Steve Smith on Bohemia and why he doesn’t want his own restaurant in the UK

By Melodie Michel

- Last updated on GMT

"The main focus is to improve what we do all the time and try to get the food right for the customers" - Steve Smith
"The main focus is to improve what we do all the time and try to get the food right for the customers" - Steve Smith

Related tags: Food, Cooking

Steve Smith just won his fourth AA Rosette for Bohemia in Jersey. He talks about what’s so special about cooking on the island, and the accolade system in the UK.

How did it feel to win your fourth AA Rosette for Bohemia?

I did feel like what we were doing was an improvement on what I was doing before. You never take anything for granted and never expect it to happen but we’re absolutely delighted that it did. The main focus is to improve what we do all the time and try to get the food right for the customers. Somewhere in between the two you hope that you get rewarded for what you’re doing, but it’s not the main priority.

What’s so special about cooking in Jersey?

We get the best of both worlds really – we get really great British produce but we’re only a stone’s throw away from France so we get the great stuff they have over there as well. The main things that we get from Jersey are seafood and dairy – which is probably the best in the world.

How did you get to where you are now?

Working hard, a slice of good fortune, but to do well in this industry, you’ve got to never give up, constantly push yourself and want to improve. I’ve also been lucky enough to work for some very good chefs who gave me a really good foundation. But ultimately, when you take on your first head chef position it’s all down to you; you’ve got nowhere to hide.

You collected a number of accolades throughout your career – where did you learn to cook food to those standards?

I was fortunate going straight from college to working for Jean-Christophe Novelli at Provence, which had a star. If I hadn’t gone straight into a kitchen that had a star, I’m not particularly sure that I would have achieved what I have. Going into a starred kitchen at a young age played a huge role.

What are the main characteristics that make food reach the Michelin standard?

Food is very personal to the chef, and there is no right and wrong – it’s just personal preference. Add to that what you do in the kitchen to maintain standards: depth of flavour, quality of ingredients and consistency. If you don’t have there I don’t think you can get a star. It doesn’t mean that you have to follow specific guidelines.

What’s your personal preference then?

What’s personal to you changes all the time as you get older. The food that I cook has become better flavoured and simpler over the years. When you’re a young chef, you try to overcomplicate food and make it clever instead of worrying about what it’s like to eat it. Once you get to a point where you can enjoy eating as a diner, you see the biggest difference in your cooking style.

You worked in Australia for a while – what was different between cooking there and here?

Obviously the climate’s different, so there’s less need for particularly heavy flavour or heavy European-based food, and as a result the food that I cooked became lighter, and possibly fresher because of the warmer climate. The biggest difference was that you had a much better accessibility to fantastic fruit and vegetables over there. The food is more accessible for everybody in Australia – less so over here.

Is opening your own restaurant one of your ambitions?

My partner’s South African so I’m sure at some point we’ll be looking to go back over there but certainly not in the short term, and I don’t really want my own restaurant over here to be honest. It would mean swapping from working for an employer to working for a bank. If I want to open a nice restaurant and cook nice food I will need money from a bank, and I’ve seen restaurants go pear-shaped because they have no control over the banks’ decisions.

Who inspires you in the industry?

I’m inspired by people who have managed to remain consistent for long periods of time – Raymond Blanc for example. At the moment we’re overdue more two and three-star restaurants in the UK, and I think if we weren’t in the UK people would be recognised more – I certainly think Midsummer House should be a three-star restaurant at some point. Sometimes you eat out and have an outstanding meal in a restaurant, and compare it with a two or three-star restaurant over in America, there doesn’t always seem to be consistency on an international level.

What would be the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in the industry?

Try and learn as much as you can when you’re young, and put every effort into it. If your skillset doesn’t quite match your ambitions, don’t give up and keep trying. You’ve got to give yourself every opportunity to succeed, and a lot of that is about patience.

Some young chefs think they can run before they can walk, and they really need to try and get a very stable grounded apprenticeship. The reality of coming into a kitchen is very different to what they may have learnt and they have to give themselves time to succeed, learn and get knowledge.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Venues

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