Part I of a discussion with chef Arthur Potts Dawson on his recently-released cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables, held during Dawson's book signing and cooking demo at the New Amsterdam Market. Look for Part II over the next few days.
by Rachel Signer
RS: Tell me about how you came to be a chef and to want to write this cookbook.
Dawson: When I was sixteen, my father told me, get a summer job. So I spent the summer cooking food. Really enjoyed it. At the end of it, the chef said to me, what are you gonna do with the rest of your life? I said, yeah, I’m gonna do my A-levels. I had planned to become a policeman. He said, look, you should really be a chef. He said, look, I’ll offer you an apprenticeship with me, but I can get you a really good job if you’re keen. So I went from literally spending six weeks in a summer job to being offered an amazing apprenticeship with probably one of Europe’s best training courses, the Roux Brothers; I spent three years as an apprentice. And from there I went to the best restaurants in London, Michelin-starred. And so from 16 to 22, I had no real concept of any other plans. I was cooking so much, and I got so drawn into it, that I kind of, I guess, lost myself in food. Kitchens are wonderful places. . . not to hide in . . . but places where you can. . . put everything aside. Because they consume all of your time, all of your passion, all of your energy.
You didn’t go back to school.
I didn’t go back to school. I went to catering school but it was one day a week. And that one day—I was working so hard the other six days, I ended up practically asleep in the classroom.
Really I was caught and bitten by the food bug at a very early age. And I spent the next ten years doing very French, very strict, kind of masochistic type cooking where the attitude is very much—the chef is the be-all-and-end-all on the planet, so if you don’t do what the chef says you’re gonna get beaten up. I mean it was really just shit stuff. This was 1986 or ’87. It wasn’t trendy to be a chef. It wasn’t cool to be a chef. It was a job. So that was the first ten years, and then slowly but surely I started to realize that French cuisine wasn’t much for me; it was very restrictive. There were barriers.