insideKENT’s inside scoop: Jessica Deakin Chef
Jessica Deakin is a talented, young professional chef, born and raised in South East Kent. Michelin trained and now causing a well-deserved stir as a private chef to the stars, Jessica’s ethos is all about being a positive influence on people’s lives through her food and teachings. Wanting to create the ultimate balance between divine, heart-warming flavour and food that is nutritious for the body, Jessica shares her story and top tips with insideKENT’s Olivia Riccini.
Olivia: Jess, tell us how you started out in the culinary world and what lead you to get where you are today
Jessica: I’ve always had a passion for food. I jostled my way into a kitchen to learn as a chef while studying business at university. My original plan was to go into food marketing or media, so gaining experience as a chef seemed paramount. Before landing a position, I was laughed out of kitchens by those thinking I wouldn’t have what it takes to become a professional chef, with misconceptions and presumptions that I was merely a ‘naïve girl’. But one day, an experienced, passionate head chef, Robert Taylor, who now runs Tallow, took a chance on me. With his one-on-one training, I learned to work in a busy, professional kitchen.
By the time I graduated, I had fallen too deeply in love with cooking to leave it. So, I threw myself into competitions and stayed well past midnight in the kitchen to learn butchery skills. Staging at restaurants such as Gordon Ramsay had me learning fast and eventually led me to the iconic Michelin starred Sportsman in Seasalter. The ultimate extension to my development as a chef.
Olivia: What does your job as a chef consist of at the moment?
Jessica: During lockdown, I moved into private cheffing. The catalyst for this was being asked to hold some private cooking classes, which I found to be a great way to connect on a personal level with people that wanted to cook. I believe menus, ingredients and cooking as a whole has a purpose that runs much deeper than the surface of what we know and love about food.
Food is more than just something to eat, it affects our moods, bodies and minds. I became very interested in the nutrition side of food and gained experience in healthy recipe development for Ibiza Fitness Food and also began a culinary medicine course. It is my goal to try and make food the perfect combination of an expression of love balanced with the nutrition we need to lead a healthy lifestyle. Currently, I work with athletes and high-profile clients executing menus that are delicious, but also purposeful. It’s exciting and varied. If there’s one thing I could wish for in my professional life, it is to help others – and this kind of cooking is a great way of achieving this.
Olivia: Who have been your biggest inspirations on your culinary journey?
Jessica: During my childhood, my grandmother and my father were the ones who inspired me and introduced me to so many things in cooking. From learning and respecting the way produce grows right through to how we utilise ingredients with as little waste as possible, to just passing down a pure love for cooking, their passion will always stay with me. Something I will never forget is my father and I rushing to the allotment in our pyjamas at 11pm on a Saturday night just for some fresh rosemary we needed to marinade with the lamb overnight – ‘or Sunday dinner would simply be ruined!’
Another personal inspiration is my first head chef Robert Taylor. I would watch how much care and intention was put into everything he does in the kitchen, and I still recall that when I’m cooking now, It still helps me be a better chef.
Every chef at one point or another has fallen in love with Anthony Bourdain, I’m almost certain it’s a right of passage to read his book Kitchen Confidential. His raw approach to the culinary world and his travel with cuisine is what helped me realise how much I could gain from going into kitchens all over the world and teach me lessons that could not be taught at culinary school.
And finally, my woman crush, Angie Mar with her unapologetic, real yet glamorous flare towards cooking. She helped me feel proud to be a female chef and to not apologise for loving a good steak! Like chef and butcher Dario Cecchini will also say, ‘just give the animal a good life and respect’. Her book Butcher and Beast has so many beautiful dishes.
Olivia: Jess, you are a Kent local, as ‘The Garden of England’ it has a lot of culinary credentials and claims to fame – tell us some of your favourite Kentish foods and where to buy them
Jessica: I get all my seafood from West Whelks in Whitstable harbour and buy meat from Jim’s Family Butchers in the town – I love buying their lamb, they’ll even show you how to French trim if you ask!
The Goods Shed stocks some really beautiful producers. A favourite here is The Cheesemakers of Canterbury, specialising in divine artisan cheeses and providing excellent expert help when I’m looking for something specific. The Wonky Parsnip farm in Chartham is also my go-to for vibrant, tasty produce and more specialist items (try their ‘Electric Daisy’).
Olivia: Jess, tell us some of your current favourite dishes / ingredients plus any tips for cooking them
Jessica: Currently, it is all about the Jerusalem Artichoke. Serve them up as puree, roasted or as crisps. They go beautifully with lamb and hazelnuts and bring a smokey earthiness to any meat dish. Wild garlic grows in abundance in Kent, (local chef’s best kept secret!) it can be used to make a gorgeous pesto, be blended into fresh gnocchi or wilted into a risotto. You can also eat the flowers which I usually pickle to preserve and not waste and to add that little extra touch to salads or starters!
Keep up with Jessica on Instagram @jessicadeakinchef
Find out more about her story and how to contact her for cheffing and dining experiences via her website: www.jessicadeakinchef.com