Food is where the heart is – in conversation with Meg Wilson

Meg Wilson is Brighton born and bred. She has been building a reputation for herself in the city’s vibrant hospitality industry for 16 years. Garnering experience in a variety of popular pubs and well-renowned kitchens, she has also turned her hand to working within Brighton’s lively event management scene. 

Eight years of those were spent with the Laines Pub Co. before branching out and forging a place in Brighton’s thriving culinary scene.

Five years ago, she made the full transition over to the cheffing world. She helped create Sin Shack at The White Rabbit, serving delicious food with her own signature style. She has now joined the team at The Urchin in Hove, where she continues to delight patrons with her vast array of dishes. Her dishes are a mixture of the traditional and the new and exciting. 

I had the fortune to discuss myriad topics with this driven young chef ranging from family favourites, comfort food, all the way to death row last meals.

It’s apparent you’re truly passionate about food. Why and when did you decide this was the career for you? 

I’ve always been fascinated by food since a very young age. My Nan raised me and she would host these fantastic dinner parties. I would help her with them, and the passion grew from there. 

Hospitality seemed the perfect fit and pretty much as soon as I turned 18, I was running pubs. This then led to events management and festival work. 

I always wanted to be a Chef but never thought I’d have the capability. One day just before my 30th, I made a passing joke to my best friend about how I wanted to work in her kitchen. Three weeks later I was thrown in and let loose. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I can’t imagine not being in a kitchen now. 

It’s hard work and long hours but so worth it. 

What was the first meal you remember enjoying the most? 

Probably the first time my nan made me a lasagne. I was only little, but I remember watching her making it in absolute awe. After that I think it’s all I wanted to eat for about a month. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Nan if you’re reading this you know what to make next time I fly home!

With this issue discussing the importance of change – why is it so important for chefs to use seasonal produce? 

Seasonal produce is picked when it’s naturally designed to be harvested, so it is fresher and more flavoursome. That way you can let these ingredients shine through and speak for themselves. It also means you get to use local produce that hasn’t spent days in transit and is treated with chemicals and pesticides. 

On an environmental level, what do you feel needs changing in the food industry?

One of the things that I really struggled with when I first became a chef was the amount of packaging used. I remember having one supplier that had individually wrapped carrots which came in a plastic bag, and then a box… I was baffled. Some companies and suppliers are getting better. But there definitely needs to be a drastic change to control the amount of waste. 

What do you believe the Government can do to help in relation to educating the public and also helping smaller restaurants? 

I feel that the Government should reintroduce home economics into the school systems. It would encourage more people to cook fresh at home instead of buying packaged and pre-made foods. Allowing local authorities to set business rates to help encourage growth in areas that would otherwise be underdeveloped would also be a push in the right direction. 

While clearly a very knowledgeable chef, when it comes to relaxing at the end of a stressful day, do you have a comfort food that’s perfect for just relaxing on the sofa with? 

I’m a huge instant noodle nerd. You can literally throw anything you want into it and have dinner ready in 5 minutes. There’s always a stash of them hiding in my bag. If I’m not too tired and feeling a bit more adventurous then you can’t go wrong with a homemade katsu curry. And of course, that lovely after work glass of red to truly help relax. 

The Urchin has a superb reputation when it comes to its kitchen – why do you think that is? 

Well for starters everyone that works here really cares about what they do. They always put 100 percent into the dishes. The quality and freshness of the ingredients really show. We have a small core menu which allows us to do new daily specials using seasonal produce which keeps the creative juices flowing. I’ve only been here for a few months, but I feel incredibly lucky to work closely with some extremely talented people. I am forever learning new things from the guys here and genuinely wake up excited to get cracking at work. 

I’ve been watching quite a few dark documentaries recently, and Death Row last meals came up frequently. One person ordered three massive pizzas and a bucket of KFC chicken pieces and didn’t touch any of them as a protest. Another ordered as many pizzas as he could on the budget and asked for them to be delivered to people without homes. Another asked for one olive with the pit left in. Someone else just decided to forgo the food and requested the last part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He wanted to see the ending before he died – which was actually granted to him.

Some rather bizarre requests indeed. As a chef what would your last meal request be? 

Oysters… 100 percent. I found out during lock down I had become allergic to them which was heartbreaking! I think it would be a perfect last meal as I’d get to one up my executioner and die happy and full of oysters before they got the chance.

And finally, on a less morose note, if you had to cook for a big friends or family dinner, what would be your go-to dishes to cheer up an entire room? 

I am obsessed with Asian food and it is my usual go to when hosting for friends or family. My folks live in Tenerife and I’ve spent a huge part of my life over there. So, I adore both Canadian and Spanish cuisine, especially as whenever I go home I get to cook with freshly caught fish and seafood and homegrown fruit and veg. I would definitely do a big Canadian spread. There’s something about sharing good food and wine that instantly makes everything and everyone feel a little better.

Follow Meg Wilson on Instagram @chef__zilla

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