A rising star in the industry and one of the UK’s most exciting young chefs, Callum Graham is Head Chef at Bohemia, the Michelin-starred restaurant at The Club Hotel & Spa in St. Helier, Jersey.
With over a decade of experience under his belt, Callum is well placed to lead his team of 13 in the kitchen, bringing a European influence to Bohemia’s food, thanks to his time spent across the continent, including stints in Paris and Geneva.
Responsible for the ever-evolving seasonal menus at Bohemia, Callum is particularly passionate about showcasing and combining local Jersey produce and seafood with ingredients from France, just 14 miles away.
Part of the team that saw the restaurant awarded the first-ever 5 AA Rosettes in the Channel Islands, Callum joined Bohemia in 2016. Prior to this, Callum worked at the then Michelin-starred Le Celadon in Paris; and also at Michelin-starred Auberge du Lion d’Or in Geneva. Callum has also spent time in the kitchen of five-star London hotel The Lanesborough and appeared on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2018.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST FOOD MEMORY? Marmite on toast, as a child it’s all I used to eat. You either love it or hate it and I love it.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY? I studied catering and hospitality at Milton Keynes College, as I loved food from a young age and knew it was what I wanted to do, and then I just worked my way up the chain, working in several restaurants across Europe, from London to Geneva and Paris.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU LEARNED THIS YEAR THAT CHANGED THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT FOOD? I would say the use of a Konro grill has changed the way I think about some things. We have a sea bream tartare served with a chargrilled sea bream sauce (made using the Konro grill) and the contrast is mind-blowing. You’re eating a raw dish that tastes as if it has been cooked on a BBQ.
DO YOU THINK BEING A GREAT CHEF IS A NATURAL TALENT, OR IS IT SOMETHING ANYONE CAN LEARN? I think there has to be some talent but you can definitely learn it. I mean all chefs are always learning and honing their craft, no one is born an excellent chef.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING PROFESSIONAL CHEFS WHO’D WANT THE KIND OF RESULTS THAT YOU’VE HAD? Be humble and patient. Becoming a good chef is a slow process, make sure you find yourself working for someone who can teach and develop you correctly.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? I would have to say being a part of Steve Smith’s team that won 5 AA Rosettes at Bohemia, it’s not an achievement that happens often and to have been a part of it was great. It was a fantastic year where we were really flying and it was a fantastic time to be in the kitchen.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE AIM AND GOAL FOR YOUR CAREER? IF YOU COULD ACHIEVE ANYTHING WITH IT, WHAT WOULD YOU PICK? I think just to have a happy restaurant that’s busy and full of regulars that like to come back time and time again.
WHAT DRIVES YOU, AND WHAT MAKES YOU PUT IN THOSE CRAZY HOURS THAT LEAD TO SUCCESS IN THE CULINARY WORLD? I love seeing people in the restaurant enjoying my food, and knowing that I’ve helped to create a really memorable and special experience for them. I also just love working with food in general, it’s such a passion for me that it makes it easy to put in the effort each day.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR INSPIRATION AND WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES? I find inspiration from lots of things, mainly the incredible produce and ingredients that come through the kitchen from our brilliant suppliers. Sometimes it can just be from looking at the colour of nature outside and the weather.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN? I was told that between the ages of 18 and 28 are the most important time for a chef, it’s when you learn important skills and make the mistakes you need to grow, and I think this is true. Also, living abroad and gaining experience in other cultures and lifestyles is hugely beneficial.
WHO’S YOUR CULINARY HERO? OR SOMEONE WHO REALLY WOW’S YOU? I was absolutely obsessed with Ferran Adria as I got into cooking, had all the books, DVDs and read up as much as I could about him. Even my dad was like wow this guy is incredible. I can remember we both went to an exhibition about El Bulli (his restaurant) at Somerset House in London and we were blown away.
WHAT ASPECT OF BEING A CHEF IS MOST GRATIFYING FOR YOU? Being able to give people those special ‘wow’ moments in the restaurant, knowing they’ve had a great time and that they’ve enjoyed my food.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DON’T LIKE ABOUT BEING A CHEF? I think it has got to be what many chefs say, which is you’ve got to sacrifice a hell of a lot. Bank Holiday weekends, birthdays of your friends and family and special events.
WHAT’S YOUR CULINARY PHILOSOPHY? Getting the most flavour from the best ingredients that are available to me and try to show them the utmost respect.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR CUISINE? Creative, flavoursome, precise.
WHAT DISH ON YOUR MENU MOST DEFINES YOU AND YOUR COOKING STYLE? Dry-aged Jersey Sirloin & Braised Short Rib Sourdough “Sarnie” with Onion and Yeast Textures. This dish packs flavour and is creative with the “sarnie” and then has the precision from the sauce and the cuisson of the beef.
WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT FOOD OBSESSION? I can’t get enough of watching programmes about traditional American BBQs. So much so that I want to book a holiday to Texas and travel around eating at as many BBQ shacks as possible.
IF SOMEONE WAS LOOKING FOR A RESTAURANT TO DINE OUT AT THIS MONTH AND YOU HAD ONE SENTENCE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO COME TO BOHEMIA, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? As the only Michelin-starred restaurant on the island of Jersey, when you come to Bohemia you know you’re in for a first-class experience. Our menus change regularly to reflect the best of the season, so you’re in for a real treat no matter when you visit, and there’s always something new or different to try.
FUNNIEST KITCHEN INCIDENT? There have been quite a few, to be honest. I guess it has to be when one of the young chefs accidentally knocked a mixing bowl with his puree in it and it knocked another one and they both just went everywhere. After a lot of giggles and a quick clean down by everyone, the purees were remade and the chef was relaxed again.
WORST KITCHEN NIGHTMARE? Having to close the restaurant because of COVID-19. We had just really got the wind into our sails and we were off to a flying start in February/March and then to be told we had to close was horrible. More so when it is your first Head Chef role.
WHAT GOLDEN RULES DO YOU HAVE IN THE KITCHEN? I hate messiness in a kitchen, so one of my rules is just to tidy as you go and be responsible for your area in the kitchen.
HOW DO YOU PLAN THE MENU? WHAT ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS YOU ARE LOOKING
FOR IN A GOOD MENU DESIGN? You have got to take the seasons into account and you always need to factor in if it’s balanced. Do you have any repetition? Is there plenty of technique being shown?
FROM WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR PRODUCE? I try to source my produce as locally as possible where I can. We’re incredibly lucky in Jersey in that not only do we have incredible produce on our island and fantastic seafood in the surrounding waters, but we also have very easy access to France and all that it has to offer, just 14 miles away.
WHAT’S A ‘DAY IN YOUR LIFE’ LIKE? COULD YOU GIVE US AN INSIGHT INTO
LIFE AT BOHEMIA? I get into the kitchen most days between 8am-9am (or 7am if I’m making bread) and usually start with a coffee. I’ll check in with my team of nine, and then I’ll perhaps speak to suppliers about what they have in that’s exciting or new or just particularly delicious. Next is fish prep, meat prep, and then generally going round and tasting or checking things, ensuring everything is ready for service. I’ll look at the reservations for the day ahead to see if we have any dietary requirements or special requests and go through them with my team and front of house. After lunch service, I’ll help clean down the kitchen then take a break – I pop home to walk my dog most days! I’ll go back in the evening for dinner service, and do much the same routine as earlier in the day.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE INGREDIENT TO COOK WITH? Globe Artichokes, I just love the diversity of them and think if they are prepared and cooked properly there is nothing better.
MOST UNDERRATED INGREDIENT? WHY? Salt, it’s amazing how you can elevate an ingredient to dizzy heights just by seasoning it correctly. I think a lot of people are quite scared of salt as it can have a bad rep, but it is a cooking essential.
ARE THERE ANY UNUSUAL INGREDIENTS THAT YOU ESPECIALLY LIKE TO
SOURCE? Locally foraged sea herbs. Thankfully in Jersey, we have some fantastic produce and some of the sea herbs can be quite unusual which not many people will be used to.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST INDISPENSABLE KITCHEN TOOL? A spoon, you can’t cook without a spoon … taste…taste…taste.
WHAT’S THE ONE PIECE OF KITCHEN EQUIPMENT YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
My Konro grill, it is simply amazing.
JAPANESE OR WESTERN-STYLE KNIVES? Japanese knives, I just don’t like the feel of a Western-style knife and find them too
WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING YOU’VE EVER EATEN? I would have to say charcoal cream. It’s something that we are working on at the moment and it is quite unusual. Watch this space.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE FOOD? Fried chicken wings – I love them!
SOMETHING IN YOUR FRIDGE OR FREEZER THAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE? Black garlic ketchup – a good friend gave it to me and its bloody delicious.
LAST THING YOU COOKED FOR YOURSELF? Cheeseburgers with potato wedges and coleslaw.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO EAT WHEN YOU’RE AT HOME? A lot of Asian comfort food. My favourite is soy-glazed roasted chicken.
ARE THERE ANY FOODS YOU JUST DON’T LIKE? I don’t like buckwheat, but that’s mainly because I’m allergic to it.
WHAT’S YOUR IDEA OF FOOD HELL? Eating buckwheat!
IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY. WHAT ARE YOU EATING? A really good cote de boeuf and chips with a nice bottle of red to go with it.
IF YOU HAD UNEXPECTED GUESTS ARRIVING AT YOUR HOME FOR DINNER IN 1
HOUR, WHAT WOULD YOU WHIP UP? Well, I’ve always got pasta in the cupboard and parmesan in the fridge so I would go with ‘cacio e pepe’.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE TIME-SAVING TIPS FOR ENTERTAINING?
Get as much prep as possible done before the day, and don’t try to do anything too fancy. Just do something that you know and cook a lot so you can manage it even after a few drinks.
IF YOU COULD PREPARE ONLY ONE LAST MEAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Ramen all day long. I can’t get enough ramen.
WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE EMERGING IN THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY NOW?
I think that we will start to see slightly more casual food making a comeback, trying to get everyone back out to eat when it is safe to do so by making it accessible.
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP TO DATE WITH TRENDS AND HAPPENINGS IN THE FOOD
WORLD? I think you have to be careful with following trends, as trends change frequently and if you just chop and change you won’t have your own style and the customer won’t understand what you are trying to achieve.
WHAT CITIES DO YOU LIKE FOR CULINARY TRAVEL? Paris is always a good meal, London too. However, I would love to travel more and experience completely different cultures and food.
IF YOU COULD COOK A DINNER PARTY FOR 5 PEOPLE, WHO WOULD THE DINERS
BE AND WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Arsene Wenger – I’m a big Arsenal fan so I would love to hear about all the stories of managing the club.
David Attenborough – a national treasure, just look at what the guy has achieved, everyone would love to hear some of his untold stories.
Tom Hanks – would be fantastic to spend some time finding out what his life has been like.
Jordan Belfort – he must have some serious stories that didn’t make the film.
The Queen – not every day you get to have dinner with her majesty and it would most definitely make sure everyone was on their best behaviour.
AS A CHEF WHICH IS THE BEST RESTAURANT YOU HAVE EVER BEEN?
It’s so difficult to choose! It would be between The Greenhouse in Dublin or The Ledbury in London. Both are exceptional at what they do and set a high standard.
IF YOU WEREN’T A CHEF, OR IN THE FOOD BUSINESS, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? I can’t imagine my life not being in the food business. If not a chef, I think I would have been a restaurant inspector or food critic.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I’m quite happy with where I’m at at the moment. I plan to just keep perfecting my craft and keep on learning.