How I got to where I am now:
Cooking was a career change for me when I was 27. I'd done a few things before, such as working in the building trade, in photography and for a fishing tackle business but being a chef wasn't something I'd ever intended getting into.
However, looking back on it, I realise how big a part cooking played in my life. My mum cooked a lot at home and then when I was 11 we moved to Cornwall where my parents opened a farm shop on a 45 acre farm. Mum was working then full-time for the shop, baking cakes and other items to sell, so I was exposed to cooking for a business from an early age.
When I decided to go into the hospitality industry my first full-time job was at the Alverton Manor hotel in Truro, Cornwall. I started as a commis chef and then got promoted to chef de partie. I moved to Percy's restaurant in Devon then to work as a second chef before taking my first head chef's job at the Yalbury Cottage hotel just outside Dorchester. I did three and a half years at Yalbury before moving to the Horn of Plenty in Devon.
In April 2003 we opened Sienna. I felt I'd learned enough by then to have a decent crack at having my own place and I'd gone into the industry with the intention of one day having my own restaurant, so it was the right time.
We're now approaching our tenth anniversary and I can't believe it. Time seems to have flown by. Ten years is a long time in this industry, but we are still here and doing well, so I feel very lucky.
My greatest achievement:
The obvious answer is gaining a Michelin star in January 2010 and retaining it ever since. Having a star had a big influence on the business - we saw a significant increase in trade and coming at the start of the recession made a big difference to our future. However, seeing the business grow, staff move on and succeed and the increase in my consultancy and other activities outside of the restaurant are also significant.
My biggest challenge:
I still think one of the biggest challenges for any chef are those early job moves - you do a year or two in one place, your knowledge grows and you become more confident in your own ability, then you make a move and all of a sudden you are being told that what you thought you knew is all wrong. Now, one of the things I love about the industry is its diversity, taking different ideas, picking the best bits and adding some of my own to come up with something different, but when you are in the early stages it can be heart-breaking to feel that all you have learnt is worthless.
On the pressure of retaining a Michelin star:
The [Michelin] star had a huge positive impact on our business and coming at the start of the economic downturn was probably a life-saver. It does feel like you have to work much harder at things like the PR now to keep the business levels up. Generally the business has grown though, with more staff, commitments to sponsors and a greater involvement with industry bodies like the Chef's Forum. It all adds pressure but I wouldn't change it. I think you need to benchmark and be challenged to keep moving forward.
My future plans:
The restaurant [Sienna] is small, so there's a limit to what we can do here. We can't grow the size of the building, so we have been looking for some time for somewhere bigger. However, the premises have to be right and I don't want to move out of Dorchester.
We'll be having some events to celebrate our 10 year anniversary in April - I'm looking at holding a guest chef dinner at a venue in town and help raise money for Hospitality Action.
I'll also be doing more work in my role as head of the Dorset panel for the Chef's Forum, forging links with colleges and suppliers - anything that can be done to improve relationships between colleges and employers. We need to give colleges better information about what employers need and get students a better insight into what the industry will expect of them.
My tips for success as a chef:
I think the most important tip is to go into the industry because you have a real passion for the job and be prepared to make sacrifices to succeed. I believe it is also important to enjoy the actual craft of what you do. If you can get satisfaction from a pile of perfect fish fillets or a smooth round piece of bread dough it helps. I also believe that eating out, reading and networking with other chefs are vital practices to round out your character as a chef.