Meet NCOTY finalist Dominic South, head chef at Corinthia Hotel, London
Dominic’s impressive career began at a small delicatessen in Blackheath called Handmade Food. He started as the pot wash and tried every job including waiter, shop assistant and eventually chef. This gave him a fantastic understanding of hospitality and all that was involved with it. He then enrolled at Westminster Kingsway College where after two years he was offered a position in the kitchens of One Aldwych by Mark Gregory. It was a venue he worked at for two years, on all stations, but he spent a great deal of time on pastry. After this Mark sent him to work at Nobu Park Lane with Scott Hallsworth and this was during the time in which Nobu had a Michelin star and was in the top 50 restaurants in the world.
He then moved back to French focused food at Tom Aikens’ Chelsea restaurant before returning to One Aldwych when Tony Flemming joined as the new executive chef. Gaining more London experience, he also worked at Hibiscus and the Dorchester Grill under both Aiden Byrne and then Brian Hughson. After this, he felt it was time for a bigger change and he moved to the Caribbean to work in the sister hotel of One Aldwych in Antigua followed by a four year stint in Hong Kong, taking on his first head chef role. He then went to work for Frederic Vardon in Paris at his 1-star restaurant 39V, and then opened the restaurant, La Residence for him as head chef in Dubai.
Upon returning to London, Dominic briefly worked for D&D, but then moved to The Langham Hotel overseeing five outlets. He is now working at the Corinthia Hotel as head chef of the Northall restaurant. Working with executive chef, Andre Garret they are evolving and pushing forward the food that they serve.
Dominic admits he loves every part of being a chef. He feels you must enjoy what you do or why else would you do it. When he was younger, he hadn’t considered being a chef as a career. He had always cooked at home as his parents wanted to make sure he was self-sufficient, but he had no real plans to take it further. He got his first job at the deli as it was simply a better option than the local supermarket but from that point on he fell in love with the kitchen and all that comes with it.
He’s taken inspiration from all the chefs that he has worked for, but a lesson he will never forget was on his very first day at One Aldwych with Mark Gregory. Upon learning he was to be on pastry he protested saying he wanted to be a chef, not a pastry chef. Mark told him that any chef who doesn’t truly understand a third of their menu can never be a good chef.
One of the most memorable days in his career was working at Nobu during the lunch service on the day of the top 50 restaurants awards. Along with the sous chef, he cooked for Ferran and Albert Adria, and on another table was Charlie Trotter and Tetsya Wakuda. He was able to meet them all and they thanked both him and the sous chef for a wonderful meal.
The reason he entered National Chef of the Year was to see where he was as a chef. He feels there is no better way to tell how good you are than have some of the very best chefs out there judge you. When it came to working on his entry during lockdown, he was fortunate to be able to still use the kitchen at work. He received produce from suppliers which he had built up good relationships with to produce the dishes. The hotel was very supportive during the whole process.
During lockdown, he also focused on a few projects he had been slowly working on over the last year or so. The first is a sauce that he created, which he is now selling through five shops, online and to The Corinthia. He is also looking at pop up spaces for the Christmas period. Another project is an app/kitchen management tool, that allows the quick creation, editing and sharing of recipes in a digital format, whilst in the kitchen. It can be easily used to create spec sheets, which in turn automatically create allergen matrixes.
For the second stage, Dominic wanted to cook a dish that meant something to him on a personal level, but one that was still relevant to where he is as a chef. Macaroni cheese fit the bill as it is a dish he still cooks to this day in one form or another and he has enjoyed eating it since his childhood when his father would make it.
Winning National Chef of the Year during such difficult times would make all the obstacles he has faced seem like very distant memories, and the future with this under his belt, would seem very bright. To be a successful chef, he believes you need drive, passion, focus, and understanding. The three words that he would use to sum up his cooking are produce, technique and simplicity.