Top chefs who can't stand the heat quit London's kitchens

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Pub food is undergoing a revolution powered by chefs from leading restaurants fed up with the stresses of city life.

Instead of working long hours in the intensely competitive restaurant scene, the chefs are opting for a higher quality of life and the satisfaction of running pubs in the countryside.

Among the new pub cooks are several who earned coveted Michelin stars. Steve Reynolds worked at Le Gavroche in London when it had three Michelin stars, and now serves up meals at the Stag Inn, in Titley, Herefordshire. Mark Treasure was head chef at the Michelin-starred Feathers Hotel, Oxfordshire, but now runs the Museum Inn in Dorset. Tom Kerridge, who had a Michelin star at Adlards in Norwich, this year opened the Hand and Flowers in Marlow.

"Going back 10 years there was not a chance of a high-profile chef working in a pub," said Derek Bulmer, editor of the Michelin Eating Out in Pubs guide.

"What we have seen over the last few years is that serious chefs in very good restaurants have decided to move out of that environment into pubs.

"Many of them have had enough of working in the West End under intense pressure. A lot are going back to their roots and getting a lease on a pub."

Many of the new fine-food hostelries are "gastro-pubs", where old pubs have been transformed into smarter venues. But there is also a new type of rural fine-dining pub where the original interior has been retained, with an improved menu.

They serve dishes like shoulder of lamb with rosemary, or sea bass salad with saffron sauce, that are better than usual pub grub but cheaper than restaurants.

Mr Bulmer said: "It seems to me that the general public want that flexibility and formality offered by these [gastro] pubs.

"You don't necessarily have to book in advance, you don't have to put on a jacket and you are not going to pay £30 for a set menu."

The emergence of these culinary pubs is banishing the dismal image of traditional fare like the door-stopper cheddar sandwich or scampi in a basket.

Since London pubs like the Eagle in Farringdon and the Engineer in Primrose Hill pioneered the gastro-pub movement in the early 1990s, fine-food pubs have opened all across England.

At the Trouble House in Tetbury, in the Cotswolds, Michael Bedford has enjoyed running his own business since he swapped a stressful job in London to downshift to the countryside. While head chef at City Rhodes five years ago, Mr Bedford, 35, oversaw a team of 16 chefs in his kitchen.

"I was very busy and very successful but in London the amount of time you have to yourself is not healthy," he said."It's very nice, but there comes a time in the middle of August and you're perspiring and you think: 'This is just not funny any more.' You go into the countryside to escape."

Instead of cooking meals for £60 a head before wine, he and his wife now offer a three-course meal for £25 a head at the pub.

For 18 years, Mark Dodson worked at Michel Roux's Waterside Inn in Bray-on-Thames, rising to head chef when the restaurant won its three Michelin stars.

This summer, he and his wife bought the Masons Arms Inn, in Knowstone, Exmoor. Since then they have been cooking for 25 diners from a cramped kitchen with part-time help.

Yet Mr Dodson has enjoyed the challenge of running his own business. "I find it very satisfying," he said. "If something goes well it's down to you."

He and his wife are cooking up dishes like Devon ruby red beef with parsnip purée and monkfish with balsamic and orange sauce. A three-course meal typically costs £30 a head before drinks.

Unlike Mr Dodson's previous restaurants, though, locals pop in with dogs and muddyWellington boots. "We are busier than we predicted but I think there is a gap in the market for things like this," said Mr Dodson.

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