It’s often thought that to make your fortune you need to make like Dick Whittington and head to London, but one chef who did the opposite has found his reputation soar. In a sleepy village in Kent, Becky Paskin speaks to Scott Goss, Head Chef at The Swan, about how his search for the quiet life has brought him fame.
It was an unfortunate spell in hospital that led Scott Goss to become the head chef at The Swan in West Malling, an ironic twist that has seen his reputation as one of the industry’s biggest emerging talents blossom. After years of relentless hard work and constantly pushing himself to the edge under the auspices of some of the top chefs in London, Goss simply burned out and made a promise to himself to take it easy.
Moving back to his home county of Kent in 2005, Goss settled at The Swan as Chef de Partie, but after years of working under talent like Gary Rhodes, it was obvious this chef wasn’t exactly going to make a holiday of it. Sat out in the rear garden just as the outdoor barbeque was firing up, and under gallons of glorious sunshine, Goss told me exactly what its taken for him to become such a revered head chef of a Michelin-listed gastropub at just 25 years old.
“I left school at 16 and went straight into a kitchen, potwashing and peeling potatoes, and I realised this is what I wanted to do, long hours and all,” he explained. “I enrolled at Thanet College in Broadstairs in Kent, and after having huge opportunities doing events at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, I left (with a City & Guilds Level II qualification) and got a job on the advice of a very good lecturer called Peter Barrett. He said, ‘Get yourself to London, you’ve got it. You’ve got the spark, you’ve got that twinkle in your eye.’”
It just so happened that Barrett had a very good contact in Gary Rhodes, and after a brief telephone introduction, and at the youthful age of 17, Goss made his way to London to start work as the Commis Chef at City Rhodes, under the guidance of Head Chef Adam Gray.
Over the next few years Goss had experiences working at both Rhodes in the Square and Admilton under Robert Spencer, and Allium under Anton Adelman, before he finally settled for life at The Swan where it took just three years for Goss to get his first head chef title in January. He muses that The Swan director and mentor Peter Cornwell had always seen the potential in him from day one.
“Through talking to Pete now, it’s obvious he always knew I was going to be the head chef of one of his restaurants. It’s almost like he’s groomed me into this. It’s a funny thing, now I’m the head chef I enjoy it more than ever. That kitchen is my freedom, I can do what I want, I can cook what I want, say what I want, hire and fire the people that I want – it’s my freedom and it’s taken a lot of work to get here, 10 years of hard, hard graft.
“But (Rhodes) taught me how to drive for what you want. If you want to get there, it isn’t going to come to you, you have to push for it, work for it. And I feel that I’ve got that opportunity here, there’s something about the place.”
That something could possibly be the abundance of local produce spilling out of every farm and field in Kent. Admitting that using local food is something very close to his heart, Goss is now able to find, cook and serve all the produce his home county has to offer.
From visiting farmers markets and liaising with butchers and growers, to pheasant shooting and foraging for mushrooms, Goss utilises all that Kent (and admittedly the rest of the UK) has to offer to create the most stunning dishes for The Swan’s ever-changing menus. New season lamb rump with fennel, figs, cherry vine tomatoes and green sauce; braised beef and ale pie, smoked mash, baby carrots and summer truffle; and freshly caught Maldon Black River oysters are just a few of the mouth-watering British dishes available at The Swan.
“I’m lucky to have it around, because I didn’t have that in London. It’s probably another reason why I am still here; in London you can’t pop out for two minutes to forage for mushrooms. It’s not about jumping on that bandwagon, its something I want to do. And I know mine’s local. It takes five minutes to walk to the farm from here.”
It was this passion and enthusiasm for quality English food that secured Goss an Acorn Award earlier this year, a prize that his heroes Rhodes and Jason Atherton have both won in the past. The determination to succeed and the toll he put himself through to gain industry recognition had finally paid off.
“I guess the award is recognition for me to know that what I’m doing is right and I will go all the way. It just gives you the confidence to keep going. The hardest thing as a chef is when you start questioning yourself, and you should challenge yourself, but there’s a difference. I know everything on that lunch menu is right, its right for The Swan.
“But this, these last six months have been the highlight of my career. I’ve taken the bull by the horns and it’s getting bigger and stronger.”
The Swan’s reputation is growing as fast as Goss’s and media heads are beginning to turn to West Malling to see what all the fuss is about. So will Goss soon become the next Gary Rhodes, or maybe even a Gordon Ramsay? Perhaps, but not anytime soon. With a current view to remain at The Swan for the next few years, Goss has only mused the idea of owning his own restaurant. He is, however, full of advice for young chefs with stars in their eyes.
“Don’t inspire to be a celebrity chef, inspire to be a great chef. Gordon Ramsay didn’t wake up one day and know how to cook. He had to work, continuously like I am now, and he still does have to work immensely hard.
“The hardest part of my career, especially now that my name is starting to come into these magazines, is that the pressure’s more intense as I’m cooking to a reputation. It’s great because I thrive on pressure. There are two types of chefs in this world I believe, the uniform robot chef that follows the recipe to the T, then there’s the flarey, flamboyant chef like myself, and that’s how I work, very hard and with my team.”
The creativity and passion that Goss has put into The Swan over the last few months as head chef is obvious. The place is thriving with the buzz of something fresh and yet humble, which one could accustom to either the food or the chef. He says he is proud of his achievements, and so he should be for at just 25 years-old Goss consistently creates such delicious seasonal menus that, if he withstands the pressures of his position and the media spotlight, could soon see him becoming a household name.