This week we have caught up with Rodrigo Navarro, head chef at South African restaurant hammer&Tongs. Rodrigo's cooking style marries beautifully h&T's bold flavours, delivering impeccable food cooked on the open fire braai.

Rodrigo Navarro Head Chef Hammer and Tongs

When did you decide that food and cooking for others could be part of your life?
I started off by studying Mechanical Engineering at Bournemouth University, however, I quickly found myself spending more time in the kitchen cooking and preparing food, than studying.
There came a point where I simply couldn’t keep ignoring my need to cook and learn about food and cooking processes. That is when I ‘dropped out’, took a hefty debt and went to work for free at Tredwells, Covent Garden. That was about 4 years ago and I’ve not looked back since.

What took you to lead the pass at hammer&Tongs?
It was never my aim to become a Head Chef, the sheer responsibility, work load and stress levels associated with it were a deterrent more than anything.
However, I joined hammer&Tongs as a Commis really keen to learn about Braai and cooking over fire. The restaurant has gone through some enormous transformations and I’ve been there to see it all unfolding.
Leading the pass at h&T is truly a privilege.
Our open kitchen allows customers to see the food getting prepared in front of their eyes. It’s a lot of fun and always a big challenge when’s busy.

Big braai hammer and tongs

In your opinion what is the biggest challenge facing the restaurant industry today?
Not long ago I would have said staff shortages, food wastage and the environmental impact of our industry. Now, to put it simply, it’s Priti Patel.

How would you describe your cooking style?
The same as hammer&Tong’s.
Simple cooking with big flavours, few ingredients placed together well. And then braaid of course.

How do you test the quality of your ingredients?
We taste everything we make.
If something isn’t right or different to the usual due to seasonal changes, we will either change the dish or change the particular ingredient.

Which chef would you want to cook with in your kitchen?
Being Chilean myself, Argentina is our culinary sister.
Francis Mallman’s style of cooking has always been inspiring in its simplicity and boldness.
I can’t leave out Josh Neiland, I’ve only come across him recently but he is pioneering new ways of storing, preparing and cooking fish.
Massively inspirational.

What’s your greatest strength in the kitchen?
Performance under pressure. Every chef has been in the situation where in the middle of service, a key ingredient is missing or someone has dropped a fresh plate of food.
Being able to manage and quickly correct a situation by thinking on your feet it very important.

The one dish we should absolutely try off the menu?
100% the Pork Belly Sosatie.
Brined, Smoked, Slow cooked, Pressed, and Braaid.
It’s excellent.

What is the kitchen tool you use the most?
Hard to pinpoint but most likely my knife.

Best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Key to a successful recipe: salt, fat and acidity.
If one of these flavours is missing the dish will fall flat.

How do you keep up to date with the latest food trends?
Mainly Instagram (though I try not to spend too much time here) also CODE Hospitality, Restaurant Magazine and general browsing.

What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
Fish to become more popular and demanded on menus.

South African Restaurant Hammer and Tongs, Farringdon Road London

Where would you take your out of town guests for a memorable meal?
Probably Oystermen in Covent Garden.
Despite the location, the prices are very reasonable and the seafood is fantastic.
I could easily go and just have oysters.

Your favourite 5 minute recipe?
I’m a sucker for Knorr Chicken Noodle Soup sachets. I like to boil a chicken thigh, then add the powder to the liquid and finish off by breaking and gently stirring an egg into it. Not particularly high in nutrients but you can’t beat it after a long Friday night’s service.

Fill in the blank: If I weren’t a chef I’d be……an engineer.

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