As chefs go, Marcus Eaves started young.
At the age of 16, he thrust himself into cooking, deciding quite early on that this was the only path for him.
His style is French cuisine, and after meeting chef Shane Osborn and restaurateur David Moore while working at Pied à Terre, he was asked to be head chef at its sister restaurant L’Autre Pied upon its opening in 2007.
In 2011, he was asked to be head chef after Osborn quit the cheffing business for good. Here we took a moment to ask him a few questions about his journey and what he likes to eat on a day off…
Pied a Terre ‘achieved the highest possible score for food in the Harden’s survey and sits in the category of “extraordinary to perfection” according to Zagat. Have you always been a perfectionist?
I started off cooking when I was 16 years old and very quickly learned that the more I applied myself the more I would progress, subsequently I went on to fast-track my college course and start my career as a young chef. Cooking at this level has huge rewards.
Your inspiration has been cited as your father – what exactly was it that sparked your interest?
My father is also a chef and has been a huge inspiration to me over the years, he has always had an amazing work ethic. I can remember him going to work in the early hours of the morning at a local bakery, then coming home for an hour or two before going off to do a full day’s work as a chef.
During school holidays, I would often go and work with him, I would be washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. This was the first time I saw a real kitchen in operation; it was amazing, I loved the energy, the pace, the camaraderie and most of all, the service.
The very first time I told my father I wanted to be a chef, he was not happy at all. He organised some work experience for me through a colleague of his at a contract-catering outlet; I remember having to grate 40 kilos of cheddar cheese by hand as I wasn’t old enough to use the machinery, the idea was to put me off as much as possible, I came home loving it more than ever!
After winning him over, the biggest piece of advice he gave me was to work at the best restaurants I could and work as hard as I could.
What is it about fine dining and cooking at that level that appeals to you?
I really enjoy the creative side of my work. If it’s creating a completely new dish, or simply refining a garnish for the a la carte menu it doesn’t matter, either way it’s exciting. It’s really important to keep refining the food and moving things forward.
Chef you most admire at the moment?
Bjorn Frantzen. One of Sweden’s most coveted and acclaimed chefs; his food is natural and refined, many of the ingredients served are from the restaurant’s own gardens just outside of Stockholm.
Talk us through your signature dish. How did you come up with the idea for it and what makes it a signature?
My signature dish has to be the roasted breast and crispy leg of quail, quail kiev, hazelnut dressing, shallot and Douglas fir puree. It’s a very light dish with various garnishes and salads. I’m a big fan of chicken kiev (it’s my guilty pleasure) I wanted to recreate it using quail rather than chicken and as a garnish rather than the main component.
Every time I’ve tried to take it off the menu, our regular customers ask for it, it’s now been on the menu for three-and-a-half years and won’t be taken of the menu anytime soon.
What level of prep goes on in the kitchen that customers may not quite realise?
On a typical day, the kitchen opens 7.15am. The first chef will arrive and start by preparing the bread, as the dough needs to be made, proved and then baked in time for lunch service.
There will be ten chefs working in the kitchen at any one time and everyone has their own station to look after. Everything arrives whole to retain the freshness.
Throughout the morning, the kitchen will be a hive of activity, the vegetables will be prepared, meat will be butchered, fish will be filleted and the herbs will be picked. Once the preparation is complete, the kitchen is then set up for lunch service, which will run from 12.00 noon until 3.00pm, once the last dish is sent the kitchen is cleaned and we do it all over again.
What do you like to cook for yourself on a day off?
I love cooking at home and generally eat pretty well; if I’m feeling lazy I’ll always have a chicken kiev and a big bowl of Caesar salad.
Ingredients to look out for?
Shellfish is great at the moment. Mussels, oysters and hand-dived scallops are of superb quality. Scallops can be difficult to get hold of as the dives are dictated by the weather, but when you can get them they really are stunning. The Perigord truffle season runs until March and are amazing with a piece of poached white fish, or a simple risotto.
What do you like to do on a day off and who does the cooking?
On a typical day off, I tend to spend it at home relaxing and enjoying some down time. More often than not I’ll take my dog for a walk on Primrose Hill and stop by my favourite shops. I’ll pick up some groceries from Melrose and Morgan, then grab a coffee and something to eat at Primrose Bakery.
You can’t go to Primrose Hill without visiting the bakery, the smell is amazing and the peanut butter cookies are to die for. When I cook at home really does vary, there’s nothing better than a beautifully braised piece of beef, or simply a grilled piece of fish, as long as the produce is spot on I’m happy.
I tend to cook meat very slowly in the oven. It’s the best way, as you can do all the work beforehand and leave it in the oven for a few hours (on a low temperature) and take it out as and when you’re ready.
Where do you like to eat when you’re eating out?
London is an amazing place with restaurants opening all the time. I really enjoy checking out all the latest places but my two favourite restaurants have both been around for a while. Hereford Road in Notting Hill is my local and Polpo is great for enjoying the buzzing atmosphere of Soho.
Eaves is right in that a lot of his clientele are regulars or choose the restaurant for special occasions. We saw a prospective bride and groom introduce their families over wine and truffle soup, while solo diners popped in for an evening meal, doubtless not for the first time.
The tasting menu is at the steep end of the sale – £105, and comparably The Typing Room in Bethnal Green has an equally phenomenal menu at £75. But here, you’re paying for the location and Eaves’ award-winning expertise.
The chestnut and in-season truffle soup was a gorgeous creamy teaser for the palate, followed by seared mackerel with cucumber and fat pearls of Israeli couscous. A favourite is the poached breast of red leg partridge – a brilliant treatment for a bird that can often be overcooked and dry, with dark intense slivers of trompette mushrooms. Dishes are beautifully, artistically presented.
Eaves also runs a tight ship – the staff are superb – attentive but not fluttering, warm and friendly, and up for a chat. We saw the same level of service being given to every table and we felt taken care of but not mollycoddled. Lovely, in other words.
The only downside, ironically considering the amount that was spent on the revamp, was the interiors. While they may not have been able to do anything about the low ceiling, the textures and colours felt slightly oppressive at night – like the dining room in a bachelor pad. Burnished golds and ox blood chairs don’t look that bad in the day but at night, with dim lighting, we weren’t fans.
But in any case, we weren’t there for the light fittings and this was a strong showing.