kerth gumbs
Images: Lateef Photography

Meet the chef: Kerth Gumbs of Fenchurch at the Sky Garden

18 May 2023 | |By Annie Lewis

The accoladed chef has brought his Caribbean culinary style to the fine-dining destination at one of London’s tallest buildings. Here, we discuss his career so far...

When Kerth Gumbs was just a teenager, he had to make a life-defining choice between pursuing a sporting career in track and field or working as a chef. Growing up in Anguilla – a small island in the Caribbean with a population of 15,000 – food and sport were Gumbs’ two passions. While he studied cooking at school, sport, in his younger days, always took priority, gaining him a scholarship in the hopes of becoming a professional athlete. Despite competing at an international level, the scholarship fell through and Gumbs reverted to his passion for cooking — and luckily for London’s restaurant scene, he was enticed to the capital. 

Gumbs’ first taste of a prestigious kitchen came when he enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2004, but thanks to a mother who aspired to be a chef and was renowned for her culinary skills in Anguilla, food had long influenced his life. Now well-versed in Michelin-star kitchens and award-winning restaurants – from Tom Aikens’ eponymous flagship to Ormer Mayfair – Gumbs tributes his signature style to flavours and techniques used during his childhood. So popular is his style that Gumbs won Great British Menu in 2020, now judges Young MasterChef and was invited to head the fine dining restaurant at the Sky Garden at the end of last year. 

Fenchurch, situated on the 37th floor of the Fenchurch building (often referred to as the walkie talkie), serves dishes that combine the best British ingredients with Caribbean flavours and influences from Gumbs’ Anguillan roots. Expect yellowtail ceviche with green mango, lumina lamb rump with plantain caponata and pulled shoulder croquette, and spiced halibut with mussels and sea vegetables, alongside a delectable choice of cocktails such as Flight to Havana, featuring rum, fresh mint, demerara sugar and Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut. 

sky garden

Here, Gumbs reflects on his childhood and culinary influences – and why working at the Sky Garden is a dream come true. 

Tell me about your childhood.

I grew up in Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean island whose economy relies almost exclusively on tourism. When I had to decide whether I wanted to do auto mechanics, woodwork or food in school, I went for food and nutrition. I was working in a five-star hotel on the island as a waiter when I got a scholarship to pursue my passion in track and field and even competed professionally in 2002. When the scholarship fell through and I had to look at other alternatives, I spoke to my father about pursuing a career in cooking. This was always an interest of mine and my mum aspired to be a chef; she was a very well-known cook on my island.

I flew to London in 2004 to study at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, where I obtained a grand diploma in French cuisine and patisserie, before joining some notable kitchens.

How did you find the transition from Anguilla to London?

I love London as a city. The buzz and diversity makes it a really special and exciting place but I don’t like the weather. I very much miss and prefer the Caribbean sunshine, sunsets and cool sea breeze.

How was your training at Le Cordon Bleu?

It was pretty full on studying both cuisine and patisserie at the same time but it was fantastic training. The graduation ceremonies were always pretty good too as they were hosted in well-known establishments like The Savoy and Intercontinental Hotels.

Where did you begin your professional career?

My first ever job was at Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant Quagalinos. From there, I went to Tom Aikens, which was a very full on and intense kitchen, followed by L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. I learnt so much about food techniques and quality produce before I moved on to the legendary Chris Corbin and Jeremy King restaurant The Wolseley where I had to learn about managing myself, my temperament and adapting to a sheer and intense volume of work.

"I certainly enjoy trying to offer young and aspiring chefs true expectations and honest guidance when it comes to becoming a chef. I hope to see more young people starting their careers and coming through the doors."

Kerth Gumbs
Which one was your favourite and why?

Although Restaurant Tom Aikens was taxing on emotions at times, I would say it was still the best in terms of pure culinary creativity, techniques, food presentation and precise execution. I also really enjoyed working in Singapore for one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants which was an exciting open kitchen and bar concept.

What drew you to Fenchurch at The Sky Garden?

The location is a must mention and important factor to note. I’ve spent most of my career cooking underground or at ground level, and Fenchurch (located in the iconic Sky Garden) is quite a contrast. I enjoy working and creating in a space that’s up on the 37th floor and the beautiful skyline surroundings are a bonus. Through conversations and the exchanging of ideas, the team was totally in sync and the friendly, approachable people represent all the good things hospitality stands for.

What's your favourite dish on the menu and why?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. My favourite dishes on my new tasting menu are the spiced scallops with cauliflower textures and toasted chicken butter sauce. I also love the crab Johnny cakes with Scotch Bonnet mayo. From the à la carte menu, the new yellowtail ceviche with green mango and avocado is delicious and would have to be up there with one of my favourites.

Back in 2020, which was a turbulent year for everyone, how did it feel to win the Great British Menu?

I still feel very fortunate to have made it that far in the competition. I’ve long admired the show and wasn’t sure when I would be ready to compete but I’d always wanted to do it and like to test myself – and it was a test indeed. The competition was a rollercoaster [but] my overall experience was awesome and I really enjoyed the process.

When did you become a judge for Young MasterChef?

I became a judge for Young MasterChef in 2022 when we filmed for the first series which aired earlier this year on BBC Three and iPlayer. I certainly enjoy trying to offer young and aspiring chefs true expectations and honest guidance when it comes to becoming a chef. I hope to see more young people starting their careers and coming through the doors. At Fenchurch, I’m always on the lookout for people with “an able body and willing mind or willing bodies and able minds” as I like to say. Cooking techniques and discipline can be taught, learnt and achieved through time, patience, hard work and application.

kerth gumbs
What is your favourite London restaurant?

I’ve been to The Monarch Theatre, a restaurant paying homage to DC Comics characters, and I thought the tasting menu experience was very well curated. It’s definitely an experience to try out and is headed up by Karl O’Dell who I competed against in the 2020 Great British Menu.

Are there any other London chefs you're impressed with at the moment?

There are a few chefs that I think are doing great stuff, such as Ayo Adeyemi of Akoko restaurant. I see what he’s doing for west African cuisine and where he’s taking it which is really interesting. Ben Murphy of Launceston Place is another impressive chef and his cooking is consistent and always elegant.


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