23 January 2023 · Author Profile
Max Halley created a storm in London’s food world with his radical rethinking of the sandwich. Trained as some of London’s best restaurants, he ditched his formal chef’s whites to open Max’s Sandwich Shop in 2014. The book which captured this entirely new take on the sandwich, written with chef pal Ben Benton, became a Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller. As Max’s Sandwich Book comes to ckbk, we caught up with its outspoken author for his take on sandwiches and much more… [Parental advisory, explicit lyrics!]
So what’s the formula for a good sandwich?
Hot, cold, sweet, sour, crunchy, soft - it is in these three contrasts that our brains find deliciousness.
You travelled in the US before opening the shop. How do the UK and US differ in terms of sandwich culture? What’s a great American sandwich?
The US is decades ahead of us. ‘What’s a great American sandwich?’ What’s a great American band… The spectrum of available answers renders the question unanswerable as the plethora of options is too broad. There are all the Jewish deli type sandwiches of New York and LA, all the New Orleans sandwiches like the Po’ Boy and the muffaletta… all the sandwiches of Southern BBQ culture… the seafood sandwiches of Maine… I could go on forever. They are all amazing.
For me the individual sandwich that stands out the most is one I had in New Orleans before opening the sandwich shop. One of its fillings was listed as ‘Roast Beef’ so I ordered it thinking of English type, pink, rare roast beef. When it came it was braised beef and BOOM my tiny little mind was blown, I could put stew in a sandwich!!! That moment changed everything and made me think about what could be put between two bits of bread completely differently.
You seem quite obsessed with crisps and with crunchiness? [the book has a whole chapter on crunchy bits to add to sandwiches]
It does hahaha.Sadly, we live in a world where people believe lettuce is crunchy. Piss off. Lettuce is fresh - it adds freshness to a sandwich. Crisps and other deep fried things are crunchy!! When will people learn?? Hahhaaha
Ingredients which people might not think about including in sandwiches, but which you would encourage them to try?
Anything!!! Thought about right, anything can go in a sandwich. I think, one of our problems with waste and leftovers is that people don’t want to eat the same thing two nights in a row. If you looked at leftovers differently, and put them in a sandwich, you could eat the same things, two nights in a row, in ways where they seem COMPLETELY different.
Things which have no business being in sandwiches?
Bloody cheese. I hate cheese, but that’s just a personal thing. I don’t mind it melted, but a cold slab of cheese to me is a mystery. ‘Mmmmm, what this sandwich needs is something, cold, waxy and disgusting that tastes like it’s gone off and probably has mould on it.’ No thanks, I’m alright.
You’re not a fan of Tuna Melts?
I’ve moved on. I’m less angry about them than I used to be. I’m angry about other stuff now - one must progress.
You opened Max’s Sandwich Shop after learning your trade at some very prestigious London restaurants e.g. Arbutus, where you worked with Anthony Demetre (another ckbk author) had a Michelin star. It might seem a bit of a left turn to open a sandwich shop (even if it does mark the biggest leap forward in British sandwiches since the Earl of Sandwich himself). Did you consider going a more conventional route as a restaurant chef?
Of course. But it all seemed a bit dull. And I didn’t wanna work that much.
To what extent have your chef mentors influenced your approach to food and cooking?
In every sense. They have all, in their way, honed, altered, defined and educated my perceptions of deliciousness. And disgust hahahaha.
You’ve lived most of your life in London, but during the pandemic you moved to the West Country where you now have a couple of pubs. How’s it going with country life?
It’s like the fucking Darling Buds of May down here!! Totally wonderful!!
The pubs have pies and scotch eggs, and one has a speedboat in the beer garden. But do they do sandwiches?
Absolutely not. The only food they do is pickled eggs and bags of crisps. We have cutlery, napkins and sauces and are very happy for people to bring their own food in, we just don’t want to cook anything - they’re boozers.
Do you cook “normal” food at home? What’s a favourite meal?
Apart from Domino’s? Mine’s double pepperoni.
Any favourite conventional cookbooks? Or unconventional ones?
Many! I love cookbooks generally. Is this where I give a list of my ten favourite cookbooks?
[Yes it is! Watch out for a list of Max’s top 10 cookbooks, appearing here soon. Ed.]
Max show’s how it’s done…