Nicholas Balfe is co-owner and Head Chef of the award-winning restaurant Salon in London’s Brixton Market, and his recipes have featured in the Guardian Cooks magazine. He gives his tips on cooking seasonally and inventively, with a special recipe to help you forget the winter blues…

How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been in London for more than 10 years, though my roots are definitely in Yorkshire where I grew up. My first job was in a kitchen, washing the pots at my mate’s Dad’s restaurant in Harrogate. There were about a dozen teenagers working there at any one time, and despite the obnoxious, drunk chefs, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in my professional life.

After uni, I briefly held down a ‘proper’ job, but the Monday morning “status meetings” had me grimacing into my notebook, and I knew that office life wasn’t for me. After dossing around Spain for a bit, finding not only myself but the perfect ham, I came back to London and cracked on in the kitchen, getting down to a bit of hard graft. Call it an entrepreneurial spirit, or just plain fool hardiness, it wasn’t long before I had my own place.

What are your memories of family meal times growing up?
Both my parents cooked. My dad trained at the Cordon Bleu school. In the week my mum regularly knocked up fantastic dinners, while at weekends my dad would bake bread and cut himself while showing off with his too-sharp knives.

Where are your favourite places to eat?
My approach when eating out is to either go cheap, cheerful, and tasty, or splash out. I love the Silk Road in Camberwell – a crazy, chilli pepper-fuelled canteen where they serve incredible noodles, dumplings, soups and skewers from Xing Xang, China’s most eastern province. There’s also Mangal in Dalston where you get meat, grill, flames, smoke and flavour. Turkish food does not get any better. For splashing out, St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields is my favourite place to eat out in London. It has inspired hundreds of chefs of my generation. Not only is their offal-flecked menu to die for, their puddings are as exceptional as they are filling. Their bacon sandwich is, in my opinion, the best breakfast in town.

Tell us about Salon
‘Seasonal and inventive’ is the general concept: find out what’s good at the moment, and see what goes together. We follow the British seasons, but aren’t bound by any traditions or conventions of British cooking. It’s a creative outlet for me and the other chefs. Since I’ve never been taught to cook, for me, putting a dish together is about feeling and intuition. That’s the approach I want my team to take too. Above all, the whole experience should be fun, both for the customers and the staff.

What are your top tips for cooking seasonally?
There’s a saying in Italy: “What grows together, goes together” I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But also, think about balance of flavours and textures. What do you need to counter a rich, creamy sensation? Or something sharp and zingy. I’m a big fan of using sweetness in savoury dishes (you’ll often find fruit paired with meat or fish at Salon), but don’t be afraid of sourness and bitterness too. Taste as you go, tweak and alter things, be brave, enjoy yourself.

What are the best ingredients to look out for at this time of year?
This time of year is all about citrus from the Southern Mediterranean, shellfish from the British coast (we get ours from Cornwall, Brighton and Scotland), roots in all their many glorious forms (they get sweeter and more intensely flavoured after the first frosts) and brassicas – cabbages, broccoli, chard and the like. But the thing I look forward to most at this time of year is rhubarb. The indoor ‘forced’ variety, grown by candlelight in huge warehouses in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle, is a sight to behold – slender, sturdy crimson stems (I’m trying my best not to make them sound phallic; they’re not) – and they have an incredibly sharp, palate-gripping flavour. You’ll find it on our menus in some form from January through until March.

Rhubarb & Hibiscus Sorbet

1 kilo forced rhubarb
300g caster sugar
50g glucose (optional, but recommended)
A handful of dried hibiscus / sorrel tea
50g water
One egg white

Chop the rhubarb into 2cm chunks, and toss in the sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes to mascerate.

Put the hibiscus, glucose and water into a pan and bring to a boil. Allow to cool, then strain through a fine sieve.

Bake the rhubarb in a covered pot in a moderate oven (160 degrees) for 20 minutes until very tender.

Blend the rhubarb in a high-speed blender with the hibiscus syrup and the egg white until it’s very smooth.

Transfer to an ice-cream maker if you have one (we don’t), or break up the crystal every 30 minutes or so as the sorbet freezes.

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