Inspired by travel: meet chef and restaurateur Will Bowlby
The chef and co-founder of Kricket in London was inspired by his time living in the chaotic but cosmopolitan city of Mumbai. We spoke to him about his passion for food, creative cooking and experiences in India:
The chef and co-founder of Kricket in London was inspired by his time living in the chaotic but cosmopolitan city of Mumbai. His restaurants, based in Soho, White City and Brixton, serve seasonal modern dishes that combine British ingredients with authentic Indian flavours. We spoke to him about his passion for food, creative cooking and experiences in India:
How did your passion for food begin?
Jamie Oliver got me going at the age of 10. Seeing him on the television inspired me. That – and my grandmother and mother’s cooking.
How did your career evolve?
I set up my own catering company called will2cook, which helped to fund my travels after school and further education. After uni, I went straight into the kitchen at Le Café Anglais under the guidance of Rowley Leigh. From there, I moved to Mumbai to run a European restaurant, returning two years later to work with Vivek Singh before setting up Kricket.
What were your first impressions of India?
I was so prepared for the ‘culture shock’ that everyone had warned me against that I actually found it quite stress-free on first arrival. The noise, colour and sheer number of people on the streets were the first things that hit me!
What do you think it is about India that inspires you?
The people. I feel it’s a nation with such massive potential. Its size, its wonder and its varying landscape and cultures provide a constant learning experience. Visually, there is always something that takes your interest, wherever you are. India is a beautiful country – vibrant and full of energy.
How did you learn to cook such good Indian food?
I started to learn about Indian food just by trying things out and trying to identify what was in each dish. Ironically, I learnt most of what I know now in the UK under the guidance of Vivek Singh of The Cinnamon Collection and Abdul Yaseen who was my head chef under Vivek.
What was it like living in Mumbai?
It was a bit of a rollercoaster, but you can never be bored in Mumbai. There is always something to do and see. Things aren’t always straightforward, but it has an infectious buzz and rarely does it stop. Rooftops provide welcome relief from the busyness of the streets, and Marine Drive – a 3.6km-long boulevard in South Mumbai – offers a place to sit and contemplate. Despite having a love-hate relationship with the city, it’s the first place I would return to, given the opportunity.
What is your favourite Indian dish, and why?
It’s a draw between a simple Keralan preparation of seafood fry, a beautifully rich butter chicken or a simple meen moilee from the south; or chole bhature and roadside samosas in the north. Preferences are situational and it’s hard to choose just one dish from such an enormous cuisine. How often do you return to India to get more inspiration? As often as possible, which is usually only once or twice a year. I’m hoping as time goes on, though, I will be able to travel there more often.
Where is your favourite place in India, and why?
Ahilya Fort in Indore is very special. Run by Prince Richard Holkhar, it’s a beautiful fortress overlooking the Narmada River, the second holiest in India. Right in the middle of the country, it is a calming and spoiling place to be.
What would you recommend to someone visiting India?
Before you go, be prepared that you are going to a very different country, with very different cultures. The people are lovely and hospitable, so try and respect their way of life. Look around – and try and absorb as much as you can, as there is so much to see. Travelling by train is a brilliant experience, so if you have the time, definitely do that. Eat carefully and well. India has a vast culinary repertoire, so try as much as you can!
Since moving home in 2014, you’ve opened three branches of Kricket before you were 30. How have you been so successful?
I don’t really believe I am successful yet, but I think Kricket’s popularity has been a result of serious hard work, staying real to the original idea, continuing to evolve it, concentrating on what we’re doing rather than anyone else, the right business moves and decisions, and, of course, the staff. Without their hard work and dedication, we’d be nowhere.
Can you explain the concept behind Kricket’s menu?
The food was designed to show people that there was more to Indian food than they imagined. We wanted to showcase the cuisine’s massive variety and lighter side. Every dish is thought out – from its historical origins to how we present it on the plate. We want our food to taste authentic and nostalgic, but also to be new and innovative. We use the best-quality local ingredients, which should only be there to enhance a particular dish.
What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?
I obviously love working with spices, and the curry leaf is a particular favourite of mine. I also enjoy cooking interesting, lesser-known cuts of meat and fish.
You are determined to avoid food waste. How do you do this?
By being conscientious about what raw materials we are working with and throwing away as little as we can. Seeing the possibilities of what we usually treat as a waste product and trying to find a use for it. Pickling, fermenting and preserving are great ways of keeping ingredients that might not otherwise last.
What is your favourite country, other than India, and why?
It has to be England – far from a perfect place but it’s my home.
Have any other cuisines inspired your cooking?
I was classically trained, so French food has definitely had the biggest influence on my style. I think it’s massively important to have a grasp of the classics before you attempt some other cuisine. At Kricket, we apply a lot of techniques that aren’t usually seen in Indian restaurants. I believe this is one of the reasons we are different.
Is there a country you haven’t visited that you are desperate to go to?
Nepal and Japan. Despite, being close to the border a few times, I’ve never made it into Nepal and I would love to go one day. I will go to Japan when I can afford it! I would like to do it properly and you need to save up before you can do that.
What is the name of your cookbook and how can we get our hands on it?!
It’s called Kricket, an Indian-inspired cookbook. It is available online but, better yet, you can get signed copies in all our restaurants!
What is next for Will Bowlby?
Who knows… Life changes on a near-day-to-day basis and it’s difficult to predict the future in such uncertain times. I will continue to develop the food at Kricket and also the brand. You can’t sit still as a chef or a restaurateur; if you do, your business will eventually die. The aim is to grow Kricket at a sustainable rate. There is definite potential for something overseas, starting in Europe.