The South African-born chef/proprietor of Ronnie’s in Thornbury started out with aspirations to be a chemical engineer. But after a harsh word from his father and some guidance from Bruno Loubet and Anton Mossimann, Faulkner has managed to become an award-winning chef with big aspirations.
How I got here:
I always wanted to be a chemical engineer, but while studying for my A Levels in Bath I had a job working in a local bar and that interested me more.
After college I went travelling for a year and spent a lot of time working in hotels. So when I got back to the UK my father gave me an ultimatum: either do a hotel management programme, or train to be a chef.
So I enrolled at the Cordon Bleu in London studying a foundation degree in advanced classical French pasty and cuisine. I got to work with some great chefs at the school, in particular Bruno Loubert who was teaching there at the time.
When I left I started working at Le Sous Sol at the Ole Bailey with a guy called Danny Crow. He eventually went off to work for Anton Mossimann at the Belfry and brought me with him. I’d say that was when my career really started.
Everyone only works for 12 months with Mosimann so after my time I left to work in a hotel in Switzerland for nine months. But I realised that being stuck behind the ovens wasn’t where I wanted to be, so I left and started a degree in Food and Consumer Study where I learned a lot about marketing and psychology as well as food.
While I was studying I went back to Mosimann and I started working pastry at his events service, before taking a job as head chef at Enocteca Turi in Putney, which had just been refurbished. But the owner wasn’t keen to promote any of the chefs so after a year I decided to get out of London and moved back to South Africa for a while.
When I got back I moved to Bristol, and found a position as regional executive chef with Baxter Storey, which was Hallidays back then. But after a year or so I realised that working as a contract caterer meant I couldn’t go back to life in a hotel or restaurant, so I set about finding my own restaurant to run.
On opening Ronnie’s:
It’s been a lifetime ambition to open my own place. I guess it’s the ultimate aspiration of a chef. It was a painstaking process finding a property. We wanted something in a major West Country capital, and looked at Bath, Bristol and Cheltenham for sites, but I eventually fell in love with this 17th Century old schoolhouse in Thornbury.
My biggest challenege:
Opening the doors of my own restaurant is by far the biggest challenge I’ve ever had to face. You don’t have this network of people to rely on you may have had working for someone else. It’s all on you now.
On reaching for stars:
I never strive for a Michelin star – I cook for my customers. They are what’s important at the end of the day.
On working with Mosimann:
It was a fantastic kitchen to work in - full of like-minded people who were passionate about what they wanted. They were all focused on developing a career and keen to share knowledge with each other. I really learned to work under pressure there and managed to refine my cooking skills. Some of those dishes are still on my menu today.
On future plans:
I’d like to possibly locate a second restaurant somewhere else. I’d like to allow the people who work for me now to grow into something bigger and ultimately make sure there’s longevity for the business. I would like to stay in the South West though.