Steven Doherty was the first British chef to run a three-star kitchen – Le Gavroche in the ’80s. He now manages Braehead cook school in Scotland and is chef/proprietor of retailer Lakeland’s flagship café in Cumbria.
I do miss the buzz of working in a three-Michelin starred kitchen sometimes, but I couldn’t do it again, I’m too old for that.
I’m still very good friends with Michel at Le Gavroche and I go back and see him, but the industry has changed a lot. He’s got a great sous chef and you need that. You can’t spend seven days a week in the kitchen 18 hours a day, you just burn out.
I got a phone call from Gordon (Ramsay), a few years ago asking me to help out with the Ramsay Scholarship, so I got involved. That’s where I met Craig (of Braehead Foods) who told me about his ideas for the cook school.
No matter how good you are in the kitchen, you need to be able to communicate with people and explain, show and teach what you require. Ramsay’s good at that, Marco Pierre White has had quite a few alumni through his kitchens, the Roux’s go without saying, Raymond Blanc, Anton Mosimann – they all have great, great communication skills without question.
Teaching at the cook school is satisfying and incredibly rewarding. It’s like the theatre, or being front-ofhouse in a restaurant, you never know what you’re going to get until people walk through the door. That’s been a learning curve for me and my chefs here, because we don’t normally have to deal with the public.
I think we were in the gastropub scene at the most exciting time, because it was all new. There were one or two other food-led pubs around the country but we definitely helped things evolve with what we did at the Brown Horse and the Punch Bowl.
I’m a big fan of the weekend magazines because there’s always something interesting in them. Whether it’s The Guardian, The Times, The Observer, or The Independent it’s guaranteed there’ll be a recipe that I’ll nick. Yottam Ottolenghi is one of my favourites, he’s got some cracking ideas.
A lot has happened in the industry in the last 30 years. When I started cooking you could almost predict what was going to be on a hotel restaurant menu across the UK, but when I left the Savoy in 1978, I went to work at Le Gavroche and that was the start of the renaissance in British cookery.
When I went to the Brown Horse in 1993, it was a typical Lakeland pub with a jukebox and pool table selling the usual offerings from the deep fryer. When we changed it, you couldn’t get in and locals were complaining. It was a 60-cover pub, but we’d do 120 covers on a Saturday night.
I think a lot of pubs have lost their natural charm in the rush to transform themselves into gastropubs. There’s a lot of gastropubs in London like that – it’s almost a formulaic process. Some of them have managed to retain their charm though.
I’d like to write some books,probably connected to the cook school. The focus would be on helping people to cook what they feel comfortable cooking and on things we’ve done at the school that have worked.