Wandsworth-based chef Ed Baines prefers the traditional, simple approach to top quality food
Words: Camilla Davis
Ed Baines is not a devotee of the Heston Blumenthal school of curious culinary creations. For Ed, as the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘As a chef, I’ve discovered that the more you do in a traditional way, the better it is,’ he explains. ‘If you can make things by hand, food seems to taste better, it looks better, the texture is better and it’s more rewarding to work with.’
As the man behind iconic Soho restaurant Randall and Aubin, tradition is not only a matter of food standards, but also one of respect. ‘As a company, Randall and Aubin has been here since 1908, as London’s first French butchers,’ he says, ‘So when I took the company over in 1996, I felt like more of a patron than an owner, in the respect of keeping up that name and quality.’
While Ed enjoys employing traditional techniques, he’s not afraid of embracing modern flavours, leading to innovation; it’s a must for a judge of Britain’s Best Dish. He’s also collaborated with hotel chain Premier Inn to create the new Purple Sauce, designed as a rival to brown sauce and ketchup. ‘From a colour perspective, it’s Mother Nature’s purple, on the basis that I wanted all the ingredients to be natural; there are no preservatives, no artificial colourings, no stabilisers,’ he says. And despite what customers might think, Ed’s latest addition to the breakfast table isn’t such an outlandish concept. ‘Blackberry ketchup has been around for years, it was big on the Tudor table, so it’s nothing new! The balance of it is feeding in the modern flavours of chilli, garlic and smoked salt. Blackberries have a naturally sweet and sour flavour, which fits very well with meat, especially pork. The smoked salt gives it a kind of BBQ flavour which is very popular right now with smoky ribs and pulled pork.’
The man behind this intriguing new condiment is a South Londoner. Ed lives in Wandsworth with his family and their choice of locale was a decision based on common sense. ‘Originally, my wife and I were living in a flat in Chelsea, but then we had our little boy and she very much wanted to bring the children up in a more traditional area,’ he explains. ‘We were already planning on more children and wanted to live somewhere where there were more mums than nannies.’
Ed actually discovered his perfect borough by chance. ‘I went to visit my brother who had an office just off Northcote Road and it hit me that this is such a great area. It’s just over the bridge, so I can get in and out of central London; Northcote Road is lovely and very vibrant.
‘There’s the market, a cheesemonger, a fishmonger, two butchers, a honey shop — we’re really spoilt. And there’s a great community.’ As for those who think Clapham holds the title of South London’s Nappy Valley, Ed thinks otherwise. ‘There are billions of children in Wandsworth! There are great schools here and we’ve put down roots. We started off buying a flat, fixed it all up and made it nice. Obviously the market has moved a little bit so we sold the flat and bought a house.
‘The children are permanently waving and shouting at friends across the street because they all know each other. It reminds me of my childhood and I think sometimes when you’re bringing up kids, if you had a good childhood, you want to replicate that.’
Having grown up in the Bedford Park area of Chiswick, Ed has changed postcodes but kept the best parts of his childhood for the next generation. ‘With our kids, it’s lovely to see them go and play outside, and we want them to enjoy their childhood.’
While the chef and family man loves life in the capital, he realises that sourcing top-quality local ingredients in an urban area isn’t always realistic. With a strong emphasis on the sustainable, he strives to use the best produce. ‘We use common sense in every decision we make about suppliers. The meat is well raised and farmed, nothing is rushed; we are looking for quality. All the shellfish I get comes from the West Country; the crabs come in to Weymouth in the afternoon and I’ve got them by 4am. When you sit down at Randall and Aubin eating cracked crab, it’s as fresh as you’d get by the seaside!’
Ed sources his quality meat from the one place he’d love to live outside of the capital. ‘I’m a real Londoner, but I do like Suffolk – I like extremes, whether urban or the deepest darkest countryside,’ he says. The restaurateur buys all his pork from the county. ‘The Suffolk pigs are by the sea on sand, which means they are breathing clean air blowing in from the North Sea. They are running around on sand so they’re lean with less fat and they’re cleaner. I don’t serve the biggest steaks in London but what I do serve is very, very good quality meat cooked very, very well and it tastes delicious —that’s why people keep coming back. Everyone comments on the quality of the pork at the restaurant and it’s down to sourcing from the right place and person as well as negotiating hard on the right price.’
For Ed, the hard work and thorough sourcing is all worth it — all he needs for a pick-me-up is to look at a customer’s face. ‘I don’t like to stare,’ he says, ‘but when you see someone eating your dish, and they look up and raise their eyebrows, you know you can’t get it better than that. As a cook, that is just so rewarding.’
Ed Baines’ limited edition Purple Sauce, made from blackberries, is available in Premier Inn hotel restaurants nationwide from 20 July 2015