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An Interview with Columba C. Cassidy

Columba Cassidy is an independent food industry consultant currently working with the HIIT Kitchen team. Cas has an incredible career behind him and is a true culinary mastermind. He's worked all over the world, from London to Paris to Los Angeles with diverse experiences, including working at multiple Michelin-starred restaurants. He now runs Chef Cas Consultancy and is a key driver of the success of HIIT Kitchen. We asked Cas all about his work history, his love of food, and to explain more about what excites him about working with HIIT Kitchen.

by Alicia Drewnicki

Chefcas

Hi Cas! First of all, please can you tell us what your job at HIIT Kitchen entails?
I run an independent food industry consultancy, so my business links into HIIT on a consultancy basis, delivering advice, culinary business architecture and financial planning. My company delivers consultancy services to a number of clients...at present we’re reconstructing many elements of the HIIT business with Rob and Kris, the founders.

What excited you about HIIT Kitchen when you first discovered the company?
Rob and Kris approached me about doing some work with them, and we connect as business people - the passion is the connection. It’s a team game and the brand name and food concept are so strong. It immediately resonated with me. When I saw the concept, I knew this had legs, but Rob and Kris are HIIT, and it was their drive and determination as two young men that was the real interest. It takes great courage to do what they do...start a business you know little about, and just go for it...it’s a great way to be in life. So I have a lot of respect for them, and as the company they’re about to embark on some amazing new directions..

What are your earliest food memories, and did you always want to work in food?
I always loved my craft as a chef, and food - I fell in love with many years ago and still that relationship is going strong. I suppose my earliest food memory would be the smell of my father’s greenhouse in Ireland, my grandmother’s apples tart, good pastry and loads of cinnamon. The fishing in Ireland has ancient memories for me too, watching the salmon fishing in Donegal, and getting a free flounder was always a treat, my dad and I would cook it when we got home.

Can you tell us a bit about your work history and any career highlights?
I always tried to keep a trajectory as a chef, and there's always so much to learn, I’ve worked in London, Dublin, Paris and Los Angeles, and they’ve all impacted me positively as a chef. Each city had something to offer my career. I suppose cooking for superstars was always fun, and there’s been plenty! But to highlight cooking for my children was the greatest challenge, and the most pleasurable, they’re also my strongest critics!

What was it like working at Michelin starred restaurants? Is it as high pressure as we imagine it to be?
It’s a deadly addictive cocktail of speed, precision and adrenalin, and only for the strong of heart! It’s a great place to train, the discipline of the kitchen is tense, and the treatment of ingredients and technique is insane. William Sitwell called it, “the Madness of Michelin,” and it is a tough environment...but I would recommend it to any young chef who’s serious about their career..and yes the pressure is serious

What are the standout best meals you’ve ever eaten out, and secondly, created yourself?
I don't do favourites as a rule, and there are too many amazing experiences and ideas to identify one, but a stand out would be Helen Dâ Rose at San Sebastian, 12 course tasting was unreal at that level, and my mate Pasinhas whose ideas are amazing - he has a great pop-up in Stockholm. I did an amazing project called “Edible Opera” with a great team and ENO. Street food in Bangkok is amazing, getting drive-through in Los Angeles, or great breakfast in a back lane in LA is a good one too!

What sort of food trends are happening in the UK right now?

Obviously Covid-19 has impacted how we think about how we get our food now in the UK, and as a food destination, we’re reaching out for new directions in high protein and interesting non-animal proteins. Products coming in the pipeline are exciting such as Swedish pulled oats, Seitan, and mushroom burgers etc...jackfruit is also big now. So alternative proteins are on the rise and bigger than ever. What’s cool also are the ancient grains such as faro, freekeh, and spelt. We've some exciting development ideas in the pipeline at HIIT so watch this space.

Can you explain the process of how you use data/food trends to help influence decisions on future HIIT Kitchen menu choices?
Food trends is about research and working with supply chain management. The consumer always drives these trends with sales figures from reliable sources.
Metrics in the correct hands always tells a story from the customer perspective. My consultancy is always about that story and making sense of it, so we can build a stronger business. But at the heart of HIIT business is great food, with an idea behind it, something we believe very strongly in. My job is to make a business that is profitable out of this belief...the metrics are the narrative that drive that story. So my consultancy business puts client first, using culinary business architecture to make it a success.

Do you have any chef heroes who have inspired you?
My mum, my mate Pedro Passihnias, Martin Lynch, a chef from my Dublin days and a great friend and mentor...MPW ( Marco Pierre White) - I always loved Marco, but I think Albert and Michelle Roux where powerful influences on me, watching their show as a teen on a Sunday on BBC was brilliant!

Any favourite cookery books you would recommend?
Yes “My Gastronomy” by Nico Ladenis, all about discipline and sauces…”Le Repertoire De La Cuisine” by Louis Saulnier was a power influence on me, and Anthony Bourdain's book "Kitchen Confidential" is a white knuckle ride!

On a standard weeknight, what are your go-to meals that you like to make at home?
Tortellini with my very own brilliant passata, it's the best. Irish Stew on a cold one, and M&S, you gotta get M&S. ALL chefs should eat and study M&S food, it's the retail Gold standard in my book. HIIT meals of course, and my amazing partner makes the best falafels...she's amazing. I make my bread for the children at home, the best sourdough is your own.

Have you got any top food hacks or kitchen tips you’d like to share?
Yes top hack, is buy Pharma Grade Ascorbic Acid, use it to keep your avocados top condition… and don't use cornflour for thickening sauce etc use Ultratex.. from a specialist supplier. Always work a day in advance when cooking… time matters.

What do you think are seriously underrated ingredients that deserve more credit?
Yeast is undervalued, I use it as seasoning in some dishes...just dry sauté it to varying cooking degrees and taste it, it's amazing as seasoning like this and can be used as salt replacement.

How do you define good food?
I would define it as fresh ingredients, loved...when combined with research and patience, one can have amazing results when cooked with care and detail.

Why should people give HIIT Kitchen a try?
HIIT is healthy, scientifically measured, good value, and tastes amazing...it saves time in the kitchen and allows you to focus on other health matters in your life, such as working out, or taking more time to do the things that are important to you…

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Thanks to Cas for giving us an insight into your exciting world of food. If you'd like to keep an eye on what Cas is up to - you can find him on Twitter @Chefcas1 or Instagram @chefcas1. Keep an eye on the HIIT Kitchen blog for videos and more content with Cas coming soon!

Chefcas