Foodie Features

Glynn Purnell – Yummy Brummie

By Rosie Birkett

Glynn Purnell talks to Rosie Birkett about his new book, about cooking beans on toast and explains why he’s happiest in the kitchen.

Glynn Purnell’s handle on Twitter is ‘Yummy brummie’, but it could just as well be ‘funny brummie’ because a more affable and playful chef you will not meet. When we speak, he’s excited to talk about his book, Cracking Yolks and Pig Tales (the clue’s in the name) which is published in May by Kyle Books.

“It’s mainly aimed at people that can cook, but want to step into restaurant food at home. However, it will appeal to chefs too,” he says. “There are over one hundred recipes, but there’s also seven or eight stories in there and it’s quite humorous. I tried to write it as if I was talking to you and did the whole thing in pencil, because I can’t use a computer.”

Alongside recipes for dishes like mackerel and potato Pakora, pork chops with Sauerkraut and chocolate and passion fruit dome, you’ll find stories such as ‘The Commis and the Cucumber’ and ‘Cooking with Carbon Monoxide’. Purnell barely stifles a giggle when he talks about this one. “That’s about when the fan broke down and I tried to by-pass the cutoff switch. All my staff started passing out! But don’t worry, there is a happy ending.”

Brought up in a large working class family in Birmingham, Purnell was enchanted by the alchemy of cooking when he found himself catering for his siblings. “Food was a massive part of growing up,” he says. “I’d do beans on toast, but I’d put a bit of chopped onion in there, sprinkle on some herbs and, of course, add curry powder – which was the big one – that’s what started it off for me. I used to love the way things changed – when you crack an egg into a pan, how it changes form, I found that fascinating.”

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A ‘proper old school’ apprenticeship followed at the Birmingham Metropole hotel, where a young Purnell learned the sections of the kitchen. “It was fantastic, some of the best days I’ve ever experienced. It really set me up – I went from being a short order chef making club sandwiches to being in the a la carte French restaurant, doing Dover soles and Chateaubriands. I’m just a kid from a council estate – and I didn’t know what foie gras was – but I had certainly tasted it by the time I was eighteen. Being a chef is an amazing journey – it’s so military and once you’re there, you fit and you’re in.”

It was after years spent in the kitchen at Simpsons in Warwickshire, working stages in his time off with chefs like Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine, that Purnell went to Hibiscus in Ludlow to be Claude Bosi’s sous chef and was: “blown away by the simplicity, but how complex the flavours were. It was a real eye-opener. I grew up really quickly and thought wow! – this is how I want to go – not cooking from the repertoire, but cooking with your own personality.”

And again it comes back to personality – something Purnell has in spades and successfully expresses in his cooking. It got him noticed when he opened Jessica’s in 2003 – which went on to be Birmingham’s first Michelin-starred restaurant – and kick-started a culinary scene that paved the way for his very own place – Purnell’s, which he opened in 2007 and where he’s been widely acclaimed for his unique modern British cuisine ever since.

Television appearances plus Purnell’s Bistro and Ginger’s Cocktail Bar have all followed, but Purnell is adamant that it’s the chef’s life for him. “My passion is still running restaurants. I make sure I’m here every service and I make sure I pop up to the bistro – I like that. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. The best thing for me is that I cook every night at the restaurant.”

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