Chriskitch chef hopes to ‘leave a legacy’ with new recipe book

Having turned his unassuming Muswell Hill cafe into a north London institution, Chris Honor tells Alex Bellotti about his ethos.

It was the sort of career MasterChef contestants battle it out to attain. After plying his trade first under Gordon Ramsay, Chris Honor had built a reputation across the world – becoming a star chef at The Dorchester before, as Jay Rayner puts it, “running the show” at The May Fair.

In February 2013, however, Honor left it all behind to acquire a small, run-down unit in Muswell Hill and turn it into a café. Neither place nor time was on his side; Londoners were still feeling the recession and consequently eating out less, but the Australian cook had by this point invested too much in Chriskitch for second thoughts.

“We sold everything – we sold our house and put everything into the business. I mean who in their right mind does that?” laughs the 41-year-old. “It’s off the high street, so there was no passing footfall, but it’s just one of those things where we believed in it. We put our hearts and souls into it and we’re lucky that people embraced it.”

Two years down the line, Chriskitch regularly welcomes nearly 200 visitors per day, often enjoying lunchtime queues around the corner. Its tiny kitchen is renowned for serving some of the most generous, sensory and flavoursome home-cooking in north London, so it is no wonder that Honor has decided to cement its reputation with the release of a new cookbook, Chriskitch: Big Flavours from a Small Kitchen.


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“It’s about leaving a footprint behind,” the Bounds Green resident explains. “You can work in fantastic restaurants in beautiful hotels, but restaurants really have a lifespan – most don’t last beyond seven years. All your hard work then just evaporates, so for me the book was about putting a stick in the sand, giving back and leaving some sort of legacy.”

Part of Chriskitch’s charm is its family ethos. Honor’s wife and children are regular fixtures, and its recipes by necessity stem from their home. (The kitchen until recently relied on a two gas hob and a single oven, with most ingredients bought from regular supermarkets and local grocers.)

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“Our ingredients are familiar, but we put them together in an unfamiliar way,” Honor succinctly summaries. As his signature salads, glazed meats and cakes prepare to enter people’s homes, however, he is keen that they feel able to use the book as a guide for their own culinary experiments.

“By creating each recipe title in the style of a list, rather than a formal name, I want to give people permission to use those ingredients and just freely cook. Here’s some really cool stuff that is familiar, we combine a few ingredients that are probably unfamiliar, and just cook with it.

“That’s one thing I really wanted to get across. People know what’s best for them, and they know their own taste. Sometimes the best food is without a recipe – just slowly discovering your own version, tailored for you.”

Chriskitch: Big Flavours from a Small Kitchen is published by Mitchell Beazley for £25.

Recipe: Chicken brown sugar balsamic vinegar chilli rosemary

This mix uses equal amounts of balsamic and sugar, so the sweet-tart taste balances beautifully in the crisp, caramelized crust that forms on the skin. Because there is so much balsamic, the quality is really important here. Use the good stuff. Fresh rosemary, a whopping great big bunch, is also key because you want that blast of flavour from the essential oils in the fresh leaves.

Ingredients:

250g soft dark brown sugar

250ml best-quality balsamic vinegar

A really big bunch of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped, including stalks, plus a few extra sprigs

100g raisins

Two fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

One teaspoon ground cinnamon

One tablespoon garlic granules

Two teaspoons salt

One teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Two red onions, thickly sliced – peel can stay

One large free-range chicken, about 1.3kg

Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark three.

With a blender or a stick blender, combine all the ingredients except the onions, chicken and rosemary sprigs. Whizz until blended; the mixture does not have to be smooth.

In an ovenproof casserole large enough to hold the chicken comfortably, arrange the onion slices. Set the chicken on top. Pour over the balsamic mixture and spread around with your hands, massaging it into the chicken all over, then add the rosemary sprigs.

Cover with a lid, transfer to the oven and roast for 2 hours, no turning required. Exceptionally large chickens may take a bit longer, but this should usually be adequate time to ensure the bird is fully cooked. When you pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer, the juices should run clear.

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