You left Michelin-starred Morston Hall this year after seven years – why did you decide it was time to open your own restaurant?
I’d worked on and off at Morston Hall since I was 16 and it had always been a dream to run it. After I’d been head chef for seven years and maintained the Michelin Star they offered me a directorship and a chance to be a bigger part of the business, but Morston was never really my personality.
I always wanted my name above the door; it’s every chef’s dream to do that. I didn’t want to look back when I’m even balder than I am now asking, what if?
I came home from work one day and my wife said ‘are we going to do it or are you going to shut up about it?’ and the rest is history, so it’s all down to her really.
Benedict's has been open three months now, how’s everything going?
It’s been amazing. Literally every night since we’ve opened bar four or five we’ve been fully booked. Lunches we are struggling a bit, but we spent no money on marketing and have done everything on Twitter and Facebook - so we’re really grateful and happy to be as busy as we are.
The private dining room opened on 11 September, so we’ve gone from being a 34-cover restaurant to having 16 extra covers upstairs.
Your background is in Michelin restaurants – are you aiming for a Star for Benedicts?
It’s bred in to me in a certain sense as I’ve only ever worked in Michelin-starred restaurants since I was 16. Some of that will rub off in the way that I work and the food that I produce, but the main goal for us is to create a neighbourhood restaurant.
We want to be a part of the Norwich dining scene and for people to come in in flip-flops and trainers and dressed to the nines. I don’t want it to be a chefs’ ego restaurant, [Benedicts] is a really relaxed environment at a great price.
You had a break from Great British Menu in 2014 after three years on the show, why did you decide not to return?
I’d been on the show a few times before and I just felt it hadn’t clicked with me by then, and I didn’t want to be that guy that kept coming back and losing.
I also think everybody’s allowed ten minutes of fame and I’m very lucky and grateful that I’ve had a lot more than that.
When they called me up this year we knew we were opening our own restaurant and the drive that I was doing this for myself and to help Benedicts just gave me an edge. My wife was very involved in helping me plan the menu, so it was a real big family effort to push it as much as we could.
This series you’re cooking against Pip Lacey from Murano and Jason Hodnett from The Raven Hotel, how did you find the experience?
It was different in that I felt I’d really grown up and was walking in to the kitchen with more confidence in my dishes. This was my heart and soul on a plate.
I’ve openly said this is the last time I’m doing it and whatever happens now I’m done. Fourth time in, this is it. So I went in with a different frame of mind and I enjoyed it more because of that.
In previous years I was up against Daniel Clifford, and when you’re competing against a powerhouse like Daniel you really feel the pressure to pull something out of the bag. I did have a really tough judge this year but it was nice to be in the kitchen with Pip and Jason on a more level pegging.
This series is all about cooking for the Women’s Institute, how did the challenge compare to previous years?
When I was younger I was very much influenced by my grandmother, my mother and my sister, so it hit more of a chord with me as I could really pay homage to the women in my life. I wouldn’t be standing in my own restaurant and cooking my own food if it wasn’t for their inspiration and belief. So I used that as a driving force to move forward, and hopefully that’s done me in the right stead.