Meet the chef: Geoff Morton of Fatbelly Freds in Barnstaple
PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 July 2014 | UPDATED: 10:00 23 July 2014
An early passion for cooking has never faded for Geoff Morton, head chef and owner at Fatbelly Freds
What is your earliest food memory?
Nicking my Gran’s griddled pancakes in Newtownards in Northern Ireland. She was a wonderful cook and made the best soda bread ever.
How did you get into cooking?
My father was a chef before me in the RAF. I always wanted to be in the RAF - for some reason he always wanted me to join as a steward, rather than a chef. He said it would be better - he lied! Some 12½ years later I still wanted to cook and after a friend of mine asked me for some help in a local pizzeria I got the chance. After watching numerous sauces coming out of tins and jars I decided I needed to do it properly and enrolled into my local college.
What made you decide to be a chef?
I needed to. There is something inside which I needed to achieve…and still do.
What was your first experience of cooking professionally?
Mark Dodson of the Masons Arms, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Knowstone, Devon, gave me an opportunity, for which I will be eternally grateful. With two other young chefs mentoring me it lit the taper.
What successes or failures did you have in the early days?
I never heard Mark raise his voice ever. The look of disappointment, however, was enough to push me to try harder and the constant barracking from a 19-year-old mentor makes you a little more competitive when you’re in your 30s. The first year in my own restaurant we were runner-up in the local food awards which blew me away considering I never knew we were entered - and we did it again the second year.
How did you progress to where you are now?
My wife is without doubt my driving force. When I feel like I’m not achieving then she’ll pick me up, critique and push me onwards.
What sort of foods and flavours inspire you?
I have a passion for seafood and I’m constantly trying new produce. I constantly read magazines and recipes for new ideas I can try out.
What are your food ‘hates’?
Not being able to take my wife out and have a more diverse menu choice when she’s wheat intolerant. Ignorance from the kitchen is no excuse. A take it or leave it approach to intolerances is not the way. A little bit of thought goes a massive way to repeat custom.
How important is sourcing to you?
Very. Especially fish - it must be sustainable. I’m a massive fan of what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall achieved; that’s part of the reason we’ve had so many species on the menu in the last year.
Who are your preferred suppliers?
S & J Fisheries, Walrus Fisheries, S & P Fish and Lundy fish.
Describe the best meal you have ever had.
In a market in Singapore. A street vendor made the most incredible curried crab claws, all done on a beat-up wooden cart, using a dodgy gas burner and a wok!
What would be your one professional’s tip for an amateur home cook?
Take inspiration from anywhere you can find it and don’t be afraid to ask to try something different.
Fatbelly Freds, 16 Maiden Street, Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1HA. Tel: 01271 345700.