Chef John Reed
At the time of this interview John was chef at Senor Buddha Brighton, a venue which has since closed down.
In a city where there are so many restaurants vying for your attention you need something special to make you stand out from the crowd. One restaurant that has successfully, and tastefully, done this is Senor Buddha on London road. The restaurant has taken influences from Asia and Spanish Tapas style dishes to create one of the unsung heroes of Brighton’s dining scene. We spoke to head chef, John Reed, about his culinary journey and what life is like at Senor Buddha.
John started life in Guildford and is first to admit that this was not exactly the most auspicious of beginnings. Thankfully his American mother was a keen baker and always got the kids involved, meaning John spent much of his young life covered in icing sugar and flour. After spending many years abroad in New Zealand and Melbourne, cooking and learning his craft, John returned to England to marry his wife and found himself in Brighton.
After working the circuit for 10 years, including an enjoyable stint at the much-loved Earth and Stars, John met Lee (owner of Senor Buddha) through a mutual friend. Despite thinking he was a little bit bonkers, and he still does, he knew that Lee was onto something good with Senor Buddha and leapt at the chance to get on board.
The food at Senor Buddha takes influences from Spain and Asia when creating dishes. Is this freedom to experiment something you enjoy as a chef?
A chef is happiest when they have the freedom to be creative, play with textures and experiment with flavours. I love the interaction of Asian cuisine both in flavours and process and how it can enhance the traditional Spanish techniques of using ingredients more simply and focusing on provenance.
Tapas is a simple and traditional style of cuisine, is this something that you must be conscious of when creating new dishes?
Nothing is off limits because we try to create dishes that are authentic and made with love.
Asian food can be very spicy and complex in terms of ingredients, how do you balance that with Spanish influences which are generally less spiced and rustic?
I think people assume that all Asian food is spicy. Many of the flavours we bring to our dishes are achieved by using Asian cooking styles or making our dishes more aromatic rather than spicy.
The dishes at Senor Buddha are very visually striking. Is this something that you think about when creating new dishes or is plating something that comes later?
As before, creativity is the most enjoyable part of a chef’s job and making a dish visually pleasing is just as important making it taste great. A good chef understands that a dining experience is about stimulating more than one sense.
You work alongside Lee who started as the chef at Senor Buddha in addition to being the owner. How do you work together in the kitchen and to take senor buddha forward?
Fatherhood has meant that Lee has had to focus more on family life. Although, having said that he’s very much full steam ahead with the other site.
You have a very open kitchen and lots of interaction with the customers. Is this something you enjoy or sometimes do you secretly wish to be in your own environment away from the main restaurant?
Open kitchens are the best. It helps to bring the whole dining experience together and let’s everyone, front of house, back of house and guests alike share the Buddha love.
Brighton is really booming now, with new and established restaurants improving the standards at all times. Is it exciting to be a part of that and does this push you on as a chef?
People have had to raise their game in this city to deliver on the expectations of the customer. Running a restaurant is not hard, but running a great restaurant is. We believe in experience and giving our customers what they want; innovative, well thought-out food and personal attentive service.
Are you happy with where Senor Buddha is currently within the Brighton food scene or do you and Lee have plans for the restaurant?
We are very happy with how things are going but we are constantly looking at ways to improve and grow. A successful restaurant does not become complacent but looks at ways to interact and deliver with their guests.
What are your favourite places to eat in Brighton when you are not working or do you prefer to go further afield?
I don’t have to go too far to eat really well. The Jamaican Bus in Hove and the BBQ Shack by the Pier are two of my favourites.
Is there anything that you feel Brighton is missing in terms of restaurants and dining that you would like to see?
A Michelin Star.