Had I known at the beginning just what I was letting myself in for, I wouldn't have had the guts to do it.
Before this began, I thought of Little Chef as an iconic brand with great nostalgia associated with it, but most people of my age said: "I wouldn't go in one today." So the challenge was taking one and seeing whether you could change it and roll the changes out across the country.
When I went into the kitchen for the first time, they didn't have any pots and pans, which was a surprise. It was designed that way – but no pots and pans means no classically-trained chefs. Everything was out of packets. Getting stuff out of packets on its own might be OK if you had worked with a company in sourcing the ingredients and you had developed a recipe. But actually, it was like going to Argos and saying: "Right I've got this much to spend on a cottage pie and I'll have that one."
Taking it away from that does mean that profit margins are reduced, but the key to this is to bring more people in, particularly for lunch and dinner, by giving better dishes while not losingthe essence.
I have tried to use more British ingredients; for me it's about keeping the Britishness. There are still bangers and mash, a steak pie, and chicken and chips, but the chicken is spit-roasted and we've got herb patches, so staff can cut and cook fresh parsley.
We have put 50 per cent more meat into the pork sausages, halved the salt content and made them taste more juicy. It's a case of trying to get staff here to finish dishes, to add a few chopped herbs, a bit of brown butter to fried egg, a drop of orange in the strawberry compote.
The feedback has been really good. There were a couple of comments on the first day, saying: "Oh that's not what I was expecting." I think people were thinking they'd get the Fat Duck menu for £5 or £10 a head – it's not the Fat Duck.
Hopefully the cafe's regulars won't say: "Oh my God, that's ridiculous, what have you done to my Little Chef?"Reuse content