The Fork in the Road: Clare Smyth

In the latest of a series of interviews with top chefs for The Caterer, in which I examine the turning points that led them on their path to success, Clare Smyth talks about her journey to becoming the UK’s first three-Michelin-starred female chef

7718153Things happen by chance, and it just so happened that when I was 14 and working at a local restaurant in Northern Ireland, my head chef gave me a book on classical sauces. It was this book that ignited my interest in reading about fine food. It spurred me on to read more and more cookbooks and ultimately led me on my path to becoming a chef.

The very first cookbook I bought for myself was Anton Mosimann’s Cuisine à la Carte. From there I went on to read the Roux brothers and the more I read, the more I came to understand what fine dining was. That really inspired me and made me realise I wanted to be a chef at the top level.

As soon as I left school, I went to England to go to Highbury College in Portsmouth. I got an apprenticeship and worked four days a week at Grayshott Health Spa in Surrey. I was lucky enough to have a great mentor there and I remember him being really surprised by my knowledge given my young age. But everything I knew, I had learned from books.

After working at Bibendum and the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, for a while, I decided to go Australia for six months and did a number of stages at restaurants around Sydney. When I returned to the UK, I knew I wanted to get into a top kitchen. I applied for positions at most of the two- and three-Michelin-starred restaurants and did trials at the Fat Duck, the Waterside Inn, Le Gavroche and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which had just got its third star. I knew from the moment I set foot in the kitchen that it was the place for me. I felt like I belonged right from the start.

It was by far the toughest kitchen I had ever been in. Gordon was there every day and the standards were incredibly high. It was like a military operation and almost like boot camp; you were either good enough or you weren’t. But I had expected it to be hard and that’s why I went there: I wanted to learn from the best. I loved the discipline; there was an energy about it that was just incredible and I knew that if I could handle it and thrive in this tough environment, I would be good enough to make it one day.

WORKING WITH ALAIN DUCASSE
After three-and-a-half years and working my way up from demi chef de partie to senior sous chef, I decided that I wanted to go and work in another three-star kitchen. One of the chefs I had always been drawn to was Thomas Keller, so I went to the US and did stages at Per Se and the French Laundry in 2004. After that, I knew I had to go and work with Alain Ducasse and I managed to beg my way into the kitchen at Le Louis XV in Monaco.

Working at Louis XV was the second biggest turning point in my career. Again, right from the moment I arrived, I knew it was where I was meant to be. I stayed for 18 months and it was an amazing place to work and a completely different environment from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The head chef, Franck Cerutti, was a really happy, gentle soul who would come into the kitchen every day with a big smile on his face. He was as passionate as Gordon during service – especially when something went wrong – but he was just a totally different spirit and very much himself all the time.

The brigade was much bigger, with 26 chefs, but we were like a big family and I’m still in touch with many of the chefs I worked with back then. The produce was phenomenal and some of the finest I have ever worked with to this day. And while the cooking was very, very classical in its roots and most things were cooked à la minute, the simplicity but precision of the cooking, coupled with the passion for the product, was simply incredible.

7718152RETURNING TO LONDON
When Alain opened his restaurant at the Dorchester in London, he offered me the position of executive sous chef. But at the same time, Gordon was opening his restaurant in Paris and asked me to come back to Royal Hospital Road as head chef. It was a difficult decision to make, but I knew I had to take the head chef position with Gordon – it was too good an opportunity to pass on. Alain was very angry when I told him and I remember feeling down about having upset the best chef in the world. But then one of the other chefs said: “You’ve just been offered jobs by two of the best chefs in the world – you have nothing to be down about!”

Until I started at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, I didn’t quite understand what would happen and the amount of pressure I would find myself under. I was the first woman in the UK to head up a three-Michelin-starred kitchen, so there was a lot of interest from the media. I knew there was also a chance I could be the first woman in the UK to lose three stars. I was never really confident about retaining the stars and it was something I was very nervous about for a long time.

I didn’t take holiday for the first two years, as I was so determined to make sure that every single plate of food that left the pass was right. It wasn’t until a few years after retaining the three stars that I started to feel comfortable. I slowly managed to find the confidence to put my own touch on the restaurant, to make changes and evolve things. When I became chef-patron in 2012, I began to feel like I could own the three stars.

Now, after eight years at the helm, I feel like I have done most things I could have done. I have been awarded an MBE, received five AA rosettes, three Michelin stars, won Chef of the Year and achieved 10/10 in the Good Food Guide. But on a personal level, I have a lot more I want to achieve. That’s why I am opening my own restaurant.

The Chef Shortage Facing the US Hospitality Industry

In my latest feature for The Staff Canteen, I speak to two of Los Angeles’ top chefs about the chef shortage facing the US hospitality industry.

The topic of the skills shortage is hotting up both sides of the Atlantic. Even the USA’s finest restaurants complain that hiring has become incredibly difficult and there’s no solution in sight. It’s not just one single problem that’s to blame but a mélange of issues that are conspiring to put the industry at a crisis. Too many restaurants are opening and there aren’t enough people to work in them; pay is poor and the wage discrepancy between front- and back-of-house staff is putting people off working in kitchens. And then there’s the generation of those entitled millenials, who demand instant success and refuse to work their way up from the bottom. I spoke to two of Los Angeles’ top chefs about how the chef shortage is affecting their businesses, why they think they’re having to face this crisis in the first place and what they’re doing to overcome it.

Timothy_HollingsworthTimothy Hollingsworth is the chef proprietor of Otium, a new restaurant in Downtown that is redefining Los Angeles’ dining scene. The former chef de cuisine of the French Laundry, James Beard Award winner and erstwhile Bocuse d’Or competitor says laws and attitudes need to change for the industry to overcome the chef shortage.

Josiah Citrin, chef patron of the two-Michelin-starred Mélisse in Santa Monica, meanwhile, says the skills shortage is nothing new. But the constant flow of information that is available on the internet coupled with a new generation lacking the determination to go through the ranks is making it worse.

Why do you think there is a chef shortage and skills crisis facing the hospitality industry?
Timothy Hollingsworth: I think it’s mainly because there is a change in people, with the millennials, who are very conscious of how they spend their time and how much they want to work. The old school mentality of working your way up for years, putting in extra hours and staging for free is gone now. I think I was the last of that generation. I was so passionate about what I do and so determined to succeed that I wanted to learn as much as possible and that meant that I was prepared to work as hard as I could even for free. That mind-set is gone now.

Josiah Citrin: I wouldn’t say there’s a chef shortage but rather a cook shortage. A cook and a chef are two very different things and there aren’t enough cooks for all the restaurants that are opening. Businesses are expanding so fast and there are more restaurants opening than people want to become cooks. This generation of people doesn’t want to work their way up from the bottom – they’re not interested in putting the time in and learning the trade, they want to go straight to being a chef and get to the top. People are more interested in promoting themselves online than they are in working They’re obsessed with celebrity but not the craft of cooking.

How have things changed from an industry point of view?
TH: Now there are a lot of labour restrictions that the industry has to deal with. Restaurants get in trouble for people working too many hours, minimum wage keeps going up and it’s much harder to maintain that same kind of work ethic. Even for the people who do want to work hard and perfect their skills, it’s more difficult because of all these laws and regulations. And then there’s the whole idea of the celebrity chef. People have this perception that being a chef is this amazing, creative, inspirational job when the reality is that – in addition to all those things – it is also an awful lot of hard work and a craft and art that you have to spend years to learn. You don’t just wake up one day and know how to make a dish. It takes a long time to develop those skills. What is lacking in cooks in the USA today is that foundation.

Josiah Citrin_CharlesParkJC: Everything is online and available all the time. Recipes are there for anyone to see and pictures of dishes are all over Instagram with way more emphasis on looks than flavour. You can see anything you want online, it’s all there – you don’t have to work with anyone, you don’t have to travel, you can do it all sitting behind your computer. People used to have to work with chefs at different restaurants, come up the ranks and learn their craft, now they just look online and think they can figure it all out that way.

How is it affecting things at your business?
TH: It’s difficult to train staff. We have to look at things in a very different way –it’s a different time and we have to adapt to it. I am responsible for the people who work for me, I’m responsible not just for their livelihood but also for their development. When they leave my restaurant they have my name on them and that has to mean something. It’s my job to teach them a certain level of standards, a certain set of skills, respect for their stations and understanding of how things work in different positions. They won’t learn as much because the system is not as good as it was before. But we are making it work.

JC: It’s really hard to find good people and inspire them to stay with you. People are always coming and going and it makes things difficult. The only way around it is by investing in a system that really works so people can come in and out of it. That’s how I run my restaurants. You have a few key people who stay and the system operates by turning people in and out.

What needs to be done to address this issue?
TH: It’s not just the industry that needs to change it’s the laws. We open at 5pm for dinner and close at 11pm – that is six hours. Chefs work for eight hours so with cleaning down your station and a 30-minute break, there literally is no time to learn the fundamentals of cooking. They are learning; they’re learning how to cook and do certain things but they’re not learning how to operate in a full circle.

JC: I really don’t know what can be done. It’s very complex. But it’s nothing new.  When I started Mélisse 17 years it was tough to get cooks. It hasn’t changed and it hasn’t improved and because food is so hot right now, more and more restaurants are opening effectively making the situation worse.

The Fork in the Road: Alain Roux

This is the first of a series of articles I have been commissioned to write for The Caterer, in which I trace a successful chef’s career path to the top: Three-Michelin-starred Alain Roux, son of Michel and chef patron of the Waterside Inn, talks about his route to join his family’s culinary dynasty.

7715598I made the decision to become a chef when I was 14. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother in France, so I didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad when I was growing up. I only saw him during the school holidays when I would come to the UK and follow him around everywhere. He was all about work and I remember, during one of my holidays, spending a few days in the kitchen at Le Gavroche when it was on Lower Sloane Street. I wasn’t really working, but more observing the action, watching my father and uncle work.

Seeing them in the heat of the kitchen definitely inspired me to want to become a chef. In some ways it was probably also a subconscious decision to get closer to my father but, more than anything, I got the feeling of the team spirit that exists not just in the kitchen but front of house, too. It’s like a family.

MY FIRST MENTOR
The first real turning point for me came after dad arranged for me to begin my training in pastry in France. I started at Pâtisserie Millet in Paris under Denis Ruffel, who was my tutor when I was just 16. When I think about my career now, I realise that what shaped me more than anything else was this beginning and training under Denis – he was truly exceptional. His capability as a pastry chef as well as a cook and a mentor had a huge impact on me.

He taught me everything there was to know. It wasn’t just about pastry but also about cooking savoury dishes. From him I learned all the basics of French cooking. I discovered all the ingredients and different techniques through trying different recipes. It was very hard work, being locked up in a small, hot basement in front of the three-decker oven cooking a few hundred trays of bread or viennoiserie. But he somehow gave me my love for the job.

He also really pushed me with my studies. I was training at a specialised pastry college at the same time as working for him and he helped me not only to pass my exam – which was the first exam I ever passed in my life – but also get a very good mark for it. Denis
Ruffel made me progress and gave me my love of the whole business of cooking. But he also built up my confidence by making me aware of what to expect, and helping me understand that it’s all about hard work and the relationships between people.

From there, I went on to work at five Relais & Châteaux restaurants: Maison Pic, Le Domaine d’Orvault, La Bonne Etape, Château de Montreuil and La Côte Saint-Jacques, and I did my military service at the Élysée Palace. All the places I worked at during my eight years in France were very different but also similar in many ways as they were all family-run. Some were one-star Michelin, others were three-star, and the brigades varied from five to 50 or 60 chefs. I really loved working at all these places and meeting all these wonderful people who were so in love with their trade; each chef I worked under was so different from the next and I learned so much from all of them.

7715602JOINING THE WATERSIDE INN
Then dad told me that it was time for me to get ready to come and work with him. I was happy that he hadn’t forgotten about me and was keen for me to come back. It made me feel privileged and proud. This was to be the second biggest turning point in my life.

I joined the Waterside Inn in 1992. Mark Dodson was the head chef at the time and I started at the bottom of the ladder. I had never worked with dad before then, so it was a strange experience and very daunting at first. We didn’t know each other all that well, having spent so much time apart when I was younger. I knew I had to prove myself because ultimately one of two things would happen: either I would learn, work my way up the ranks and open my own restaurant with dad’s support; or I would take over the business.

There were some really tough moments during the first few years. The Waterside Inn is unique – it is small but very busy and when you have to do things to the standard of three Michelin stars for so many people, it is very challenging both mentally and physically. I could hardly speak English and I had so much to learn, but at the same time I had eight years in France under my belt, so starting again at the bottom was tough for me even though I was only 23. It felt like I was taking three steps back. Some of the chefs felt threatened by me because my name was Roux, but dad was very old-fashioned in his way of working and he was treating me like everyone else. Of course, that was fair enough – but as a son it probably wasn’t the best environment to get to know my dad.

At the end of 2001, Mark Dodson left and I became joint chef-patron. We decided then that it was time for dad to pull out and for me to take over. It was very scary; it was a big new start and a huge challenge that was intimidating, but also exciting. I knew I would either make it or fail.

Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana named the World’s Best Restaurant

Picture by Oliviero ToscaniMassimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana has been crowned the Best Restaurant in the World.

The three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Modena, Italy, beat incumbent El Celler de Can Roca in Spain to win the title having previously placed second (2015) and third (2014/2013) in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which is run by Restaurant Magazine. For the first time this year the awards were hosted in New York City and not London.

Massimo is known for his highly artistic avant-garde cooking style, which reinvents traditional Italian cuisine. His signature dishes include the Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, which sees the famed cheese served in five different forms and textures ranging from demi-soufflé to a mousse, a liquid cream, a crisp wafer and a “breath of air” derived from a broth of Parmigiano rind.

This year, the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants saw a bit of a shake up, with New York City’s Eleven Madison Park taking third place (fifth last year) and Central, Virgilio Martinez’s restaurant in Lima, Peru, ranking in fourth place.

Copenhagen’s Noma, which had previously won the award four times, has dropped to number five. The remainder of the top 10 is made up of Mirazur in Menton, France; Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain; Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan; Steireck in Vienna, Austria; and Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Spain.

Tdominique crennhe USA boasts a total of six restaurants on the list including former One To Watch winner Saison (27) in San Francisco, which is one of four new entries to the list (along with four re-entries). New York’s Estela (44) is also a newcomer, while Alinea in Chicago has climbed 11 places to 15. And San Francisco’s Dominique Crenn (pictured), who was the first woman in the USA to have won two Michelin stars, has this year been named the World’s Best Female Chef.

Bad news, however, have come for iconic US chefs Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud as their restaurants have dropped off the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Boulud’s eponymous Daniel in New York dropped to place 71, while Keller’s Per Se is now ranked 52nd and The French Laundry is at number 85.

Other US restaurants ranked in the top 100 are: The Restaurant at Meadowood (67); The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (81); Manresa (83); and Benu (89).

The highest-ranking UK restaurant this year is Brett Graham’s The Ledbury, which has climbed six places to number 14. Meanwhile Dinner By Heston Blumenthal, which ranked in seventh place last year, has dropped to number 45 this.

The Clove Club in Shoreditch has won the Highest New Entry Award after climbing 29 places to enter the top 50 for the first time at number 26. Other UK restaurants featured in the top 100 include: Hedone (60); Lyle’s (65); and St John (91).

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Top 10:

  1. Osteria Francescana Modena, Italy
  2. El Celler de Can Roca Girona, Spain
  3. Eleven Madison Park New York, USA
  4. Central, Lima, Peru
  5. Noma Copenhagen, Denmark
  6. Mirazur, Menton, France
  7. Mugaritz San Sebastián, Spain
  8. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
  9. Steireck, Vieanna, Austria
  10. Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Spain

See the full list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants here.

Chef Profile: Daniel Patterson

14190933703_2d39198096_kThere are chefs who cook and then there are chefs who, with their cooking, want to start a revolution. Daniel Patterson falls into the latter category. Not since the early 1970s, when Alice Waters at Chez Panisse forever changed California cuisine with her devotion to fresh and local produce, has there been a chef of more profound impact on the West Coast of the USA.

At his restaurant Coi in San Francisco, Patterson’s personal, cerebral brand of cooking has earned him two Michelin stars and a place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. And, more significantly, he has influenced a whole generation of chefs and helped to redefine contemporary California cuisine. He has been instrumental in the popularisation of countless culinary trends such as foraging, vegetable-centric dishes and serving tasting menus only, as well as using a ticketing over a traditional reservations system and showcasing bespoke, hand-crafted pottery with his dishes.

But Patterson is set to step away from the fine dining mecca he has worked so tirelessly to create to focus his attention in an entirely new direction. He is about to embark on arguably the most challenging project of his life: LocoL is a fast food concept with which he not only hopes to change the way people eat but also make a difference to parts of America that society has forgotten. But more on that later.

12824198654_f0b1c458e3_zFor now, diners will still have the chance to experience Patterson’s food at Coi for the next four months. His renowned cooking style comprises a unique blend of obsessively sourced, fiercely seasonal ingredients and modernist cooking techniques that results in dishes with incredibly clean, pure flavours. “What I look for is that extraordinary moment in the lifespan of an ingredient; that time when it’s just full of flavour and energy,” he explains. “Technique is really important but it’s always in service of making things more delicious and never for its own sake.”

Leaning heavily towards vegetables, dishes such as carrots roasted in coffee beans with raw carrot and mandarin juice, and roman mint (see recipe); or frozen whipped rhubarb, olive oil and spring herbs beautifully showcase a mutually giving relationship with the Bay Area’s surrounding land. But his dishes not only capture a sense of place, they also speak of memory and emotion.

“In 2005, my mother-in-law died of cancer,” Patterson reveals. “She lived in a very remote place in the Sierra Nevada. When she passed away, I drove up to be with the family, who were all grieving but, of course, they still needed to eat. For three days I cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone in the house and to this day it was one of the most powerful things I have ever done. I felt extremely connected to why you feed people in the first place and I understood why I love to cook: you can make people feel just a little bit better, more comfortable. It is that sense of calm that I wanted to capture in my restaurant.” Indeed calm is what defines Coi. The word Coi (pronounced quoi) is an ancient French word meaning “quiet” or “tranquil” and it is fitting of both Patterson’s restaurant and food. But it is also fitting of the man himself, who, despite being tall and seemingly imposing, has a humble, quiet and mindful demeanour about him.

Patterson was born in Massachusetts; his father was a lawyer and his mother a French history teacher, who instilled in him the meaning of eating well. “My mother was very into cooking way before it was cool in the 1970s, and we never had junk in our house,” he recalls. His pivotal food moment came aged 14 when, while spending the summer in the South of France, he ate a turbot dish at a Michelin-starred restaurant. “That was the moment when I realised what restaurants are capable of in terms of transporting you to a different place or state of being,” he says. “That moment wasn’t just about the flavour, it was about a level of deliciousness and refinement that I had never experienced before.”

Patterson opened his first restaurant – Babette’s in the small, historic town of Sonoma in California’s wine country – in 1994, when he was just 25, never having been to culinary school, which he insists had both its drawbacks and advantages. “For a young cook a big thing is having a mentor; I never did and I always wanted one,” he says. “What you learn is not just about cooking, it’s about team work, how to handle produce, how the seasons flow through a menu. When I opened my first restaurant I didn’t really know anything. I had to figure things out for myself.” He adds, however, that this helped him find his own voice. “I didn’t feel very influenced by what was around me and, looking back on it, that was very fortunate for me. It was hard and slow but I learned to trust my instincts and to make decisions about what’s delicious based on specific products and techniques; and to develop a way of cooking that involves a from-the-ground-upward view of how you construct flavour.”

During his time at Babette’s, Patterson was named Best New Chef by national magazine Food & Wine. The success led him to move to San Francisco, where together with his then-wife Elisabeth Ramsey, he opened Elisabeth Daniel in 2000. There, the accolades continued, including a nomination for Best New Restaurant in the James Beard Awards in 2001.

12823737943_f79b469cb6_zIn 2005, Patterson gained national attention for writing an article in the New York Times entitled ‘To the Moon, Alice’, in which he challenged Bay Area chefs’ tendency to copy the Chez Panisse mantra of letting ingredients speak for themselves. This, he argued, results in self-righteousness over produce and a lack of creativity, complexity, or technical finesse. By the time Coi opened in 2006, he had found his unique style and voice and the restaurant became an instant success, gaining its first Michelin star in 2007 and its second in 2008.

Over the years, Patterson has created a growing restaurant portfolio under his company DPG, which in addition to Coi comprises five locations, including modern neighbourhood restaurants Alta, and Aster in San Francisco; and Plum Bar + Restaurant, and Haven in Oakland. Each has its own executive chef managing the day-to-day running of operations and all of his restaurants serve elevated, modern American fare, with ingredient-driven cooking at their heart.

Come January next year, Patterson will hang up his whites at Coi, when Matthew Kirkley, the former head chef at Chicago’s two-Michelin-starred L20, will take over as executive chef. The decision to move away from Coi, he says, wasn’t one he made for himself but primarily for his family and other businesses. “I have a lot of responsibilities to a lot of people and when I balanced everything on measure, it seemed that this is what I needed to do because there was going to come the point where I would just fail everyone completely,” he explains. “I have had an incredible career, I have been able to cook the food I want to cook and be successful with it so I feel very fortunate and grateful for what I have achieved. I have no regrets.

“Matthew is young, driven and incredibly talented and shares our same values of hard work, humility and dedication to craft. The style of the food at Coi will change but the soul of the restaurant will stay the same.”

Patterson will continue to be involved in all of his restaurants but will concentrate his efforts on LocoL, a joint fast food venture with Los Angeles-based food truck aficionado Roy Choi of Kogi fame. A play on the words local and loco (crazy in Spanish) LocoL aims to revolutionise fast food by offering a more wholesome approach. The credo is serving healthy food that is as cheap and addictively delicious as a McDonald’s burger. So far, Patterson and Choi have raised just short of $130,000 through a crowd-funding page to help cover initial operational costs and have signed leases for two locations, which are set to open in Los Angeles at the end of this year, and San Francisco early next year. In time, they hope to expand across California and beyond.

TartineChad-DP-RC-ReneRedFor Patterson the initial idea for LocoL stems from a charity programme called the Cooking Project, which he runs in San Francisco’s notoriously rough area the Tenderloin. Dedicated to teaching kids and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds basic cooking skills, its ultimate goal is to help them connect with real food. “A lot of these kids grew up on fast food and industrial food so they don’t have the skills to feed themselves well,” Patterson says. “What I have realised is that living in America, more than a cooking problem, we have an eating problem. People don’t know the taste of real food anymore.”

LocoL’s menu will include burgers, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, “foldies” (a cross between a tortilla and a quesadilla) and bowls of pasta or rice with meat or vegetables, with prices between $2 and $6 as well as a 99c section offering healthy side dishes that “won’t fill you up but will the take the edge off if all you have is a $1”.

But Patterson doesn’t really want to talk about the food at LocoL. “It’s grandmother cooking. It’s slow-cooked stuff and deep, comforting flavours,” he says, almost dismissively. “I wish people would stop focusing on the food so much,” he adds, revealing that as the project has progressed and as he and Choi have moved closer towards opening their first outlet in Watts, one of the roughest neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, he has come to understand that there is a much bigger issue at stake than just feeding people.

“The biggest cliché about America is that it is the land of opportunity, where anyone can succeed no matter what their background. But the reality is that it is a land of opportunity only for some people, while for others the deck is stacked against them in a way that makes it almost impossible to surmount,” he says.

“We have run into failure after failure trying to open this restaurant in Watts because there are no services in place, there is no infrastructure, no investment. It is like a rotten onion and with every layer you peel away it gets worse. Structural discrimination in America is so big in our culture and there are communities that are actively being starved of resources. ” With this in mind, for Patterson the most important aspect of LocoL is no longer the food but the human element of his restaurants impacting the community they’re in by creating jobs and giving people a chance at making their own success. “We have an opportunity and we are taking it very seriously,” he insists.

Of course, the project may seem idealistic to some. But Patterson is leaving one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants to cook fast food in one of America’s poorest communities and he wants to make a tangible difference to people’s lives. This is his revolution.

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting the thecaterer.com.

Daniel Boulud wins International Achievement award at the Cateys

Daniel Boulud_courtesy_daniel_kriegerIconic chef-restaurateur Daniel Boulud has been awarded the International Outstanding Achievement Award at this year’s Cateys, the UK’s top hospitality awards run by The Caterer magazine.

Daniel is one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, whose Dinex Group spans across three continents, with restaurants across the USA, Canada, Singapore and London, where he opened Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in 2010.

After growing up in France, where he worked with some of the country’s most prominent chefs, including the late Roger Vergé, Georges Blanc and Michel Guérard, Daniel moved to the USA in 1982, where he became the private chef to the European Commission in Washington DC.

A move to New York, saw him hold positions at some of the city’s most renowned restaurants, including executive chef at Le Cirque, before branching out on his own in 1993 to open Daniel, his flagship restaurant that would go on to win three Michelin stars. From here, is empire grew at a pace: he gradually opened more casual restaurants around New York and the USA, before expanding internationally.

CateysThe author of nine cookbooks and the recipient of multiple James Beard Foundation awards as well as a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government and the Chef of the Year award from the Culinary Institute of America, Daniel Boulud was honoured with his award at the Cateys, which took place at London’s Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, this evening (Tuesday 7 July).

Other winners on the night included Sat Bains, chef proprietor of the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in Nottingham, who won the Chef Catey this year; legendary chef Nico Ladenis, who received the Lifetime Achievement award; Karam, Jyotin and Sue Sethi of JKS Restaurants, who run the Michelin-starred Indian restaurants Trsihna and Gymkhana; and former Michelin-starred chef Kenny Atkinson, who got the Newcomer award for his first solo restaurant House of Tides.

You can see the full list of award winners from this year’s Cateys at The Caterer.

Interview with David Kinch of Manresa

TManresa.DavidKinch.CREDIT Eric Wolfingerell us about the day the fire broke out at Manresa. How did you find out about the fire and what were your feelings when you realised what had happened?
I found out about the fire early in the morning at an airport on the East Coast. We had been closed for an early summer break and were reopening two days later. I received a call from the Fire Department on my cell phone. It was early morning and I was surprised that someone was calling me that early. When they told me about the restaurant I felt helpless and had an anxious flight home. But I immediately knew that all my energies would be channeled into the rebuilding of the restaurant.

What was the cause of the blaze and how extensive was the damage?
The cause of the fire is still undetermined and remains under investigation. Pretty much the entire back of house was destroyed – the kitchen, bathrooms, offices, and dry storage. The dining room was relatively untouched except for extensive smoke and water damage.

Tell us about the repairs. What has changed at the restaurant and in the kitchen; how have you used this as an opportunity to start again?
Luckily, there was not much structural damage and, with the help of the City and County, I was able to fast track the rebuilding of he restaurant as long as we built in the same footprint of the original building. That said, Manresa was 12 years old, so we have brand new equipment and all of the necessary code upgrades. I am very happy with the finished design in the kitchen.

Manresa was closed for six months – what did your employees do during this time?
My key critical employees and management remained on payroll and were part of the rebuilding and restructuring team. I could not have done this rebuild without their help. The other employees took the opportunity to work other jobs and many of the chefs took the opportunity to stage around the country and in Asia and Europe to continue to build their skills. We are very lucky in that every single employee has returned.

And what about your exclusive produce grower Love Apple Farms?
Love Apple Farms shipped a lot of produce to a CSA Program (Community Supported Agriculture), which was sold by subscription. They ramped up their distribution as we got closer to our designated opening date.

How did you personally use the time off?
I had very little time off. I devoted the six months to focusing on bringing back the restaurant as soon as possible. That said, my days were different: I worked early morning to early evening, with weekends off. For the first time in many years I read a lot of books and I saw a lot of sunsets.

What will change at Manresa as the restaurant reopens again?
Hopefully not too much. At the time of the fire, I thought Manresa was the best restaurant it had ever been, with the most momentum it had ever had. Our goal is to regain that momentum using the insight and retrospection of the past 6 months to contribute to our opening menu and service.

You’re going to open your own bakery, ManresaBread. Tell us more – where is the location, where has the inspiration come from, who will be overseeing the project, what will be on offer?
Manresa Bread is located locally, close to the restaurant in Los Gatos and is a partnership with our very talented baker from Manresa Restaurant, Avery Ruzicka, who will be overseeing the project. We will be offering artisanal breads and rotating seasonal breads along with select pastries and laminated dough.

Despite being closed for so many months, you retained your two-star rating in the latest Michelin guide. Were you concerned about losing your stars?
Michelin was concerned about how long we were going to be closed and I told them I would try my best to be open by the beginning of 2015. I am happy they took me to my word and grateful for their confidence in us continuing what we had at Manresa. Ultimately the stars are Michelin’s and merely on loan to us, so we are grateful that we have been given them for another year.

How much of an ambition are three Michelin stars for you?
I appreciate all awards and accolades we receive from prestigious guides like Michelin or from my peers. That said, I am a big believer in focusing and pouring your passion into what you believe in, and accolades will come to you naturally. We do not cook to achieve three Michelin stars. We cook to take care of and offer pleasure and happiness to our guests. I trust Michelin will view us in that light.

This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

Chef profile: Timothy Hollingsworth

This is an extract from a posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

ThollingsworthHeadAmong the plethora of chefs in Los Angeles, Tim Hollingsworth is arguably the most talked about right now. The former French Laundry chef de cuisine, James Beard Award winner and Bocuse d’Or competitor has recently adopted the city as his new home and is starting to make waves on its dining scene.

Hollingsworth has teamed up with one of LA’s most celebrated restaurateurs, Bill Chait, and has not only opened a new barbeque spot that has impressed both crowds and critics, but he is also set to launch a modern American restaurant in one of the city’s most exciting new cultural developments next year. For when the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opens in Downtown LA next autumn, it will house not only close to 2,000 pieces of art, but a restaurant that will form the cornerstone of a brand new 24,000sq ft plaza that is set to revitalise a currently underused area.

Helmed by Hollingsworth the yet-to-be-named restaurant will be a partnership with Chait – whose group Sprout includes some of LA’s most iconic restaurants such as République, Bestia, Rivera and Sotto – and museum founder Eli Broad. Rory Herrmann, Thomas Keller alumni and former chef de cuisine of Bouchon in Beverly Hills, has signed on as director of culinary operations.

IMG_0028“It’s a really exciting project for me,” enthuses Hollingsworth. “I’ve been given the opportunity to have a free-standing restaurant in LA that I can design, build up and be an owner in. That’s not something that comes along very often.”

Although details are still scarce, Hollingsworth hints that the restaurant will be contemporary American, offering modern-day dining. “There won’t be tablecloths but there’ll be a big focus on the quality of the food, on the presentation of the dishes and there’ll be a great beverage programme,” he says. “It won’t necessarily be a casual restaurant but it’ll be approachable.”

With construction for the restaurant just starting to get underway and the opening date scheduled for July next year, Hollingsworth may be forgiven for taking it easy for a while. But that’s not his style and in the meantime, he has already opened another LA restaurant. This time it’s about him exploring his family roots by serving Southern barbecue fare.

Barrel and Ashes, which launched last month, sees the chef also collaborate with Chait and Herrmann, as well as acclaimed LA mixologist Julian Cox, who has designed a food-friendly drinks list, including a selection of whiskies and craft beers and cocktails. The restaurant in Studio City features picnic style seating on a front patio, communal and traditional seating inside, and additional Plaza rendering_view from restaurantseating on the rear patio where there’s a food trailer. The menu focuses on family-style service with daily specials and there are things like smoky Texas-style brisket, St. Louis pork ribs, and pulled pork with Carolina vinegar sauce, or fried chicken sandwich and smoked chicken wings. Sides are served in cast-iron skillets, filled with classics like shells ‘n’ cheese, long-braised collard greens, and “hoe cakes” with maple butter.
Inspired by Hollingsworth’s Southern heritage and his and Herrmann’s numerous barbecue excursions across the country, Hollingsworth says it’s a culinary departure for him in his career. “Barrel and Ashes is going from something that was fine dining and not very approachable to something that takes me back to my roots,” he says. “The recipes are from my mother and grandmother and the food reflects me as a person way more than anything I have done professionally before.”

Born in Texas, Hollingsworth moved to Northern California as a young child. He started his culinary journey aged 18 washing dishes at a local French bistro, an experience which he insists continues to help his career today. “How can I run a kitchen and train a dishwasher if I’ve never done that job? How can I respect that person who is the lowest but also one of the most important guys without having been in that position?”

He worked his way up through the ranks, learned the basics of classic French cooking and started reading the ”bibles of French cuisine” including Larousse Gastronomique; Antonin Carême and Auguste Escoffier. “At 19 I travelled to New York and ate at the best restaurants, including Le Cirque and Alain Ducasse at Essex House,” he recalls. “I spent five days at the Culinary Institute of America and realised it wasn’t for me. I decided I needed to go and work with one of the best chefs in the world – either Thomas Keller or Alain Ducasse – and learn on the job.”

Thomas and TimBack in California, he approached Keller about a job at the French Laundry. With no formal training and little experience but an abundance of determination, he persistently called the restaurant until he was eventually invited for a day’s trial. “After that I called and called again and finally I received a letter in the mail saying I’d been hired as a commis chef,” he says. Over the next 13 years, Hollingsworth rose up the ladder, working every station and spending the last four years effectively running the French Laundry kitchen as chef de cuisine.

Today he credits Keller with instilling in him a drive and ambition to constantly improve. “It’s a tough place to work. The standards are so high and every day you are expected to do something different, something better,” he says. “But it was a great place to work. [Thomas] gives you the freedom to do the food you want to do. He’s not the kind of person who watches over you all the time but lets you have your own successes and your own failures. He trains people to be chefs not cooks and allows you to be creative no matter what station you are working on.”

During his time with Keller, Hollingsworth was chosen to represent Team USA at the Bocuse d’Or, the world-famous cooking competition in Lyon, in 2009 where he placed sixth – the USA’s best result to date. “The Bocuse d’Or was really difficult,” he admits. “The pressure of representing America, having all these huge chefs around you and everyone expecting you to be successful because you come from the French Laundry where we don’t fail, it was really tough. But in retrospect I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to have done it.”

Hollingsworth left the French Laundry in 2012 and went on to consult on restaurant projects around the world, including in Lebanon and Korea. With the world as his oyster, why the move to LA? “I could easily have stayed in Napa or gone to San Francisco but it would’ve been too easy, too comfortable,” he says. “I wanted to move to a big city, where I’d be out of my comfort zone.

“LA is possibly the most exciting city for food in the US right now. You have a lot of young chefs IMG_0027moving here, there are a lot of restaurants opening and there are a lot of people doing great things. LA is a little bit behind the times and there’s a lot of room to educate people about food, which is exciting.”

Looking ahead to his Broad Museum restaurant project, Hollingsworth says it will cater for the typical LA diner of today. “We want to make it approachable for people on a daily basis, make it a neighbourhood restaurant where you don’t just go for a special occasion but a place where you can go any day of the week,” he explains.

The food, he adds, will be light and healthy. “I like to eat lighter. I don’t want to walk away from a restaurant and feel heavy. Yes, I love a great piece of grilled meat, but I also like a tartar of some sort on the menu, seafood that has been marinated and is bright, fresh and acidic. I know I have a delicate touch in my cooking and I want to make sure that I express this with the new restaurant.”

El Celler de Can Roca’s ‘Cooking Up a Tribute’ to premier at the Berlin film festival

Below is the trailer to ‘Cooking Up a Tribute’, a documentary film showcasing brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of the three-Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, and their decision to close their restaurant for five weeks and go on a road tour.

Directed by Luis González, the film recounts a tour which last summer travelled to six cities – Houston, Dallas, Mexico City, Monterrey, Bogotá and Lima – in four countries in the Americas to prepare nearly 50,000 dishes for more than 2,700 people. Up to 56 new and different dishes were created and adapted to Texan, Mexican, Colombian and Peruvian cuisine. Some 200 ingredients and 29 wines were used for each menu in each country.

In addition, the Roca brothers trained more than 7,000 cooking students and selected 13 of them to receive a training scholarship at the kitchen of El Celler de Can Roca, which is currently ranked number two in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Joan Roca said: “For us, this crazy decision has meant weighing the anchor of our restaurant for the first time in search of the mild weather of the South and making our dreams come true in real gastronomic paradises. We have enjoyed an extraordinary professional and personal experience, which has been intellectually rewarding and allowed us to grow as a team.”

Josep Roca added: “This tour has been a real challenge, a bold decision, an act of courage draped in responsibility and code of ethics. An opportunity to continue to learn, seek inspiration and be true to the training we have received and we can share with so many catering students in the places we visited,” explained Josep Roca.

And Jordi Roca said: “With enthusiasm, willingness to learn and much modesty, and above all, as a professional and personal challenge, we have taken our entire team to another continent. Latin America has a dream store cupboard of fruit, spices and, obviously, the best cocoa in the world. It’s been a real inspiration.”

‘Cooking Up a Tribute’, produced by BBVA will premier at the Berlin International Film Festival on 10 February.

Chef profile: Nancy Silverton

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

Nancy Silverton by Tom CaltabianoWinning the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef award in the USA is much like winning the Chef Award at the Cateys in the UK. It’s a very big deal. The award is limited to an elite club of chefs who have truly made a lasting impact on their country’s culinary industry. So it’s refreshing to see that Nancy Silverton, chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant group Mozza, takes her recent award with a pinch of salt. “It’s funny because it’s not like the Olympics where you can really measure somebody’s performance. Sometimes I think it’s really arbitrary,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have won, of course. But it’s not like it has gone to my head or I thought: ‘Yes! Now I’ve finally made it.’ I have been in this business for a very long time and I think that’s probably part of why I won.”

With a career spanning more than 35 years, Silverton is only the fourth woman in the 25-year history of what are often called the Oscars of Food to win Outstanding Chef – the others were Alice Waters (1992), Lidia Bastianich (2002) and Judy Rodgers (2004). But even this achievement doesn’t seem to faze her much either. “Of course, it’s great but there just are fewer women than men running kitchens,” she insists. “What’s more interesting is that I am the first pastry chef to win it. Awards are not generally given to pastry chefs. Even in a large restaurant with a pastry department, those who run it are very rarely recognised.”

As far as pastry is concerned, Silverton is now widely considered the doyenne of her craft in the USA. Through her now iconic Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery, which both
opened in Los Angeles in 1989, she helped redefine the culture of bread baking in the country, and won the inaugural James Beard Foundation’s Pastry Chef of the Year award in 1990. This year, La Brea, which Silverton sold in 2001, remaining a consultant, celebrates its 25th anniversary and is one of the largest sellers of fresh bread in the USA, supplying grocery stores and restaurants nationwide. Silverton has published numerous books over the years and now runs the successful Mozza restaurant group together with partners, Joe Bastianich and acclaimed New York restaurateur Mario Batali, with outlets in California and Singapore.

PUT OFF BY PASTRY

But being a pastry chef wasn’t always Silverton’s chosen profession. After dropping out of college to pursue a restaurant career, she went to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu in 1977, which put her off her now beloved craft. “It was very different back then,” she recalls. “Ingredients weren’t great: a lot of stuff was frozen, a lot came from a can, nothing was seasonal or fresh and it was all about technique. “I didn’t do very well there and my worst subject was always pastry and they were kind of instrumental in my initial dislike of that part of the kitchen. They were so strict and every time I would question things – do I really have to put seven eggs in this, what if it’s too eggy? – I was always met with a stern ‘No!’ Pastry really scared me at first because there seemed to be no room for variation.”

Returning to Los Angeles, Silverton was hellbent on working at Michael McCarty’s acclaimed Santa Monica restaurant Michael’s, but to her dismay the only position available was as assistant pastry chef. In the hope of being moved, she took the job but under the tutelage of Jimmy Brinkley discovered that pastry didn’t have to be boring. “I was sold,” she beams, thinking back. “I was so lucky to work with such a young, genius pastry chef, who hardly ever measured anything. We made all these fun, interesting desserts and it was a real turning point for me.”

In 1980 she decided to embrace pastry and went to France to study at the École Lenôtre, run by famous French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, to hone her skills. On returning to
LA, she helped Wolfgang Puck to open Spago as executive pastry chef. “Spago had such a big national presence,” she says. “Everyone was talking about it. At that time LA was the place for restaurants.” After working at Spago for a few years and a short stint in New York, in 1989 together with ex-husband Mark Peel and partner Manfred Krankl she opened La Brea Bakery and six months later the Campanile restaurant adjacentto it. “It was a lot of juggling and looking back there were a lot of hard times,” she recalls. “I would work at the bakery from midnight to 8am, then sleep for three hours, work a little, nap a little, go back to do desserts at Campanile – it was crazy.”

But the hard work paid off and both bakery and restaurant became Los Angeles institutions for years to come. With authentic artisan bread noticeably absent in the USA at the time, Silverton began teaching herself the art of sourdough bread baking. She developed a baguette, rosemary olive oil loaf, olive bread, country white, whole wheat and dark Normandy rye. “There really wasn’t much going on with bakeries at that time. There were a handful in San Francisco and New York, but that was it,” she says.

Two years after opening La Brea, she moved the bakery to a much larger, fully staffed commercial site and split it off as a business separate from Campanile. “It became clear that the bakery could really be something,” she says. “My partner had the foresight to separate the two businesses because we knew one day someone would want to buy it.” That day came in 2001, when La Brea was sold to investors in a deal quoted as anywhere between $56m and $68.5m. Silverton continued to work at Campanile until 2005, when she split from ex-husband Mark Peel. Two years later she opened Mozza.

ONE-WOMAN MOZZARELLA BAR

Osteria Interior(1)

The inspiration for Mozza was a lunch that she served to famous San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower, who told her about Obicà, a mozzarella bar in Rome. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do in LA: find a tiny little space and run a mozzarella bar where I’d do everything myself.

She was backed by Batali, who had long rejected the idea of investing in a restaurant in Los Angeles, where “nobody eats after 9pm and everyone’s on a diet”, but who loved the
mozzarella bar idea and immediately came on board. Looking for the perfect site they found one that happened to have a pizzeria attached. And so the idea of opening a pizzeria as well as a mozzarella bar was born.

“We immediately split all of our ideas. In the pizzeria, it’s all about the pizza: we have salads and antipasti, but they’re on the side. In the osteria, it’s more about the pasta. We have a very traditional way of looking at this. Pasta is done so poorly in this country, so we really want to be as close to Italy as we can.” The menu includes garganelli with ragu bolognese; ricotta and egg ravioli with browned butter; corzetti stampati with eggplant, olives and fresh ricotta; orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard; and tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. Then there’s the mozzarella: burrata is served with Tsar Nicoulai caviar; with leeks and fett’unta; with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto; or with bacon marinated escarole and caramelised shallots. Bufala mozzarella comes smoked with prosciutto di Parma; with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade and caperberry relish; or with jumbo asparagus, sieved egg and bottarga.

Her pizza meanwhile is widely considered among California’s best. “It’s not Neapolitan, nor is it Chicago or New York-style,” she says. “It’s a mix between the pizza bianca sold
around Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and [Phoenix chef] Chris Bianco’s pizza.” The dough rests 36 hours before being used, and includes rye flour and some malt, giving a crust both spongy and softly chewy inside with a crispy crunch on the outside.

Pizzeria Mozza has since expanded to Newport Beach and San Diego, and the Mozza trio opened an osteria and pizzeria at the 2,500- room Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in
2010. Silverton says they are planning to open a few more osteria/pizzeria outlets in Asia.

After 30-odd years in the industry, where does she continue to draw inspiration from? “The world of food really inspires me, whether it’s an ingredient or something I eat,” she says. “But my way of cooking has never really changed. I have always been very interested in fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have never been interested in manipulating food or cooking with toys. My philosophy is that when you compose a dish you have to have the ability to edit it. I’ve always been an editor and I know intuitively when a dish is lacking or when the lily is being gilded. You’ve got to have that balance.”