Chef Elliot Cunningham runs a pop up called Lagom, currently in residence at Mother Kelly’s in East London. We caught up with him to find out why he loves to barbecue
Could you tell us a little bit about where and what you cook?
At the moment, I don’t have any permanent residence with Lagom. I like to move around, which helps keeps things fresh from an operational point of view. It also means meeting lots of people, something that was a massive pull forme street food wise. Being in touch with customers and having the opportunity to share our love for what we do is often lost when we’re back of house in restaurant kitchens.
This year, I’ve focused more on pop-ups and one-off events which I really enjoy – we are currently serving food at Mother Kelly’s, a Taproom based on Paradise Row, Bethnal Green. I think these really lend themselves to developing the concept and my skillset, both as a cook and street-food Jack-of-all-trades. I can’t complain about free beer either!
Lagom, meaning ‘just enough’, or the right amount, that’s where the focus is. We always cook over fire and always aim to offer more than just meat, we like to showcase how fire cooking can make fish and veg the centre stage on our menus.
Why did you choose to focus on smoking and live fire cooking?
Live-fire is real cooking, there are so many twists and turns, and that’s before you’ve even got anything on the grill! For me it’s exciting to know that no two fires are the same; you could be cooking the same dishes but over a different burn and end up with a totally different result.
Learning how fire works, controlling it and its stages, is a big step in being able to cook with it. I’m a bit of a nerd, so the idea of experimenting with it gets me excited.
I find it also really lends itself to ‘product-led’ food – in a day and age where are expected to be more careful and conscious consumers, fire cooking can really help demonstrate that very little need to be done to the right products, to end up with something amazing on your plate. You put in what you get out.
I think this is really important; spend a little more money, and time for that matter, cooking good products using basic methods, which are also fun! It certainly makes me appreciate what we have around us.
What’s your favourite grilled dish from one of your menus? (past or present!)
This is a tricky one! One of my favourite dishes would be the charred sweet potato – a coal roasted sweet potato, which is then cut in half and charred with smoked garlic butter, so the flesh takes on an incredible sweet bark. Finally, it gets dressed with some buttermilk, fried herbs and Parmesan. I mean, my mouth is watering thinking about it.
Which other live fire/barbecue cooks inspire you?
There are so many inspirational cooks out there, and what I love about fire cooking is it seems to have diffused a lot of the competitive, ‘cross-armed’ nature of the industry – its like a big family.
Much like regional cuisines, there are certain chefs that know their way around certain products on the fire; be it whole animals, brisket, pizzas, fish etc. There’s a real wealth of product and process specific knowledge out there and generally, they’re more than happy to share it with you. I find that incredibly inspiring!
What’s your go-to barbecue dish when you have mates coming over?
The sweet potato tends to make an appearance on most occasions. If I know I’m going to have mates round, I’ll always try and get something in a brine, Iike whole chickens or legs – gives you a bit of extra time with cooking, as well as seasoning the meat so your time is less spent prepping, or over the cue, you can almost leave it to its own devices once its on the grill.
Any top barbecue tips for our readers?
I’d say the best thing I can recommend is get to know what you’re cooking on – so much can be done with the humblest pieces of equipment, there is really no need to spend a fortune on expensive smokers and grills. Understand how your ‘cue works, how it burns and you can cook almost anything with amazing results. As with most things, practice makes perfect – so get that grill on!
Finally, which is your favourite article in the latest issue of Pit? (No pressure!)
Now you’re making me choose between my two of my old bosses – Hus Vedat and James Elliot, though in this instance I have to say James’ disposable pizza oven just trumps it. Sorry Hus! I first met James along with his brother Thom, when I went to lend a hand on their Berwick street market stall 6 years ago – I cracked up watching this on his story, it’s nice to see James is as enthusiastic as ever about taking on a challenge!
Interview by Helen Graves
Follow Elliot and Lagom @eatlagom