Chef Michael Bremner of Brighton’s 64 Degrees talks television, opening a new restaurant and the challenge of cooking in the Caribbean with Brighton food festival director Nick Mosley.
I’m sat drinking mojitos and looking out over the Caribbean sea, shooting the breeze with possibly Brighton’s most well-known chef, Michael Bremner. We’re sat in The Cliff restaurant at Cap Maison in St Lucia, its 7pm and the sun is just going down over the distant island of Martinique. Its definitely work, but we both agree its not a bad gig.
Michael has joined me for another Brighton food festival International Chef Exchange, and will be cooking a six course menu featuring some of his restaurant’s classic dishes on Saturday night. He’s partnering with Cap Maison’s executive head chef Craig Jones, who’ll be joining us in Brighton in August for a reciprocal dinner.
Its a busy time for Michael at the moment, what with his appearance on BBC Two’s Great British Menu, the winners of this year’s national Restaurant Awards just to be announced, moving house and opening a new venue on Brighton beach. I wonder how he’s managed to squeeze in a week in the Caribbean with me to promote the food and drink scene of our city.
“I don’t think you’d even finished the sentence asking me before I said yes”, he laughs. “Participating in events such as this are no-brainers for a chef. I get the ability to experience other food cultures, learn new techniques and share my experience with other chefs. Its always interesting to escape the day-to-day of my kitchen and look with fresh eyes at food and drink.”
He’s no stranger to the festival’s exchanges, having participated a couple of years ago with Bas Oonk of Restaurant Basaal in The Hague, and at the Guernsey International Food Festival in 2016. What challenges has he faced in the Caribbean compared to working in partner kitchens in Europe?
“First and foremost, the challenge was getting used to the heat. Kitchens are hot places at the best of times but even hotter when its over 30 degrees outside. My other challenge was using gas as I’ve been working on induction for so long now”.
Our host chef Craig was acclaimed as Caribbean Hotel Chef of the Year at the prestigious Caribbean Travel Awards earlier this year. Originally from Wales, Craig landed in St Lucia eight years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“I’ve really enjoyed Craig’s food at Cap Maison, and the whole experience of the resort. Despite spending four days in the kitchen, you can’t fail to be relaxed here and the staff are so friendly. The fine dining menu of The Cliff is really interesting, and is overflowing with fresh local seafood dishes. The salt fish Russian salad we had on the first night was really special”.
2017 has been a busy year for Michael. Following last year’s successes on BBC Two’s Great British Menu, he’s been back filming again this year and is feeling confident.
“Filming Great British Menu was possibly the most stressful five days of my life”, says Michael. “Each day starts with a 5am wake up call then we’re off to the studio by 6.30am. There’s a lot of waiting between cooking and filming, and whilst there were plenty of laughs with the other chefs, the tension certainly mounts. The cooking schedule is very tight too – when you see the chefs looking pressured, its because they genuinely are.”
In addition to Great British Menu and the day-to-day operations of 64 Degrees, Michael and wife and business partner Carla are on the verge of opening a second restaurant in the city. Murmur – named after the dramatic murmurations of starlings around the West Pier every Autumn – opens in the seafront arches near the i360 in late July.
“Murmur is going to be very different concept to 64 Degrees, so I don’t really want people to compare the two. Whereas we continue to experiment and push boundaries at 64, the beach restaurant will be a lot more informal in style offering accessibly priced, good quality bistro dishes from brunch until supper. I often struggle to find somewhere to take my daughters to eat on the seafront that isn’t fried food, so Murmur will definitely be family friendly during the day.”
I wonder how Michael manages to keep so many plates spinning at the same time.
“It doesn’t feel right if I’m not a little on edge”, he jokes. “But to be honest, I have an incredibly good team around me; Sam, Josh and the boys in the kitchen, Jake managing operations, and – of course – Carla, who is my rock. She can second guess me, and is a dab hand at being a gate-keeper when needed.”
So, how does he feel about being called the ‘darling’ of the Brighton food scene?
“To have that recognition is very humbling but its a label that does make me cringe a little. There are loads of talented chefs I admire in the city, all of whom are pushing boundaries in their own ways. As a professional community we’re all supportive of each other, which is good for our businesses and also for the city”.
Its Friday night so we’re off to The Jump Up street party in Gros Islet for beers and street barbecue food. With sixty guest attending the dinner, we’ve a lot to do tomorrow but all work and no play would make Michael a very dull boy.
Chef Craig Jones of Cap Maison will be returning to Brighton for a St Lucian themed dinner with Michael in the Dome Room at Hotel du Vin on Thursday 24 August.