For our “X Questions With” series, we’re speaking with talented individuals from around the world who have inspired us with their creativity and passion. If you have a story to tell or someone you’d like to see profiled, let us know in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
Today, we’re chatting with Ben Churchill, a fantastically creative chef and “food illusionist” carving out his own niche. Blending his background in art with his culinary career, Ben creates one-of-a-kind dishes that are as much feasts for the eyes as for the taste buds. To see more from Ben, check him out on Facebook, Instagram or at chefbenchurchill.com.
1) Please tell us a little about yourself
Name: Ben Churchill
City: St. Albans, UK
Places: Always lived around Hertfordshire, holidays in Cornwall or Tuscany
Passions: My family (my wife and daughter), cooking, art in all forms
Occupation: Chef/Food Illusionist
Creative Works: facebook.com/thefoodillusionist
Favourite Quote: “The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a s***.” This [Banksy quote] rings so true for me. In this day and age it’s so easy to get your 15 minutes of fame, but then it’s gone. I want to add my chapter to the book of food and what can be done with food, to challenge perceptions and what people can achieve, that’s what’s important to me.
2) We saw on Instagram that you recently purchased a journal to record your recipes. Do you normally handwrite your recipes?
When I’m working and developing, everything gets hand written (very scruffily). These always then get transferred to a pad for reference. There’s nothing better than reaching for a recipe and seeing remnants of the last time you made it on the page; a cake batter stain or watermark.
3) How did you get your start in the culinary world?
I fell into it by accident at the age of 20. I’d just dropped out of art college as I saw it as a dead end. If I was to create art I don’t need fine art training for it, that was never my style. I was inspired by both the modern Brit Art movement (the Chapman Brothers particularly) and the work of Alberto Giacometti, as well as street art and graffiti.
A friend of mine was leaving his job in a pub kitchen and offered me it. I then fell in love with cooking, trained my way up in kitchens and taught myself a lot. It’s only in the last 2 years I started to teach myself pastry. I wanted to see if I could make a lemon out of chocolate, which was my first illusion (Bollocks, I Dropped the Lemon), a playful nod to Massimo Bottura’s Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart. From there I wanted to see how far I could take it, what I could make. Anything from nature to video games and films inspires me. I think it’s my lack of formal training that has helped me explore different realms – no rules set in place, freedom.
4) Has anyone, or anything, in particular inspired your creativity and artistic passion?
Again, seeing what I could make, how far I could take it is what pushes me. Inspiration usually hits when I’m driving to and from work. I’ll be thinking about a game or a flavour and then the idea will just build. I usually begin with what I want to make, then decide the techniques I’ll use and the flavours, then get cracking. And that is very important. The flavours must always match the dish. If it is, for example, a dish based on the video game Fallout, I’ll get some acidic “nuclear” flavours in there.
5) The question everyone is going to ask – do these dishes taste as good as they look? Or is it just for show?
Absolutely! And this is the main reason for me writing my first book. If you have a decent palette and flavour profile, you’ll be able to look at my videos and work the flavours together in your mind (this is how a lot of chefs develop dishes before they have even lit the oven). But failing that, my book will show how good they taste and how easy they are to make if you open your mind.
6) Are you exclusively a pastry chef, or do you cook savoury too?
In my day job it’s a mix of savoury and sweet, conventional cakes as well as a few of my signature desserts. It’s at home I do my food illusion development.
7) On your website, you mention that you’re working on a book. Is there any more you can tell us about this project?
It’s getting towards completion and I’m hoping to have it out for Christmas, if not before. It is my first book which will contain some of my thoughts, basic recipes and tools, as well as 15 of my most loved recipes from my social media work. All the dishes can be made at home with no special ingredients and not a lot of equipment. My main goal is to get people thinking like I do, a problem-solving approach to food.
I haven’t been successful in attracting a publisher which is fine by me as I plan to self-publish. I believe this will also give it a more personal look and feel and gives me full artistic control.
8) Any advice you would like to share with aspiring chefs and artists?
Never let convention get in your way. Why shouldn’t you serve a dish a certain way? Why can’t you serve a cake modelled like the iron throne? Open your mind and cook how you want to. F*** the rules.
About Paperblanks: 25 years ago, we created Paperblanks to help keep book heritage alive and vital in our modern age, and to offer an inspiring space for people to express themselves. Thanks for joining us on this journey! For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.