We speak to the famous London chef about his love of Italian food and the seasonal ingredients that inspire him.
John the Unicorn must be one of the most unusual bar/restaurant names in London, with a space serving craft beers, wines and cocktails downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. But when it opened in a newly-gentrified area of London called Peckham Rye, it wasn’t the name of the venue that received the most attention, it was the name of the Head Chef associated with it – Ben Mulock.
Ben was Head Chef at John the Unicorn in 2016, during which time foodies from all over the city flocked to this area of south London to sample his famous dishes.
It seems that Ben was always destined to become a chef – his mum was one and, as he explains, he has always loved eating and making people happy. Two ideal requirements for going into his line of work!
“What I really enjoy about my job is making people happy,” Ben tells us, “and it’s why I got into the industry. I’m one of those lucky guys who gets to come to work every day and really loves what he does.
“It’s a tough job but the beauty of it is that we get to make people happy every single day. There’s no better feeling than to have a full dining room and everyone leaves with a big smile on their face and full bellies. There’s nothing better.”
A rising star on the London restaurant scene, each year that passes sees Ben’s reputation grow further, thanks to his passion for creating inspiring twists to classic British dishes, while elevating fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Most recently, he has hit the headlines in foodie publications for his new role as Executive Chef at London’s Powderkeg restaurant, formerly known as Powder Keg Diplomacy, where he’s promising a seasonal menu with an Italian and Spanish twist.
For many years now, London has been considered one of the world’s culinary capitals. Despite its status as a small island off mainland Europe, the reputation of British food has grown precisely because chefs like Ben have looked outwards to the rest of the world for inspiration and haven’t been afraid to experiment with different cuisines and ingredients.
“The beauty of being in London now is that we have great suppliers bringing in the best produce from around Europe,” says Ben. “So, for example, we have great foods from Italy and it really opens up menus for us now because we have so much choice.
“Italian people are very passionate about food and it all comes down to the different regions of Italy. What I really like about Italy is that everywhere you go they want to showcase the thing that they do best in each of the different towns or regions, whether they product the best tomatoes, or the best green vegetables or the best prosciutto.
“The Italians have great pride in their regional produce, all the way from the north through to the south and I think we could all learn a lot from that. We need to celebrate the things that are regional.”
When it comes to choosing his favourite regions of Italy, Ben smiles when he talks about the north of the country.
“I love the north. The north is incredible, because of the prosciutto, and it’s all to do with the provenance of the animals, where they are, where they’re grazing and what they’re eating.
“Spending time there also really opened my eyes to new ways of using ingredients. I saw new ways of using the prosciutto differently, like using it in a dressing.
“There’s a great quality to Prosciutto di San Daniele. To me, it sort of has a sweet, nutty flavour, which not all other prosciuttos have, and I think it’s because of the maturation process, it’s how the prosciutto is aged and how the whole process is done properly. It’s the quality and care that’s taken with it that elevates it and makes it a great prosciutto.”
Whatever new successes or opportunities arise for Ben in the coming years, that love of Italy and Italian produce is sure to play an important role in his professional future. We can’t wait to see where his culinary adventures take him next!