At first, I stood too close. His face was so glorious, his muscled torso so platonically perfect in his tight Paris Butter T-shirt, that I could feel my own, limited, self-esteem deserting me - and I couldn't begrudge it.
Nick Honeyman could probably charge $35 a head for customers just to enter the kitchen and watch him make choux pastry, whatever that is, and he could probably add a $12 surcharge to have them watch him run an occasional hand through his magnificent thicket of hair. When he told me he is 34, I expressed surprise and told him he could easily pass for 25. I can't say for certain whether I giggled. Does it really matter?
He runs a restaurant in France three months a year, opened his own restaurant earlier this year, the critically lauded Paris Butter in Herne Bay, which is his first restaurant - although he's run a bunch of others - and he's single.
Of the first four chefs featured in this series of articles, he is the second to make a raw dish, in this case beef tartare. Part of the joy of demanding lunch in 10 minutes is putting the chefs under pressure, and where's the pressure in chopping some meat and
veg into a bowl, and adding some sauce? What does Honeyman's perfect face look like when he's just burned his hand on a skillet with 20 seconds left on the clock? Perfect, obviously, but still I would like to see it.
He said he had spent years trying to blow customers away with fancy food, with powders and foams, but last year he had an epiphany in France, when his kitchen was stretched and he no longer had time for any of that nonsense.
"All of a sudden I was getting the same reactions from this simple food that I was a couple of years earlier when they were eating 12-course degustations and they had no idea what they were eating. And it just dawned upon me, you know, simple food is good."
He chopped, then squashed the seasoned, sauced meat into a circular metal dish and turned it out on to a dark plate. Then he cut a rectangle of chicken liver parfait on top, sprinkled it with sesame seeds, and it was done in six minutes, 39 seconds. It looked like a bunless cheeseburger that somebody had forgotten to cook.
He took it to a window table in the empty Paris Butter dining room, poured us a delicate, peppery red, which came from a winery near his restaurant in France, and he fetched a small pile of sourdough from the kitchen. We sat at the table and talked for 10 minutes, the single plate of beef tartare untouched in front of us, before I had to ask if we could start eating.
We ate from the same plate, but I ate faster and probably got the lion's share. "What do you reckon?" I asked. "Happy with it?"
He shrugged his trapezoidal shoulders. "Can't go wrong, eh?" he said. "Just good-quality beef."
The thick deliciousness of the dish, perched perfectly on the edge of excessive richness, made me angry because, where was the effort? But Honeyman made a convincing case for the idea that effort is a waste of time.
Nick Honeyman's scores (out of five):
Number of plates: 1
Number of pecs: 2
Quality of epiphany: 3
Ability to delay my gratification: 4
Quality of beef: 5
Booze bonus (Y/N): Y
Peppery French red multiplier: 4.5
Nick Honeyman's Beef Tartare
(makes 2 portions)
200g beef sirloin or eye fillet
5g olive oil
½ bunch chives
20g sesame seeds
60g chicken liver parfait or 2 egg yolks
10g sweet soy sauce
5g cherry vinegar
10g olive oil 10g
50g canola oil
Combine all of the ingredients to make the soy vinaigrette in a bowl. This can be refrigerated and any left overs can be used to dress salads, fish and meats.
For the tartare, make sure the beef is completely clean of all sinews and fat. Carefully dice it into 5mm cubes and place into a bowl.
Dice the two shallots as fine as you can, then dress them until they are covered with the soy vinaigrette. Place 2 tsp of the shallot mix into the bowl with the beef.
Add the olive oil and a splash of the soy vinaigrette and then season to your taste with the sea salt, black pepper and Tabasco, continually tasting along the way to make sure you make the correct adjustments.
Place the tartare mix into desired mould and then use either the chicken liver parfait or egg yolk on top. I prefer the parfait as it gives you the same round, full feeling the egg yolk does without the raw egg texture.
Sprinkle finely sliced chives and sesame seeds on top and serve with hot, crusty bread.