Didn’t Jono do well on MasterChef the Professionals last year? He was a joy to watch on the iconic TV show and even more of a joy to meet (virtually). Jono has embarked on his first solo venture at Vice & Virtue on New Briggate in the City of Leeds.
Here is an abridged version of our conversation from 7th June, with some tips for any trainee chef.
Deby: What’s your connection to Leeds, the greatest city in the world?
Jono: I’m from Bradford but I grew up in Leeds. I’ve travelled all over from Sydney to Copenhagen, I’ve travelled the world. I always come back to Leeds, it’s where my family is, it’s just natural for me I have tons of friends here and everybody knows me it’s just a nice place to be, It’s got a vibe about it.
Deby: As a child what was your absolute favourite thing to eat?Jono: Beans on toast! And Angel Delight, (probably). Even now I eat some of the worst stuff you’ve ever seen. Nowadays the problem is that because you’re working in high-end restaurants, you’re around high-end food all the time. I guess if you work in McDonald’s, you don’t want to eat McDonald’s, you probably just want a sandwich. That’s the same for me. I’m around quality ingredients all day, even though I’m very inspired by that, the last thing I want to eat is a nice Italian tomato dish ….. I’d rather just have a ham sandwich.
We’ll see you in Manchester for screening next week!
Deby: What prompted you to try out for MasterChef?
Jono: Everyone’s always said I should and that I’d do really well. I’ve always said no, I’m not gonna do it. Inside though, I think I knew one day I would. I used to just put it off, put it off, put it off. Then it popped up on Facebook one day – apply now. And I was like, do you know what, I’ll just click on it and see what happens, then I kept on clicking…. It led down this rabbit hole. It wasn’t a short process, fill out a questionnaire, fill your name in, put your age, where you work, etc, etc, five minutes it’s done. Then the next one attach your CV and a menu where you’ve worked, cool, done. The next one. Every single week, they would say we need more stuff. Have you got a sample menu? Yeah, cool. Attach sample menu. There’s no hard work about it, because I have all this stuff ready to go, I’m a chef it’s my job to have menus! And then, “We’ll see you in Manchester for screening next week!”
I went in MasterChef with the attitude of I’m going to be confident, because confidence will get me through. Everybody always crumbles in the first Skills Test, half of that is their nerves. Every chef pretty much knows, even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could still make a good crack of it. The problem is your nerves. So, I knew that, I would just be me and just be normal and be confident. I’m gonna go in there and cook because I’ve cooked for 16 years. I’m not gonna let them faze me out. Everyone goes in with the wrong mindset. “Oh, my God, Marcus Waring, celebrity. Oh, my God.” No, he’s just a chef, he’s just a cook. That is it. Same with Monica, they’re just people.
my ideas gave me an advantage
Deby: Did you still have some nervousness?
Jono: Any nerves I had were more about the dishes that I was preparing, the dishes weren’t the normal MasterChef brief. Not a crème brûlée, not a beef Wellington, I wasn’t doing the standard MasterChef generic food. I did my style of food. They didn’t know what to do with me, they’d never seen my dishes before, and it was something new to the show. They couldn’t say it was bad because they’d never seen it before. If somebody made a Hollandaise sauce, the judges know exactly how that Hollandaise sauce is supposed to be made, to the tee. They know if it’s gonna be lumpy, they know if it’s gonna be split, they know if it’s got too much salt, too much vinegar. They know exactly, they’ve been making it their whole lives. They know. Then I turn up, and go, “Cool, this is a hay custard with this and that”. They have no idea how that’s supposed to taste, they’ve never tasted it before. So, the only thing they’ve got to go on is, “Can I taste all the flavours?” and “Is it nice to eat?” They don’t know what hay is supposed to taste like, they don’t know how many ants are supposed to be on it. In some dishes I had beef fat, they don’t know how much beef fat is supposed to be in it because they’ve never had those recipes before. If I turned up and did a vanilla crème brûlée, then he would know how much vanilla is supposed to be in it. These are my recipes, my ideas gave me an advantage. They would say “This is delicious. Jono has made something nice”.
if you’re still hungry, tell me
Deby: What can visitors to Vice & Virtue expect?
Jono: I want to give you something that’s delicious, a good meal and something that’s interesting, I feel like when you go to certain restaurants, it’s fine dining, blah, blah, blah. But they miss the whole point of actually going out – is about having a good time. That’s why you want to go out to have a good time. You want to have something interesting, something wow and say ‘this was a really, really good restaurant’.
I had a chat with somebody the other day about what I call snack restaurants. You go there and you might choose a 25-course tasting menu. They’re all one bites there’s no substance to it. There’s no point, one bite, cool, next course, one bite, next course, one bite, next course, you have one bite and then you wait five minutes for the next one. And after four of them your body gets into a routine, it’s just like going through the motions. I hate those restaurants because you never feel full. My focus is that everybody leaves this restaurant full. If you come to my restaurant and you’re still hungry, tell me because I’ll still send food out. I’ll just keep sending food out till you’re full.
Wagyu beef for Mötley Crüe
Deby: If you were going to host a dinner party for any celebrity, living or dead, who would you invite and what would you cook them?
Jono: Good question. I’d probably cook the most expensive things that you could ever cook. Because I can, the most expensive caviar, the most expensive gold leaf, Wagyu beef, Foie Gras. I’d just go all out! As for guests Elvis would be good, the Beatles, Prince or maybe Mötley Crüe. People who’d have mad stories. I’d just sit there while they’re eating, asking them questions, seeing what they’re up to. Tell me about this time. Tell me is this story true?
top tips for trainee chefs
Deby: Do you have any top tips for trainee chefs?
Jono: It’s a hard industry to be in. Find a good mentor, that’s going to look after you. That’s my main tip. Because that’s what I never had, I never had a good mentor. Who’s gonna look after you and put you in the right path. It’s all right everyone’s saying “Come work for me” or “I like this restaurant” or blah, blah, blah. Find out what the end goal is for you. Then work towards it. If you want to open a street food truck why are you working in a Michelin star restaurant? Go work in a street food truck, get involved! Go follow your dream, go do it.
Another thing chefs might want to look into is learning the business side of things, the back of house straight away. I feel like every chef should know how much are we spending this month, how much did that just cost us? If you ask some of the chefs they don’t know, for example, beef fillet, chefs see it coming into the restaurant, they put it in the fridge every day, they prep it, cook it and send it out. But they never know how much it costs. Find out where it comes from, which farmer has bred that meat. I see it from both sides now. I see it from being an employee, as a head chef, and I see it from the business side.