Benji Hinchliffe was born in London and grew up around Norwich. Like many chefs it was his Mum who ignited his passion for food with her home-cooked family meals spanning world cuisines – curries, Lebanese and Greek food were mainstays and rare exotic options for Norwich in the late 70s and early 80s.
After studying catering at Norwich City College Benji got his first job at countryside restaurant Cornwallis Arms in rural Norfolk. Under the calm and inspirational guidance of head chef and mentor, Kevin Booth, who sadly died last year, Benji learnt the importance of using quality, local ingredients – particularly the preparation of game which would arrive at the kitchen freshly shot – and cooking seasonally.
Seeking adventure, sun and fun Benji then relocated to Ibiza where he spent ten summers as the head chef at the Kasbar on the beach in San Antonio while wintering back in the UK in a similarly hectic Leeds restaurant where a DJ dominated the dining room!
Five years ago, Benji made the move to Brighton, in a bid to stay by the sea, and started work as the sous-chef in the newly opened La Choza. He swiftly rose through the ranks and now runs the whole kitchen where he loves the atmosphere, the fun and friendliness of the team and, of course, the freshness and uniqueness of the menu. It’s particularly rewarding to Benji that everything at La Choza is made from scratch and he’s rightly proud of La Choza’s homemade chorizo with its 110 different types of chilli and 10 different spices carefully blended with the finest pork to create a chorizo that is as authentic as it gets. As he says, ‘it tastes like home’ is the best compliment any chef can receive.
Personally, Benji loves the fish tacos – particularly when there’s crab and scallops on the specials board – and he likes to mix the green and habanero salsa for his ultimate kick (he knows that the salsas make the authenticity of La Choza’s menu, there are five already and more in the pipeline). With an all-time favourite taco of duck breast with hibiscus chilli jam he’s looking forward to creating more glorified tacos this year – going all out with lobster, beef fillet, Mexican truffles and more (watch this space).
Highlights of Benji’s time at La Choza include coping with the epic mud of Glastonbury when La Choza’s airstream parked up & served up in the Common, creating a unique dish for The Set’s birthday bash and his tasting sojourn to Mexico (more on that soon).
Benji says he cooks for a living because of the satisfaction of ‘putting a smile on people’s faces and making them happy – there’s not many jobs where you can do that’ – perhaps that’s why La Choza’s fans are such a smiley bunch.