Chef Profile – José Souto

I’ve been drawn to game and wild food for as long as I can remember. The ability to put wild, healthy, sustainable food on the table is as much a part of human DNA as is sharing food with our family and friends; that’s why we have people over for dinner, why we share food, and we all love explaining where it came from and how we prepared it. Those of us that harvest our own food go that one step further. We know the story of the venison, pheasant, or grouse that we prepare, and we also have a deep-rooted respect for the food we eat and harvest. I firmly believe that we who eat game and wild food are among the most respectful and sustainable people in the world.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My journey to become a chef was not as straightforward as you might think, in fact it was by accident if I am honest. At school I was a mediocre student not really excelling at anything. I loved cooking with my mother at home and did do well at my home economic classes in the first part of secondary school, but when I applied to do cookery later on I and my parents were told in no uncertain terms that it was not for me. So for the latter years of school I was a bit lost if I am honest.

Just before leaving school a friend of my father’s, a Captain Steward for Iberia Airways, came to visit. His tales of the countries he visited made it sound fantastic, and I decided that that was what I wanted to do. I needed to go to the Iberia Academy for the basic training, but unfortunately was too young so it was suggested that a year at catering college would stand me in good stead and fill the year. My father was not too smitten with the idea, as he had worked in hospitality most of his life and didn’t want long hours and low pay for his son, but he allowed me to apply to Westminster College for the hospitality BTech course, with The City and Guilds Craft Cookery Diploma course as a fallback, despite having been told cookery was not for me.

On the first day of college I found to my horror that the course I wanted had been oversubscribed and I had been enrolled on the cookery course. This scared the hell out of me, but as time went on it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, and I even took the student of the year accolade at the end of 

the course. This really gave me a focus in life: from the first month I knew that being a chef was what I wanted to do, and have been consumed by this world ever since. And now I have parents that say the same about their sons and daughters that come to us at the college; “at school they were lost and at college they have found their thing”.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy everything about the hospitality and catering industry and the people and places it has taken me. I love bringing the next generation of chefs on and seeing them progress to new heights in the industry. I enjoy the look of awe and wonder that students get when you explain something to them and they get it, and finally I love being able to pass on the importance of sustainable ethical food to the next generation of chefs.

And least?

The paperwork.

What is your favourite game bird to cook at home?

I love to cook grouse, it so signifies the beginning of a wonderful time of year and to me has all the flavours of the moor where it lives.

What is the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking game at home?

I would say that when cooking first class cuts, pan frying or roasting, make sure you cook to the point that it is slightly undercooked, then make sure you rest it well before carving or serving. With second class cuts don’t be in a hurry, to cook long and slow is better.

What game in particular benefits from hanging?

I am not a lover of hanging game really, there is a whole chapter in Feathers The Game Larder called ‘to hang or not to hang’ which explores the whole world of hanging and why. I prefer to rest feathered game and small ground game for a day or 2 in the fridge or game chiller rather that go with antiquated hanging times. The only exceptions to this are venison and wild boar: both these large muscled animals need a few days to chill, rest and set the meat before it can be butchered. Again in Venison there is a whole chapter on hanging, its benefits, and what happens to the meat.

You are cooking for a dinner party at home with game as the primary ingredient, what would you serve for starters and mains?

I would do the following, especially if I have some real game enthusiasts coming: Venison carpaccio with gorgonzola and caramelised walnuts as a starter, and as the main my mini three-bird roast. Four types of game in one menu; what more could you want? »

Instagram: @wild_food_boy