We grab a moment with Trinity and Bistro Union’s executive chef…
Coming from a family of chefs and cooks, did you ever entertain the idea of a different career path?
I feel very lucky to have only ever wanted to cook for a living and so started early. The truth of the matter is that I’m not much cop at anything else.
Your restaurants have won numerous awards and accolades – are there any other titles or awards in particular you have your eye on?
It’s a bit of a cliché but the biggest accolade we have is to be fully booked after seven years of trading. We have great, loyal customers so we must be doing something right! For me, notoriety and accolades should be directly linked to full dining rooms and robust businesses.
What’s your main ambition or career goal?
To be in control of my own destiny, stand out from the crowd and make the very most from what I was given. At this stage in my career, it’s about building a future with the amazing team I have around me.
Has this changed over time?
For sure – I owned my first restaurant at the age of 26. For the first five years, all I cared about was recognition and the next two weeks. Age brings wisdom and, with it, you develop a long-term view on things. Now, the importance of hospitality has become the be all and end all.
Trinity and Bistro Union have rather different concepts – what was your inspiration behind each?
As they are very close geographically, it’s key that they both serve a separate market. Trinity is a neighbourhood restaurant offering food and service that is both sophisticated and adult. Although it has its feet firmly planted on the floor, there is also a sense of occasion to Trinity.
Bistro Union is for everyday dining. It’s for families, it’s open all day and the menu is my take on the British food of my childhood – full of nostalgia and comfort. The bistro side of things is the tone and culture of the place, which is both informal and welcoming.
What is the concept behind your Cook & Son project?
The aim was to make a TV programme which went right back to the source of real food, and discover the people and processes, all translated through the eyes of a child. Children ask incredible questions that adults don’t, and they have a fascination that is infectious. Shooting for two weeks in a camper van with my son, my dog, and the whole country to discover was an absolute joy. It translates through the programme and will stay with us for a long time to come.
What inspired you to take on your mentoring work and in what ways do you aim to help aspiring chefs? I could quite easily have ended up as a run-of-the -mill chef, cooking average food in an average place, still living back in Essex in a two-bed semi. It was the chances that a few people took on me, and the opportunities they put in front of me that have enabled me to carve out a good life doing what I love. I’m forever grateful for that and so want to do my part to give something back. I regularly work with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts – who trained me – to nurture and mentor young chefs in the industry.
What piece of advice do you give out the most to young hopefuls?
Never think you have learned even a fraction of what there is to learn. Plan your route over the next ten years and know where you’re headed. Take every opportunity you’re presented with. Humility is always the best course of action. Ohh and ‘hollow ships make loud noises’, but that normally just baffles them!
Do you always do the cooking at home, and do you still enjoy it as much after a whole day of service?
I love cooking at home but it’s a very different skill and experience. I’m a professional chef and, without being precious, I simply need all of my space, gadgets and team to make the magic happen.
How long and how much experimentation does it take to perfect a new recipe?
More than you would think. A truly great recipe will be seamless for the kitchen to achieve, outstanding for the guest, profitable for the business and unique and true to the original concept of the restaurant. These truly great recipes are few and far between, let me tell you.
Where is your favourite place to eat out?
Bone Daddies at the moment. But I’m fickle…or maybe inquisitive!
Now you have two successful restaurants, regular TV work and published books, what’s your next step?
I’m contemplating trying to enjoy it. God forbid…!