Hottest Chef
Jess Hand/Time Out

Looking for London’s hottest chef

Time Out's hunt for London's answer to the endlessly brooding and supremely talented telly chef 'The Bear'

Leonie Cooper

From neighbourhood restaurants with mind-meltingly epic global flavours to stealthy Soho spots for late-night gnocchi and lavish Michelin-star tasting menus, eating out in London has genuinely never been more thrilling. That’s all down to the dedicated geniuses in kitchens across the capital – the people who’ve sacrificed everything in order to cook you a life-changing dinner, with all the sleepless nights, steely focus and throwing of societal norms to the wind which that entails. We thank these chefs for their unwavering service. 

With the arrival of the new series of the addictive and award-winning Chicago-set foodie drama ‘The Bear, we decided to go on a local bear hunt and track down our answer to the show’s superstar chef, Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto. This list of the hottest chefs in London features 12 talents with a skilled hand, a revolutionary approach to what can be done with salt, fat, acid and heat and a knack for looking extremely fierce while looming over a sous vide machine.

But what does it take to be a great chef? ‘There’s a beauty in the chaos,’ explains chef and The Bear’s exec producer Matty Matheson, who also stars as one of Carmy’s kitchen comrades. ‘You have to have a lot of drive and problem solving skills. But you also have to be able to lend a hand and be there for people who maybe aren’t as strong as you. Service is unrelenting, and the best players are the players that are giving the assists.’   

Matty Matheson as Neil Fak and Jeremy Allen White as Carmen 'Carmy' Berzatto
Chuck HodesMatty Matheson as Neil Fak and Jeremy Allen White as Carmen 'Carmy' Berzatto

London’s hottest chefs have let us into their kitchens to tell us about the highs and lows, the glamour and the struggle, and the somewhat terrifying deep fat fryer incidents that come with dedicating your life to creating incredible food.  

We’ll be putting our dozen shortlisted chefs to an industry panel of food and television professionals, which includes Quo Vadis’s Jeremy Lee, Masterchef judge Grace Dent, Wahaca's Thomasina Miers, chef Chris Galvin and Spoons supper club founder Rahel Stephanie, to choose the hottest chef in London, which will be announced on Friday July 21. 

The Bear S2 is available to stream on Disney+ from July 19

Dara Klein | Jackson Boxer | James Cochran | Shuko Oda | Sertaç Dirik | Freddie Janssen | Angelo Sato | Mandy Yin | Ayo Adeyemi | John Javier | Tom Zahir Browne | Lorcan Spiteri

Dara Tiella
Jess Hand

Dara Klein, Tiella

I grew up in my family’s trattoria in New Zealand. I was first in a kitchen when I was eight years old, but I never wanted to be a chef. I tried every industry under the sun – I studied creative writing, and got into film and acting and moved to New York – but I could never escape food. Being half Italian and half Jewish, it’s a central pillar of my life. 

I deep fried my arm. I was working a double and I hadn't cleaned a piping bag and my hand slipped on the bag and my arm landed in the oil. I worked all the way through service that night. That was intense. 

Something you have to learn as a chef is how to find peace in the chaos. As a head chef you can't absorb that chaos and pass it on. That's one of the tougher parts of the job.

A restaurant is its own little universe. There's so much energy. There are definitely times where your body says ‘no’ and it's tough on your mind, but I just love making dinner for people.

Tiella at The Compton Arms, 4 Compton Ave, N1 2XD

Jackson Brunswick House
Jess Hand

Jackson Boxer, Brunswick House & Orasay

Kitchens provide homes for dysfunctional people. They can find creative self expression and pour their love and energy into something that they're really good at, and everybody has to get along, and that's a really beautiful thing to me. 

From the outside it may look like we're taking things way too seriously, but no one accuses top level athletes of taking their jobs too seriously.  

I've never been particularly talented at anything. So for me there was no natural field I was drawn to because I had a natural proclivity for it. Cooking was just the thing that I thought was the most beautiful, honest, and worthwhile outlet for my time.

The impression people on the outside have is that we love chaos and deliberately pursue chaos because there's something horribly masochistic and anarchic in us. Nothing could be further from the truth. We hate the chaos, but we take it on the chin and continue to do the thing that we feel we have been put on earth to do, which is cook delicious food and make people happy. Delicious stuff is a great way to communicate love.

Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Rd, SW8 2LG & Orasay, 31 Kensington Park Rd, W11 2EU

James 12:51
Jess Hand

James Cochran, 12:51

I’ve worked at some of the hardest kitchens in London. In the wintertime you never see daylight. You start at 6am and finish at 2am, and you’re in a basement. It’s an underworld that the customer never knows about. They come in and spend £200, £300 and you’re just getting fucking beasted in the kitchen.

I started working at Wheeler’s Oyster Bar in Whitstable when I was 12, doing the washing up. I shucked my first oyster when I was 14 and I basically stabbed myself. I was clumsy as hell. 

Because I’ve worked in kitchens which have been chaotic, I’m very fucking chaotic. I’m a bit of a shambles; I don’t really work methodically and I always have 10 jobs on the go. I like to push myself – how many jobs can I do at once? I’m pretty erratic and some chefs don’t like working with me sometimes because I’m a bit all over the shop. 

I want to make a sandwich on steroids. I’ve got creations for mad fillings. I want to open a sandwich shop and make a macaroni cheese sandwich with a whole wheel of camembert in the middle and served with pickled scotch bonnets.  

12:51, 107 Upper St, N1 1QN

Shuko Koya
Jess Hand

Shuko Oda, Koya

I started out waiting in restaurants and I naturally moved into the kitchen, because I used to bother the chefs a lot with different questions. I worked in retail at Dover Street Market before – I was really happy to move onto something more tactile, and practical and easy to digest. 

The restaurant I worked at in Japan had a female owner and a female head chef. That had a real effect on me, mentally.  

I always thought Japanese restaurants in London were quite poor. It was either a restaurant that did every kind of Japanese cuisine or it was a very expensive sushi restaurant. In Japan you’d see an udon restaurant, or a tonkotsu restaurant. I wanted to show London how good it can be when you concentrate on one thing. That was 13 years ago. 

Why can’t fast food be quality food? Our restaurant on Broadway Market has no table service. You go up and order at the counter – we try and get the dishes out really quickly, but make sure they’re still incredible. 

Koya, 50 Frith St, W1D 4SQ

Sertac Mangal 2
Jess Hand

Sertaç Dirik, Mangal 2

It was usually a punishment. If I was caught smoking, or caught drinking a beer my parents would sentence me to six months working in the restaurant after school and at weekends. 

I was always playing music when I was growing up. I was a drummer, mainly in the heavier punk and hardcore style, but I got tinnitus when I was 20 and I had to let it go. 

I don’t want to be average at a lot of things – I want to hone in on one thing and be great at it. I’d been working back at Mangal 2 for two years after I dropped out of uni, but I needed to leave the restaurant where I’d spent my entire childhood, so I booked a one-way ticket to Copenhagen, which felt like a food Mecca. 

The fact it’s so polarising is quite cool – nobody is indifferent. We got a zero star review in a Turkish newspaper, and the next day Pierre Koffmann came in and said it was fantastic.  

Mangal II, 4 Stoke Newington Rd, N16 7XN

Freddie Snackbar
Jess Hand

Freddie Janssen, Snackbar

I worked in advertising and felt like I was selling my soul to the devil. I was trying to make strawberries look sexy on a rooftop in Miami and thought ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ 

I wanted to focus on a very specific thing, so I thought I’d get into pickles. My favourite thing on a Friday night used to be a trip to the local snackbar – which is like a Dutch version of a kebab shop. They’d have these massive jars of neon yellow pickles and I’d always get fries, a deep-fried sausage and a big pickle. 

I’m completely self-taught and I don’t really have a lot of technique. So the food at Snackbar is great, but it’s relatively basic. 

Everyone I knew that owned restaurants told me ‘do not fucking do it – you will be so tired and so broke.’ I thought, ‘how hard can it be?!’ And I am tired, but I love it. 

Snackbar, 20 Dalston Ln, E8 3AZ

Angelo Humble Chicken
Jess Hand

Angelo Sato, Humble Chicken

I grew up in Tokyo and my parents were missionaries. I started working when I was 15, including in a fish market. Chefs here can’t even dream of the quality of fish you can get in Japan. I’d go with a net and bring the fish live to order for sushi chefs and restaurants in the middle of the night. 

I sacrificed everything to be a chef. My free time, my friends, girls, parties, clubs, sports. Everything. 

I came to London when I was 17. I saw an interview with Gordon Ramsay on YouTube and he was giving advice for young chefs. He said go to a different country and challenge yourself and see how bad you want it and how tough you are. 

Everyone's starting points are different. It's not like one size fits all. Some people’s parents own restaurants, and that’s a way for them to get their start. I didn't have any of that, we were really poor. So when I was in my mid-20s and was thinking about opening a restaurant, I knew nothing but I thought I was shithot. But I was adamant that I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be my own boss and I wanted to do it on my own.

Humble Chicken, 54 Frith St, W1D 4SJ

Mandy Sambal Shiok
Jess Hand

Mandy Yin, Sambal Shiok

Being from an Asian family, the career choices presented to me were doctor, accountant or lawyer. I couldn’t do maths and I couldn’t do blood. So I practised law for nearly a decade before I burned out – which was actually a good thing, because I realised I needed to concentrate on me and on food, which is what I’ve always loved. 

In Malaysian school canteens are not like the ones you have here. They’re miniature versions of a food court, with lots of different stalls. There’d always be a laksa one and that’s what I’d have every lunchtime in primary school. That was my flavour memory and what I wanted to recreate at Sambal Shiok. 

Our default broth is very hot and spicy. I’ve made it very much to my taste. We recently developed a mild broth – laksa should be for all!  

I recently wrote a piece for The Guardian about the financial challenges of running a restaurant. The cost of living crisis brought a lot to the forefront – so much love and care goes into making our food and we should be able to charge what we need to for it. The piece really helped to give me the confidence to put our prices up to cover all our expenses, from business rates to rent. 

Sambal Shiok, 171 Holloway Rd, N7 8LX

Ayo Akoko
Jess Hand

Ayo Adeyemi, Akoko

I never really thought food was an industry I could really be involved in. I grew up with very strict Nigerian parents where what was deemed a successful career was being a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant and an engineer. I pulled out of going to study accountancy at university at the last minute. My dad didn't speak to me for about two years.

I grew up in Dorset. It’s nice, it’s quaint, it’s beautiful, it’s quiet. Moving to study in Birmingham opened my eyes to culture and then I started travelling abroad, first doing seasonal work in Massachusetts, Cape Cod. I was cooking like 400, 500 lobsters a day and it was incredible. 

Before taking the job at Akoko I’d been in Singapore for almost nine years. Me and Aji Akokomi, the owner, both have the same Yoruba tribe background and he always wanted a West African-blooded chef to run his restaurant. It’s amazing how the London scene has blown up when it comes to ethnic cuisines, especially West African. When I left London a decade ago nothing like this existed. 

It's my job to ensure that rather than attacking for something being done wrong, that I use that opportunity to educate. It’s my responsibility as an executive chef to mentor and guide every individual chef. 

Akoko, 21 Berners St, W1T 3LP

John Tent at the End of The Universe
Jess Hand

John Javier, The Tent (at The End of the Universe)

I just wanted to piss my dad off. Now he’s super proud of me. I dropped out of uni – I was studying advertising. At first I was really into art and I wanted to pursue that, but I was at a Catholic school at home in Australia and my major project sort of got censored and I decided I’d never do it again. It was called ‘Porno’. 

I staged (interned) over at Noma in Copenhagen. There was so much electricity in that kitchen, it was so exciting, even if you were doing the most boring jobs, like picking florets of thyme or peeling unknown quantities of quail eggs.

I opened up Happy Paradise in Hong Kong for May Chow. It was ‘neo-Cantonese’ and featured on the second last episode of Anthony Bourdain's ‘Parts Unknown’. After spending a year and a half there I was actually going to quit cooking – it was taking its toll on my personal life and I wanted to settle down and start a family. But then I got a call from Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese. All of a sudden it was like the Chicago Bulls were asking me to join. He was best friends with Anthony Bourdain and told me he loved my food – I was pretty happy with that, but didn't take the job.

During lockdown we were throwing some illegal parties in an undisclosed London location. We did this 400 person dinner party – can you write that? Anyway, it was classified as a music video shoot so the cops came and we got away with it. 

The Tent (at The End of The Universe), 17 Little Portland St, W1W 8BP  

Tom Decatur
Jess Hand

Tom Zahir Browne, Decatur

I started cooking when I lived in New York. I was terrified. It was really hard but it was the most galvanising moment of my life. I thought I had skills, but I was a home chef and I didn’t really. I definitely got given the shitty jobs – I was cutting the waste sacks out of clams for a soup, and mincing frozen liver.

My best friend married someone from New Orleans and I used to visit a lot. At my first Mardi Gras we went to a crawfish boil and somebody was grilling some oysters and I thought, these are amazing. That’s how Decatur started. 

There have been a couple of hospitalizations due to oyster knives in my hand. Once I was shucking at a market and there was nobody else there so I had to finish the shift bandaged up with some blue roll and gaffa tape. Another time I cut myself and then punched a work surface with the other hand due to the adrenaline and broke it. 

Bricks and mortar is the next stage for Decatur. We do pop-ups and events at our railway arch, but we'd love to have a place where you can imbibe in Southern culture, with the food, music, vibe, and hospitality.

Decatur host regular events across London and seafood boils are available nationwide

Lorcan Caravel
Jess Hand

Lorcan Spiteri, Caravel

I started as a commis waiter at Quo Vadis. I was polishing plates and polishing cutlery, but my eyes were always on the kitchen. I finally got in there and they let me roll pie lids and I just loved it and learned loads. I was there for four years.

I ran my own market stall on Rupert Street, doing deep fried guinea fowl. It was quite a hard sell – there was a lot of guinea pig chat and explaining what guinea fowl was, and a lot of cold, wet days. Setting up every day in Soho surrounded by crackheads throwing stuff at you was tough. 

Caravel is on a boat and three more boats are on the radar. We want a fleet, we want an armada! 

No guests have fallen in the canal yet. My friend did jump in during the Euros and swam to the other side and my brother wouldn’t let him back in. A few phones and keys have dropped in, we’ve got a big magnet to find things with, but it doesn’t really cut it.  

Caravel, 172 Shepherdess Walk, N1 7JL

London's hottest chef will be revealed on Friday July 21. Let us know who you reckon London's answer to The Bear is on Twitter.

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