How I got here:
After I finished my City and Guild catering studies I moved from my home town in Bedfordshire down to London. At that point I’d only worked in a pretty disastrous hotel for one day a week, so starting an apprenticeship at Le Gavroche was a bit of a shock for me.
I only lasted four months, as it was all a bit too overwhelming. I left and went onto The Ritz, which had a much easier pace for someone straight out of college. I started as first commis, working on a couple of sections like fish and larder, making the sandwiches for afternoon tea. Everything was measured, everything needed to be same thickness and height and for an 18 year old kid it was quite laborious. It was however a good way into the trade and to learn discipline, and the pressure wasn’t as intense as it was at Le Gavroche.
After 14 months I got a job as demi chef de partie at Berts in Soho with Andy Magson, Paul Gaylers old sous chef at Indigo Jones. It was much closer knit than working at a big hotel like The Ritz. I was only there eight months when the owner went bust and did a runner. We were left without a penny, but that’s the way it works sometimes. These things all help you become the type of chef you are.
I went to The Halkin again as demi chef de partie about six weeks after Paul Gayler left. I worked with three Michelin-starred Gualtiero Marchesi, who was a fantastic chef. I was there for 18 months before I went off to the USA to do a couple of seasons. It was something I always wanted to do, more as a life experience than anything else as the food really wasn’t brilliant.
I came back to London to work at The Lanesborough again as chef de partie, but we were doing relatively large numbers so it was still a great experience. I then moved onto Les Saveurs with Richard Stewart, but when he left after eight months I went with him.
After that I worked in L’Escargot as junior sous, then back to Les Saveurs with Jean Christophe Novelli, and also Paul Heathcotes, before I got a job at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I took an £8k pay cut and drop back to chef de partie to work there, but it what I gained from there was massive.
After three years I moved onto the Greenway at Cheltenham where I got my first head chefs position, and that was hard work. After a year Novelli asked me to run the Capital Club for him in London, but it was the wrong move as nothing came of it in the end – I ended up working in the Golf Club at Brocket Hall instead.
From there I went to Wales and to Ynyshir Hall in Aberystwyth. I did three years there and got four rosettes, 8/10 in the Good Food Guide and a Michelin star. From a career point of view it was fantastic. But then the hotel was taken over by Von Essen and I felt I wouldn’t be given the same opportunities as its previous owners, so I left.
It so happened that Danesfield House approached me at that time to work as executive chef, but I thought the role was too big for me. So in 2007 I joined as head chef instead and they put in a separate kitchen for me with my own team. After almost 25 years as a chef I was made executive chef of the hotel in 2010, and now I oversee the entire food and beverage offer.
On life at Danesfield:
I love Danesfield; it’s a two way thing. Yes it took slightly longer than anticipated to get the accolades across the board but it doesn’t matter because I’ve got them now and I’m very grateful to Danesfield for sticking with me and believing in me. It’s great to have another star - it’s sweeter this time around because there’s more work gone into this one. Obviously we don’t stop there - I always want more and more we don’t rest on our laurels.
On a steady career progression:
I was 32 when I took my first head chef job. It was quite late but after the Lanesborough was when I started to get into the Michelin thing and develop a taste for that. But I wanted to learn as much as possible before I got too much responsibility. I remember I was 24 going for an interview at Amberley Castle in West Sussex as head chef, and one of the best things the interviewer said to me was that I’d be a liability to employ. It was absolutely the right thing for him to say. I thought I was a good cook but I didn’t know enough about food costs or handling staff or everything else around running a kitchen. I was quite happy to remain a chef de partie for so long as I moved about a fair bit. That helped me to learn a lot of different things from different people.
The most important thing I’ve learned:
That has to be patience. You have to realise that not everybody is of the same mindset as you and understands things in the same way as you. It doesn’t matter what size your brigade is either, you have to treat people as individuals - the way you handle one person is not necessarily the way you should treat someone else.
On my future:
I’d love to develop the food here in my restaurant and the Orangery I’d like to put orangery on the map as far as rosettes are concerned and go from there.