After cutting his culinary teeth at the Arts Theatre Café, Phil Owens now crafts menus that wow restauranteurs and rock stars alike. Try his Italian-inspired winter soup recipe.
Phil Owens, one time restaurant owner, now better known as a menu designer, has spent a short time in the kitchen at his apartment overlooking King’s Cross preparing a red cabbage, white bean and Italian sausage soup for Get Together. His soup made with a nod to Islington’s Italian deli heritage is delicious. Each bowl comes with a slice of toasted sourdough, as big as an iPad, and rubbed with a clove of garlic before being served.
“Leave it chunky when you cook it, then it’s more of a meal,” says Phil wisely. Soon I’m back outside in the cold, but I cycle back to Finsbury Park without noticing the chill – Phil’s soup has left me glowing!
Phil, who ran the Arts Theatre Café restaurant, just off Leicester Square, in the early 1980s is a huge fan of Italian dishes – indeed this soup is based on a recipe from the Italian-American cookery writer Marcella Hazan. “She was like the Delia of Italy,” says Phil. “I learnt all my Italian cooking from her four books, they are very well thumbed now.”
Phil had a head start on most of us when it comes to cooking for groups as he was brought up in a hotel in Somerset, so helped in the kitchen during the school holidays. “My mother’s sister was an amazing cook and I liked to watch her making wiener schnitzel and mince pies,” says Phil adding that his uncle and aunt were also in the hotel trade, and nearly bought the hotel in Torquay that was used by John Cleese and Connie Booth as the model for the 1970s TV sit-com, Fawlty Towers.
“I rebelled against my parents: I didn’t want to work in the kitchen. I came to London and worked for the Foreign Office but I’m greedy and when you love food it’s important to learn how to cook it… and then I ended up with the Arts Theatre Café. We specialised in Italian home cooking and were really well-known for our soups. We changed the menu every day, according to what was in the market.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Phil works on menu design for corporates, as well as fun events like big rugby game picnics, Elton John’s White Tie & Tiara party and gallery launches. His next venture is a food trends service, Flavour Feed, which marries his love of cooking with his instinct for the next big foody trend – something that supermarkets and airlines need to know. www.flavourfeed.com
One thing Phil does not plan to change is his love of Mediterranean food. “There’s a simplicity to Italian food and the way they eat: olive oil and vegetables. You have a small pasta course, then meat or fish and then veg treated with respect. It’s not too sauce based like French cooking, and I always serve cheese,” adds Phil grating the parmesan over his own helping of Winter Warmer Soup.