In this week's Creative Conversation, Gabriel Waterhouse, head chef of eponymous The Water House Project tells us all about its journey from supper club to restaurant, the inspiration he finds within the markets of Marrakech and why East London embodies the meaning of style.
How would you describe your approach to cooking?
The menu changes completely on a monthly basis, so all the ingredients are hyper seasonal. Menu development plays a big part, as the way the tasting menu is formatted allows us to streamline the dishes and focus on one specific flavour per dish as opposed to presenting lots of ideas on one plate. We tend to veer away from the classics as they can be too familiar and instead, we like to discover different flavour combinations that make you think about what you’re actually eating.
There's always one key flavour in Gabriel's dishes at The Water House Project
Where did your passion for cooking first come from?
I went to a boarding school and there were no means for cooking independently, everything was done for you to a certain extent. Before a poorly planned gap year, I spent some of the time learning how to cook.
Over the years, The Water House Project has evolved from supper club to permanent restaurant – tell us a bit more about that journey...
The supper club was born out of my flat in Bethnal Green, where I would host two nights a week on top of a full-time job at Galvin La Chapelle. I found myself in a position where I was working pretty much all the time and I could take the supper club full time. From there it was like a snowball effect, we began moving from one place to the next, saving money in each venue to open The Water House Project each time in a bigger way.
What inspired the interior design of your restaurant?
The restaurant is informed by my upbringing in Northumberland which is wild and raw, it’s given me a respect for simplicity and an appreciation for a space that can be both beautiful and functional. I like functional spaces, without clutter and just the bare minimum so everything is used for a definitive purpose. I think that objects are more beautiful when they are used than when they are just sitting there. The space at The Water House Project is functional and easy to maintain, the focus is on the food and the experience.
The Water House Project's interiors were designed around the sentiment that a space should be both beautiful and functional
Which destinations do you love visiting most for their cuisine?
I have weirdly not travelled a lot for the sole purpose of food, as much as I would love to, I just haven’t had the opportunity. I visit Kenya pretty regularly as that’s where my in-laws live and there are aspects of the cooking that I pick up on and enjoy. Marrakech really stood out as an inspiring place for food, there is a lot of joy and bustle in the plazas at night and an intensity that I find beautiful. London is also great for food, each borough is made up of different cultures and food influences, you can learn about food by just looking at the area around you.
The joy and bustle of the markets in Marrakech
Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home...
I’m not very sentimental when it comes to physical objects. It took me a while to look around my house and find one specific object that I’m attached to. When you’re younger the attachment is a lot stronger, but as you grow older you become a lot more selective. One thing that came to mind as particularly precious is a painting by my brother; portrait artist, Joshua Waterhouse - he’s painted Trish, my wife and I think it’s beautiful.
What makes a house a home, to you?
I’d say it’s mostly to do with the people that you share your house with, unless you’re with people you care about it could be anywhere. I like to live somewhere quiet, and I think that stems from my upbringing.
Where is your home away from home?
Kenya, which is where my in-laws live. I feel kind of at home there now in a nice way. There’s still excitement surrounding it as it’s a very different home environment from my own.
Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?
East London or Hackney is a good representation of me and the restaurant as well. I think that East London has a great style to it, it’s unpretentious. People sometimes find East London intimidating, but I like how anonymous it is. Everyone's just doing their thing... it’s relaxed and natural.
For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?
The location is important. My family has spent a few holidays in Scotland – we all take it in turns to play ‘Come Dine With Me’. So, holidays with family are usually centred around the food and the kitchen. Trish has a good tip, she always brings a candle with her, whenever we go away or stay somewhere new, it sets the mood straight away wherever you are... Amazing that a little touch of light can change the whole atmosphere.
For Gabriel, the kitchen of a holiday home is an essential part of the perfect stay