Ones to watch: Kray Treadwell

Ones to watch: Kray Treadwell

by Pete Dreyer 01 January 2020

Formerly head chef at Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind the Curtain, Kray Treadwell burst to fame on Great British Menu in 2019 with a series of impressive dishes. We caught up with him in the midst of his plans to open a new venture in Birmingham.

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Pete is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Pete is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Many a talented chef has been catapulted to stardom through the power of television, and for those who watched the 2019 series of Great British Menu, Kray Treadwell’s imaginative cooking certainly stood out from the crowd. Few chefs in the competition embraced the brief – a celebration of fifty years of British music – with as much personality and style as Kray; he conjured a ray wing into a mohican to celebrate punk rock, highlighted the ascendance of grime with a grimy veal sweetbread and hot sauce dish, and paid tribute to Brummie legend Ozzy Osborne and Black Sabbath with a Sunday roast that riffed on the band’s purple and black palette.

His dishes are reminiscent of another hyper-creative, outside-the-box chef who made his name on the show some years ago. Michael O’Hare’s Great British Menu dishes were as much conceptual art as food, but they delivered on both fronts to make him one of Great British Menu’s great successes. It should come as little surprise that Michael has been an important mentor for Kray over the last few years – the latter worked his way up through the brigade at The Man Behind the Curtain to become Michael’s head chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant.

‘I knew about Michael from when he was at The Blind Swine,’ says Kray. ‘I started there and then followed him to The Man Behind the Curtain – there was nowhere else I wanted to work really.’ Three-and-a-half years later, Kray had worked his way up to head chef, though he deftly credits that to chance. ‘I just fell into the role when other people left,’ he shrugs, ‘and then I was head chef for nearly two years.’

On Great British Menu, it was clear that Kray’s rise up the ranks was down to more than just luck. His dishes thrilled throughout the show and won him a place in the final of the competition, even if they didn’t always go down a storm with the judges. His dehydrated ray wing – styled to look like a punk-rock mohican haircut – was particularly divisive, with some marking him badly as a result. ‘The thing is, you didn’t have to eat it,’ Kray laments. ‘It was just a prop. You could eat it if you wanted – it didn’t taste of much but it looked cool as fuck!’ The influence of working with Michael is crystal clear in his food – Kray has a boundless imagination and his dishes burst with artistry, but there is substance to match the style and Kray backs up his ideas with solid cooking and smart flavour combinations. When you’re pushing the boundaries of food and art you can’t expect to please everyone, but when Kray pulls it off the results are spectacular.

Originally from Solihull on the southern edges of Birmingham, Kray got his start courtesy of another of Solihull’s finest chefs – the ‘Yummy Brummie’ himself, Glynn Purnell. ‘I was at college and I needed a second job so I could make some extra money to go on holiday,’ he recalls, ‘so I went into The Asquith in Edgbaston and asked if I could wash up for them.’ After a month or two at the sink, Kray started coming in on his nights off to learn more about the cooking side of things and Glynn gave him a job as a chef. He worked his way through starters, pastry, meat and fish sections and a year later, with higher aspirations, he started working for Glynn at Purnell’s – Birmingham’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

He spent three years at Purnell’s all in all. Aside from a bit of time at Grace in Chicago and a few months at The Hand and Flowers, Kray credits Glynn and Michael with his kitchen education. ‘Both of them equally, I think,’ he says. ‘I didn’t ever want to go and work at loads of places, I’m glad I’ve only worked for those two.’

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Charcoal beef with biscuits and gravy , cabbage tuile and blue cheese
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'Peach New Romance' – Peach with sea fennel, apple marigold, white chocolate mousse and rose syrup

Kray has since left Leeds and returned home to Birmingham, where he has been cooking at Craft Dining Rooms ahead of the launch of his own restaurant in 2020. A couple of his popular Great British Menu dishes have made an appearance, alongside others like pork cheek with miso caramel, fermented gem lettuce and dried ceps, or coffee and burnt white chocolate donuts. ‘I don’t want to do fine dining food anymore, to be honest with you – I want to do food for everyone,’ he explains. ‘Food can be elaborate and still be affordable.

‘The thing with Birmingham is that there’s no spectrum,’ he continues. ‘There’s either chain restaurants or fine dining restaurants; there’s nothing in between. If you don’t have the money to spend at Purnell’s, where else are you going? You’re either going to Wetherspoons or another chain, because that’s all Birmingham has to offer. I want to bridge that gap.’

Kray’s new restaurant La Mariposa will open for good in March in partnership with Selina – a brand new hotel in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter that also includes a cocktail, library, coffee shop and co-working spaces. The menu takes on a predominantly Latin-American vibe that matches the hotel, but crucially, La Mariposa will be affordable and accessible. Kray’s return to his home city is a big deal, and he’s clearly raring to get started. With Aktar Islam winning a Michelin star at Opheem this year and chefs like Kray returning to the city to make their mark, Birmingham’s culinary scene is firmly on the rise.