, chilli, lemons, limes and semi-skimmed milk for the kids. And there’s often a couple of nice healthy soft drinks that the kids love, plus lots of fruit juice and vegetables. We get a veg box every week or buy from the supermarket. I normally shop on the Saturday, which is a good excuse to go for a drive and chill out for half an hour.

Secret vice

I absolutely love Ready Salted Walkers Crisps – they are amazing. I try not to eat more than a packet a week.

Last night’s dinner 

Some pasta with smoky bacon, peas, parmesan and olive oil. It’s like a carbonara but we tend to have it with olive oil instead of egg and maybe some chilli, garlic and lemon juice, lots of chopped parsley.

House-distilled gin and tonic.Palmer-Watts is not a big spirits drinker but does like a gin and tonic. Photo: Cole Bennetts

I’m drinking

I absolutely love Australian chardonnays, such as Ten Minutes by Tractor, and rieslings – they seem to go hand-in-hand with being here. Otherwise, I might drink a gin and tonic (I don’t drink a lot of spirits) and I love Asahi and Bicycle Beer, by the Temple Brewing Company in East Brunswick.

My toolkit

At home I don’t have anything sous-vide, it’s generally a lot more simple than that. Just the usual kitchen things: great knives (I don’t use a particular brand, I keep half my knives at home and half at work), no Thermomix – just a normal blender – a gas stove and my Big Green Egg barbecue.

Hampton Court Palace.Ashley Palmer-Watts explores Britain’s food heritage with Marc Meltonville, the food historian at Hampton Court Palace. Photo: Getty Images

My inspiration 

We work with food historians such as Polly Russell at the British Library and Marc Meltonville, the food historian at Hampton Court Palace. At the moment I’m trying to look into the first time that pasta was used in the UK; we came across a record from 1390. We’ll then use these recipes as inspiration for our own creations.

Favourite 

My Big Green Egg barbecue. I love cooking over charcoal – I love the subtlety of it. After I first got it I started exploring different woods and different charcoals. It’s about subtlety of flavour in terms of what you can add to food and how you add it by putting other things onto the coals at a certain point. I’ve got a small one, as well, that I take on holiday if I’m driving in Europe. It’s part of the family, really.

Most unforgettable meal

Nine years ago, in Sydney, Heston, Jonny [Lake] and I went down to cook with Neil Perry, Thomas Keller, Guillaume and Tetsuya at the Starlight Foundation dinner. Afterwards, we all went to Tetsuya’s office and had three guys cooking for us. Guillaume brought all the wine from Bennelong and we were drinking magnums of Chateau Petrus and Dom Perignon. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.

Roast tarragon chicken.Roast tarragon chicken. Photo: William Meppem

Recipe stalwart

We love roast chicken on a Sunday with roast potatoes, creamed leeks (lightly blanched and simmered with cream and a little bit of mustard and a little bit of lemon juice right at the end). And we actually have Yorkshire pudding with it as well.

Roast turbot at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London. Roast turbot at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London.

Discovery

Australian fish. The species we generally cook to temperatures in the UK are ones such as turbot and halibut, whereas here in Victoria we are cooking cobia, and grouper and striped trumpeter – the fish here are much meatier and robust, these take a different level of cooking opposed to the UK varieties.  Bar cod (AKA banded rock cod) is amazing. The texture is phenomenal – it’s my favourite.

Click here to read this story where it originally appeared, in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food section, on Tuesday 23 August 2016.