We’re delighted to introduce Sam Cootes, the new chef at St John’s Innovation Centre, who will be joining the Bistro team.


We chat with Sam to find out more about his cooking style and culinary vision for the newly refurbished Bistro.

What attracted you to working at St John’s Innovation Centre?

I did some research about the innovation centre and began talks about what direction the innovation centre was heading and this was right up my street! I am looking for a kitchen that I can make my mark on, improve and expand. These are exciting times for the catering department at St John's Innovation Centre with the expansion of the kitchen and restaurant area and is something I really wanted to be part of. This position is also going to give me a better quality of work and life balance with the aspect of no split shifts, minimal evenings and weekend working which in turn will allow me to spend quality time with my wife and three young children.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

My career working in professional kitchens is now hitting 11 years, I originally come from a farming background and grew up on a farm in Sawston, Cambridgeshire. This in turn as I discovered was not the career path for me and I ended up working in kitchens from the age of 19, I started at the bottom as a kitchen porter and quickly progressed to a commis chef and over the years have worked my way up through the ranks in a wide variety of kitchens. I have worked in corporate contract catering and restaurant kitchens throughout Cambridgeshire as a head chef and chef manager.

How would you describe your style of cooking?

I would describe my cooking as traditional whilst incorporating new ideas and methods. I have always worked with fresh seasonal produce and have a broad culinary understanding. I enjoy using traditional methods, recipes and ingredients from all around the world and researching the provenance of any new dishes and ingredients that I use when creating dishes. I enjoy cooking with bold vibrant flavours and creating perfect balances of flavours.

Do you have a "signature dish" or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?

I don’t really have a signature dish but really do enjoy Asian styles and concepts, I really like the regional variances you get of the same dishes from a village to village. I like the craft skills involved in producing Asian inspired dishes, from the quick precise knife skills, the different cooking methods and the vibrancy of the ingredients used. It is amazing the balance and flavours you can create from using a few simple ingredients to the more unique and specialist produce.

Winter food is all about…

Winter food to me is all about slow cooking, braising and whole cuts of meat, root vegetables and strong herb flavours like sage, thyme and rosemary. It is also a great time of year for the brassica varieties of vegetables which are really trending and being recognised for their huge health benefits. It’s a great time of year with an abundance of variating colours, textures and flavours.

Predict three culinary trends for 2018…

• Pulses, seeds and different cereals I predict are going to become a massive part of diets eaten in Britain as they are being seen as a health alternative to normal glutinous products. They are great for the digestive system and create different textures to any kind of dish, they can be cooked in a variety of different methods to achieve different textures and flavour levels.

• The brassica vegetable family – This is currently taking diets to a new level, they are being recognised for their “super food properties” and have become a massive part of vegetarian and vegan diets also for people that are on personal diets and exercise programmes. They are most nutritious eaten raw i.e. in a smoothie but are not the most pleasant tasting to be eaten raw but add a little onion or garlic, some salt and pepper and a bit of heat, and soon they’ll be transformed into a tasty and healthy meal.

• Vegetable and plant-based diets - People are becoming more aware that eating meat every day is not great for you and as diets and life styles evolve there is more of a shift in peoples eating habits. This is also being heightened I believe by social media and the awareness of the effect mass production is having on our health and the planet.

If you could have lunch with any chef in the world, who would it be and why?

If I could have lunch with any chef I would have to say 100% Rick Stein, preferably on part of his Asian odyssey route. Around five years ago he produced a recipe book and television service whilst travelling the southern Asian coast. He is an inspiring chef because he wants to learn the traditional methods and recipes and cook them as they should be cooked with no messing around with the authenticity. He has a great understanding of fresh regional produce from all around the world and this I could talk about all day long!

What’s in store for SJIC Bistro?

As you all know big changes and development are happening in the catering area. inspired by this, we will also be developing the catering menus and food offerings. This will gradually be implemented over time so please keep coming down to taste and see the difference. Please  feel free to give me your feedback, good or bad as I feel it’s important for the customers to be involved in these changes.

The new SJIC Bistro menus will be introduced from Monday, 26th February 2018. We look forward to seeing you!