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Monday, 19 September 2016

GarconJon meets Johnnie Collins

Culturally the Brits have never been known for their impeccible taste in food but for more than a decade a quiet revolution has been changing these perceptions. At the forefront of this is Mr Johnnie Collins, a chef and creator for The Store in London and Berlin. I first tasted his crisp, clean and simple food a year ago at London Fashion Week and unbeknownst to me got chatting with him later that day outside the venue. It wasn't just his passion for food that charmed me but also his superb personal style which adds one part of relaxed Berliner to a base of English irreverance.

To celebrate Boden's 25th birthday, Johnnie tried on some of their classic menswear for our shoot. This is the second part of our collaboration with Boden, where Mr Kieron Watts styled him in a mixture of Boden's eight essential items and his own clothing.

London Fashion Week attendees will be treated to Johnnie's the delectable creations at the BFC Showspace in Soho, Brewer Street Car Park. Last year when I first met Johnnie it was undoubtedly the best food I've ever had at a press office

The Store Kitchen is now open as part of the Infinite Mix show with The Vinyl Factory and Hayward Gallery at The Store 180 The Strand. There are additional plans underway for a permanent site below the Brewer Street Car Park and any visitors to Berlin will find Johnnie’s food on the ground floor of The Soho House building in Berlin, you don’t have to be a member to visit The Store.

You can follow him on Instagram @JohnnieCollins.

Mac with copper zip, white cotton tee and navy chinos, all from Boden.

Johnnie Collins, Chef at The Store Kitchen

Do you have any early memories of food in your house? Growing up in the countryside I was lucky enough to live in a household very much focused on food. My Dad is a wine merchant and my Mum is a garden designer and a great cook and we grew up in an open house - people were always dropping in for lunch or dinner, or to stay, and we always ate as a family at the table. I don't think we ever had a takeaways. The vegetables and herbs were from the garden and wine from Dad, so those sorts of values were instilled from a young age. Food was always important and that's definitely stuck with me.

Do you have a time when you realised you had a talent for developing meals yourself? The first ‘cooking’ I did was with my brothers when we started making our own sandwiches. I have one older and one younger brother so this ended up turning into daily, highly competitive sandwich making contests. I got to see that if you spend half an hour creating a sandwich and give it a lot of love, it’s going to taste much better than if you made it in 30 seconds. This is where we became interested in process, seasoning, marinating food and understanding that nice ingredients made great meals.

So you're a boy stuck between two siblings, do you middle child syndrome? Yes I suffer very badly from that! I’m the forgotten one so I have to act out for attention and as a result was a lot more naughty than my brothers growing up.

What was the worst thing you did when you were younger? I got suspended from school from being rude to teachers. Not out of malice but just to keep things interesting. I wasn’t that bad but I once flooded my girlfriend’s house by falling asleep with the bath on. It wasn’t intentional!

The British aren't known for it's excellent food but there's definitely been a revolution around consumption in the past decade. What's your opinion? Right now I think the English culture of food is returning to its traditional values. The average person is much more focused in seeing where their food comes from and where it is made. Whether it’s just being sold by words like ‘organic, natural and fresh’ that we see on packaging I don’t know, but there’s certainly a turn away from packaged and processed food which is how we could have defined British food culture for the past 30 or 40 years.

What do you think about the idea of love being intrinsically linked to food? Feeding someone is a primal thing to do because cooking for someone is caring for someone. The idea of making an amazing meal for people you love and seeing how much they appreciate it is a beneficial experience in a world where we’re going towards less interaction and more looking at screens. I’ve always enjoyed the pleasure element to food. Even when I worked front of house, I loved serving people to make sure they had a nice dinner even when I wasn’t cooking it. Making sure they had a nice time was a big part of the love of food.

Thinking back to sandwiches, certainly a very British snack, do you still enjoy them? Yeah, absolutely! I think my death row meal would include a sandwich course! I’ve just been in Sicily and the food so perfect for me because it's simplicity done superbly that I appreciate. Sandwiches have British roots but putting ingredients on bread can be seen in almost every culture. Bread is a life giver even though there’s a bit of a fear of gluten at the moment!

What is your favourite type of bread? You want different types of breads for different sandwiches. If you’re just eating bread and butter you want something with good flavour and a crust but if you want a plain, easy sandwich anything from a great baguette to plain old sandwich white will do. it’s often more about how it is made and by who - the real issue is the processed loaves you see in the supermarkets. At the end of the day, bread and butter is the best snack - I love home made loves with whole grains that give texture and flavour. Sourdough is the ‘in’ bread right now - it is great chucked on a fire ads good because it’s naturally fermented and done well has great flavour.

What would your last meal be? Very tricky! Scrambled eggs are still my favourite thing to cook and eat so it would probably start with a bacon and eggs course, I love very thin, crispy pancetta as a substitute for thick English bacon. I love bitter salads so would probably follow this with some chicory, lots of fresh herbs, and a strong, punchy dressing with charred nuts. A cheeky sandwich of herbed prosciutto cotto, aged mountain Gruyere, homemade chilli jam, crisp lettuce and Dijon on white bread may well sneak in. You can’t beat a whole fish on the bone with great chips and lots of different veggies. And ice cream is my favourite pudding – one of the best in London is Gelupo in Soho, I had one yesterday.

How are you not a huge guy? We’re standing and running around most of the day! We work hard, it’s not a sit down job. There’s no real ‘project over’ being a chef either, you’re always prepping for the next day so there are always things to do. There’s barely any time off.  I also go to the gym and am generally really active. I get up and go for a sunrise swim if I’m on holiday whilst my girlfriend is in bed. I’m always into active holidays, there’s no chilling at the beach!

Classic slim fit jeans, from Boden.

How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Energetic, fun, cheeky, determined, sometimes-difficult.

I guess that’s a chef quality – you need to be head-strong! Yeah, I mean you have to stick to your guns. I can be quite argumentative but I think that comes from the competitiveness with my older brother. I’m very open to admitting I’m wrong and collaborating with others though. I think it leads to the best environment if you can work with people in that way.

Do you think moving to Berlin has changed you at all? Being in London for a long time was getting crazy. I moved for a new project with a positive energy and that was great. I love travelling, new people and new adventures and Berlin is great for that. The move came the perfect time and has had a lasting effect on me.

Is your girlfriend from Germany? She’s Hungarian but grew up in Vienna and has lived in Berlin for 6 years. She interviewed us for a fashion website and then came into the restaurant for lunch a few times. I was on the dance floor at Berghain and ended up dancing with her, waking up the next morning to a text from her asking to hang out. We’ve been together since Christmas.

On that note, if you were cooking for a first date, what dish would you make? Make it simple, but use nice ingredients. I would roast a piece of white fish with some fennel seeds and a bit of oil. It doesn’t need to cook for long and just needs greens with salt and pepper to accompany. It’s healthy and delicious yet special because fish is fairly expensive and not something you eat every day. If the person doesn’t like fish then, we’ll you’re screwed!

Crew neck tee and dark denim jeans, from Boden.

Tell me about your style. Are clothes important to you? I like nice, well made clothes. I’ve been in Berlin for two years so there are a lot of great styles here. I do tend to loose clothes easily but I love wearing nice materials like linen and cottons. I’m not really into synthetic materials so much, Nike trainers and Adidas tracksuits aside.

What was your favourite piece from the Boden shoot? The shoes were fantastic. They're British made, super sturdy and comfortable as soon as I put them on.

What advice would you give your 18 year old self? Don’t worry so much. Experiment with life, there’s plenty of time. Try all activities that interest you and find out what you’re into.

Did you worry a lot of a teenager? I did worry. The world is changing a lot and there’s an attitude that as a teenager you’re supposed to know what to do in life but I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was 28 and I still don’t quite know. I could have spent time travelling instead of being tied to jobs that wasted my time!

What sort of things have you done? I helped my friend set up his restaurant and then that’s when I thought I’d like to do it for myself. My Dad told me in that case I should go and learn how to run a business. I worked in a bank for 2 years which was good and I learned a lot but was a bit of a waste of time staring at 6 computer screens. Nonetheless, it was useful to know how to read a profit and loss sheet and how to set up a business. I did that whilst doing pop-up restaurants and supper clubs on the side. My skill set is definitely more on the creative side and in chatting to people rather than number-crunching so I need to find someone to do that!

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom. Do and see as much as possible. Talk to as many people as possible, see the world, benefit from experience, even turn to the person next to you on the tube and chat to them. You never know who you may be sitting beside.