Return of a culinary genius
PUBLISHED: 11:59 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:59 02 September 2014
Â© Dominic Whiten
Frances Hopewell-Smith persuades Peter Harrison to stop work for a quick chat
Peter Harrison is a talented chef we’re lucky to have in Suffolk.
His story is one of sheer hard work and dedication. As a school leaver he got a job as the lowest of the low at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Annecy. He didn’t speak French, worked six days a week and on his day off worked at a local boulangerie. He stuck at this punishing schedule until he had a good grounding in the rudiments of French cooking then began to look for something else.
Back in the 1990s London was a hot spot for a new and exciting wave of cooking and a breed of young, dynamic chefs who broke the rules. Peter left France for London and landed himself a job with celebrated chef Alistair Little, working at his small and always overbooked restaurant in Soho.
“Those were brilliant days,” he says, “crazy times, working all hours and making the most amazing food.” But this wasn’t enough to fulfill the ambitious Harrison. He became head chef at Sonny’s in Barnes, and was, at last, master of his domain.
Children are funny things, and when Peter had his first, his mind turned away from London to the bucolic attractions of the countryside. What a lucky day when he first popped up in Suffolk at The Leaping Hare, near Bury St Edmunds, one of those delightful, delicious restaurants which make you feel good all over. When I went there I thanked the stars that I could eat such glories just an hour’s drive away. I found out that the man behind this exceptional food was Peter Harrison and, in 1998 when he opened his own restaurant at Kelsale near where I live, I thought all my birthdays had come at once. That was in 2000 and I’ve lost count of the fabulous meals I had at Harrison’s during the five years it was open.
Peter’s decision to take a two-year sabbatical in Australia left a lot of Suffolk food-lovers bereft and thrown to their own devices so when he came back again you could hear the cheers for miles.
Nowadays Peter’s main role is as resident chef at the charming Brick Kiln Barn where he not only cooks marvellous long-table suppers for about 60 people once a month, but also does sensational cooking for weddings and parties. As well as this – he likes to work – he makes Peter’s Pickles, holds masterclasses at The Food Hub near Debenham, cooks for private clients and any number of disparate events. When he told me the details of his previous week it was ridiculous – a wedding, a big dinner party, a Mexican evening, a wake, a buffet supper, another wedding, umpteen cakes and several deliveries of canapés and meals he’d prepared for clients. Even he admits that was quite a lot to do in a few days.
“What I like best about Suffolk,” says Peter, “is the way I can go out to the woods or the hedges, or even down to the sea, and find loads of wonderful things to cook.’ Not only that of course but he has any amount of vegetables and fruit, meat, game and fish to hand – all fresh, all local, all full of flavour. He will be at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival Street Feast and, along with three or four helpers, cooking two of his favourite things: a vegetarian speciality and a rich venison dish. Miss them if you dare.