Today’s chef’s Q & A is with Elizabeth Haigh, the Singaporean-born chef who competed on MasterChef in 2011, and went on to win a Michelin star at the Hackney based restaurant Pidgin.

Photo of Masterchef contestant and Michelin Star chef Elizabeth Haigh

She has since established the Kaizen House Project and is running a two-month dinner residency at London’s Mortimer House until June 2019.

Hello Elizabeth, it’s great to have you being part of The Pass’ exclusive Chef’s Q&A series. Tell us about your journey as a chef so far.
It’s been an incredible journey so far. It’s completely surpassed my expectations of what I was expecting out of a career, as it’s influenced my lifestyle, family, ethos about eating and cooking now. 

Where did you get the inspiration to found Kaizen House?
We love Japanese cultural philosophies and references and my husband (and co-founder of Kaizen House) was telling me about the process of “Kaizen” in business. It’s the method of constantly improving and changing for the better, which I thought fits perfectly into every industy, especially in the kitchen. As chefs we are constantly improving dishes, whether it’s just adding seasoning or tweaking dishes to make them better, that is Kaizen. We then thought about how we work together as a partnership, and that to me, guests coming to my restaurant or events is like coming to my home, crossing over into our threshold so it fit so perfectly to call our company Kaizen House. Kaizen House is a collection of projects that explores, creates and shares stories through food. 

And where do you get the inspiration to your creativeness as a chef?
I read and travel as much as I possibly can. Cuisine cannot exist without the free and fair movement of ingredients, ideas and people. As a proud immigrant, I love to create delicious food through my combination of experiences, respect and understanding of different cultures.

Who or what has influenced your cooking the most?
My mother has been my solid rock and fore-most influential in my career. I can even remember, back in the day, she would come to my school to teach us about food and cooking. Now, we bounce ideas of each other and I still learn a lot about our heritage through cooking. Even though I’m a classically French trained chef, I still find learning about my own culture the most challenging and interesting.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Take as many notes as you possibly can. I still have my notebooks, covered in scribbles and notes from recipes or copies of other recipe notes to learn what’s the best way to do something. Even if you might think that recipe is basic or easy to remember, when you need to recall on it in a rush or pass it onto someone else to do, its best to have every copy. On a more emotional advice, don’t be afraid to speak out if you are uncomfortable, or struggling with MEP or workload or a person. It helps to talk. 

Where would you take your out of town guests for a memorable dinner?
Brat or Lyle’s. I find the quality of produce and the cooking at both restaurants there are on another level to a lot of restaurants in London. 

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
My Thermapen or Stone notebook. It’s spill/waterproof so no marks are left on my notes and my Thermapen is so useful and quick to use.

What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
The increase in collaborations and combining of ideas / talent. I think that’s what making London excel in the food scene. 

What’s your go-to ingredient?
We make our own koji – its inoculated rice (with bacterial spores) that transforms the rice into koji. We blend it with salt to make “shio koji”. It’s like having pure umami and flavour into dishes. You can make miso, sake, soy sauce from koji. I love marinating meats with it to adding it to my sweetcorn dish at Mortimer House. It’s delicious.

Which seasonings do you think are underrated and how would you use them in your day-to-day cooking?
I use a lot of shishimi togerashi with my dishes (Japanese seven mix chilli spice). We make our own but I’m sure you can find it in any supermarkets now. I add it to rice dishes to broth style dishes. I love spice and chilli so I’m happy to add it to most dishes and think it elevates them, than using just salt and pepper. 

Your favourite 5 minute meal…
Macaroni cheese. No shame. Guilty pleasure when I’m in from a late shift and need something comforting. My son loves it too so I always make extra for him.

Fill in the blank: If I weren’t chef , I’d be…
A restaurant designer. I used to study as an architect and I’d always want a career around food now. 

We have been following your journey as a chef since early days until your very latest residency at Mortimer House. What does the future hold for you as a chef?
I feel that the requirements chef is constantly changing and adapting. I feel now we need to focus on sustainability and improving the current standards of practice to fit into the current needs of our industry. As a chef I’m focused a lot into discovering renewable materials/compostable products for packaging for our next (disclosed) project as well as working closely with our own farm supplier and developing, growning local produce. 

Thanks Elizabeth for today’s chat. One last question: Tell us one funny moment related to your career as a chef...
I once had to make these chocolate teacakes as a petit four for a Michelin starred restaurant in London. I was hopeless at piping then (pastry was never a strong interest of mine), and they ended up looking like chocolate covered nipples rather than round dainty teacakes. I don’t think the chef found it as funny as the team did though.

© The Pass Restaurant Marketing, 2019