He spoke to BigHospitality about the blurred lines between pubs and restaurants and whether TV cooking shows are contributing to the chef shortage.
Tell us about your new gastropub
Me and my partner are taking over a pub in Bedfordshire called The Anchor in Tilsworth. It’s got a 40-cover restaurant and is going to serve a modern take on pub food and a few dishes of my own. We get the keys on 22 February and I’d like to think we’ll be open by the 25 February.
You were head chef at Flitwick Manor hotel from 2014-15, why did you decide it was time to open your first solo site?
It’s been my dream since I was younger, so to be able to do it now is great. I left Flitwick in June last year and I’ve been planning this since then. My partner is a chef as well so we decided we wanted to open our own place and be our own bosses.
Tilsworth is the area I grew up in and the site is just down the road from my house and my parents’ house, so it’s on our doorstop. It’s great as I know the area and there isn’t really anywhere decent to eat, so I’m trying to create somewhere that everyone local wants to go.
A lot of chefs are opening pubs instead of restaurants at the moment, do you think the lines between the two are becoming blurred?
Yeah definitely. For us it was cheaper to get a pub than lease a restaurant. It’s a lot more flexible as it’s more social and relaxed. With a pub you’ve got different options, you can go in and have three courses or just a drink and a snack.
I like to spend my time in a pub and I want to build something that’s based around my personality and is somewhere me and my partner would want to go on our day off. I want the people who work in our industry to feel like it’s somewhere they can relate to and want to visit.
You reached the final of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2011, how has the show impacted on your career?
The publicity that comes with it is a good thing. I’ve had a great following since the show, people love it and want to come and eat my food. I’ve built up a good reputation locally with the fans I’ve had from the show, so that’s another reason I want to open in this area.
Andrew Fairlie said last week that TV cooking shows are putting people off joining the industry, do you agree?
I wouldn’t say it’s because of the TV, it just seems like cooking is a job that people don’t really want to do anymore. I popped in to the local college a few days ago to see if there were any young chefs that wanted to come on board but they’ve got hardly any students there and it was like a ghost town.
TV probably doesn’t help because it makes people scared, but I think a lot of people get put off being a chef because they get told how long the hours are but don’t really hear the benefits of how good a job it is. People are always going to want to eat so if you’re good at what you do you’re always going to have a job somewhere. I don’t think that’s what some young people understand either. People tell them the bad things about being a chef, but it’s a lovely job to be in because it’s so exciting.
Have you had any trouble finding staff for The Anchor?
I had a lot of young lads that have worked with me before waiting in the wings until I’d sorted the restaurant out but now they’ve decided they don’t want to be chefs. They’re 19 and 20 and they’ve decided that want an easy life and a 9-5 job, which I think is more appealing to people in that age bracket. But to me that’s not rewarding, whereas this industry is.
So you think the industry should shout louder about the positives of being a chef?
I think so, everyone always focuses on the negative but they’re well known. On my first day I had people saying ‘are you sure this is what you want to do’ as the hours are so long, but I wanted to do it. It is hard and when you’re younger you do sometimes look at your mates going out and having fun, but you can still do that as a chef. You’ve just got to be dedicated to what you want to do and if you’re passionate about cooking you should be a success.
The Anchor at Tilsworth opens on 25 February.