Chef James Durrant recently saw his life ambition come true when he bought, renovated and opened his own restaurant – The Plough Inn in Hampshire. A protégée of Gordon Ramsay, Durrent worked within GRH for nine years, starting at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as a junior sous chef before moving onto Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's as Senior Sous Chef and ending his career with the group as Executive Chef at Maze, working directly in hand with Jason Atherton.
How I got to where I am now:
I stayed on at school and did my A-Levels. I was working part-time at a local pub, just washing up and only doing starters. I finished my A-Levels and was going to go to art college and I had a place at Liverpool university to study product design and engineering.
But I came to a point where I realised I wasn’t enjoying art college, I’d done about two months of it and I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. I’d always thought about being a chef and always questioned it but I’d been warned off by family and friends because it was such hard work.
But I really enjoyed cooking, I was increasing the hours of the pub I was working at and then I went and got an apprenticeship at a four-star hotel up in Chester, I did three years as an apprentice and then I went on to London and got a job with Gordon.
Going from an apprenticeship and then moving down to London to work at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was probably the biggest change and inspiration in my career. I went from thinking I could cook and do loads of things to going right back to the bottom and learning everything again and doing what Gordon told me to do.
From working there I went over to Claridges and the second highlight of my career was probably working alongside Jason Atherton at Maze – he’s someone who’s always full of energy and passion, and it was great to experience working with someone who does things a bit differently.
The five years I worked at Maze were really significant to me in giving the confidence that I could go on and do something on my own.
Working under Gordon Ramsay…
Was amazing. It was his energy and his passion for perfection and ingredients that took me to a new level and the excitement I got from it was fantastic. That drove me on to put up with all the things that go with the job – the long hours and the really hard work.
Why I opened a pub in the countryside:
In restaurants, people go for special occasions or at weekends. But a pub is somewhere where people will happily frequent throughout the week. I don’t miss London at all. In London, you work in a busy restaurant and you know it will be busy every day – it’s almost quite easy to manage in that sense. I was hoping it would be less pressure here, in a sense; that it would be more simple and relaxed - but it’s not! It’s been months of hard graft!
My greatest achievement:
It’s gone in stages - Moving to London and getting a job in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant was an amazing achievement when I did it and being able to stick at it for a few years. Being head chef at Maze aged 24-25 was also an amazing achievement.
And now again, to be able to open my own place in this financial climate is a reasonable achievement – fingers crossed things will continue to grow.
My biggest challenge:
There haven’t really been any specific hurdles, it’s just a matter of focusing yourself on what you want to get out of it and I’ve always been reasonably grounded and focused on achieving my own thing. If that meant that I had to work all the hours in the world and put up with Gordon Ramsay for a few years, then I was prepared to do that.
How I was able to progress so quickly...
A lot of it was working with Gordon. He’s one of those people who I think will pile a large amount of pressure on people and push you as hard as you can go. Some people sink and some people swim. I proved to him that I was in a position to manage a team and he eventually gave me the opportunity to do that.
What I love about being a chef:
It’s just constant; the people around you, the ability to do 40, 50, 60 covers and making all of the customers happy – great feedback is really motivating.
What I don’t like:
TripAdvisor! I had a bad review on there the other day and I think because this is my own place you can end up finding the comments that are made really personal. You have customers that come to your restaurant who don’t make a noise and don’t complain at all. Then they go home and leave really rude and offensive comments about you.
We’ve had some amazing reviews and then you get a bad one and I knew which customer it was, they didn’t complain in the restaurant and if they had of complained, they would have left happen. Reviews like that don’t really happen in any other industry – I wouldn’t pay for a builder to come and do some of my back garden and then slag him off on a building website!
If I wasn’t working in hospitality…
I might have been a plumber. My uncle was always pressuring me to be an apprentice and I always turned it down – I probably would have made more money out of it! Or I would have stuck it out at university and gone into a career in design and engineering.
My advice for a young entrepreneur:
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to just get on with it; get your head down and work hard. It’s not about the money or anything else, just get on with the job and try and obtain as much experience as you can, whatever job you’re doing wherever you’re working, just absorb as much as you can.
We’ve experienced a couple of young people coming here looking for jobs but their thirst for the work just isn’t there, which is a bit frustrating to see. It’s all about the salary, but this industry just isn’t about that. If you persevere with it, the rewards will come later.