If the proof is in the pudding, there’s plenty of evidence backing Jason Atherton’s talents. We whisk the busy chef aside for a chat
Like many chefs, the Michelin-starred Jason Atherton has war wounds from his time in the kitchen. Worst of which is the “big scar” on his leg, the scene of a skin graft “many moons” ago.
“I dropped a pan of reduced veal stock and it stuck to my feet. I was only young, it was 1999, and I got rushed to hospital,” explains Atherton, who appeared as a judge in Sky Living series My Kitchen Rules, alongside model-turned-chef Lorraine Pascale last year.
After six months off work, he went back to the kitchen on crutches and has since then, avoided staff changing hot pans of oil “like the plague”. But as painful as the injury was and as much as it gave him “nightmares” afterwards, the 43-year-old also missed being in the throng of the restaurant.
Born in Sheffield, Atherton’s foodie journey began after he moved to London when he was 16, and landed a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant as a pot washer. He worked his way up, eventually becoming a pastry chef, then head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, and has since set up the popular Pollen Street Social in London’s swanky Mayfair, and a string of other restaurants all over the world.
His workload shows no sign of stopping either, with a newly launched eatery in New York and his latest book, Social Sweets, all coming out in the space of a few months earlier this spring.
Putting out a book about desserts was a “logical step” for the chef, being as “99.9% of people have a sweet tooth and like to finish off a meal with a dessert”, he notes.
Clearly Atherton is in that number.
“Even though they’re really cheesy to look at, one of my favourite things as a child was a Mr Kipling Bakewell Tart,” he explains. “I used to love having those, so being able to make a grown-up version of it is cool.”
Committed as he is to perfecting his pudding recipes and bettering the service he offers in his restaurants, he admits his ambitions are only feasible thanks to the support of his wife, Irha, who works in the restaurant’s head office.
“Without my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Atherton, who lives in London with Irha and their two daughters. “Her support and understanding of the journey we’re on together and as a family is unbelievable.
“Everything in life is a compromise. Running a successful restaurant business is time consuming and on top of all that, pushing Pollen Street Social to be one of the best restaurants, not just in the UK but hopefully in the world, takes time and dedication.
“That and the travel, and being a father and writing cookbooks... You’ve got to be super dedicated, so her support is massive. I couldn’t live without her.”
Tempted by the sound of Atherton’s sweet treats? Here’s a dessert from his new book to try at home.
For the raspberry compote:
50g caster sugar
A twist of cracked black pepper from a grinder
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For the cheesecake:
250g cream cheese
90g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 vanilla pod, split in half, seeds scraped out with a knife
250ml double cream
For the crumble topping:
85g digestive biscuits
15g unsalted butter, melted
First, prepare the raspberry compote. Tip the raspberries and sugar into a heavy-based saucepan and add the pepper. Gently heat the mixture, stirring initially, until the sugar dissolves and the raspberries start to break down. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely. If not using soon, cover the bowl with cling film and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
Put the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla seeds into a large mixing bowl. Beat the mixture together with a whisk until well combined. Whip the double cream to firm peaks in another bowl, then fold into the cheese mixture. If not using immediately, cover the bowl with cling film and keep in the fridge.
For the crumble topping, put the digestive biscuits into a clean plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin to fine crumbs. Tip into a bowl and mix with the melted butter (you can make this a few hours ahead, but store the crumble in an airtight container).
To assemble the cheesecakes, spoon the cheese mixture into individual glasses or bowls. Spoon over the raspberry compote and then the crumble topping. Serve at once.