You’ve been away from the UK restaurant scene for a few years, what have you been up to?
I’ve done a lot of consultancy. I also had a couple of health issues and had both my hips replaced which put me out of it for a bit. I went off to the Mediterranean for around two years working for some old clients, and was on superyachts for a little bit. But I still love the UK.
What made you want to return from overseas?
I got offered the opportunity [at Neo] and to be honest it wasn’t something I was really expecting. It seemed like a chance to do something bright and cheerful in Bournemouth that was a bit different. It’s a really interesting concept and seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
You held a Michelin-star at Pennypots for seven years, are you aiming for a star for Neo?
Not particularly. When I got a Michelin-star I never aimed for it, it just happened. It’s not easy, but the customers led me down the path they wanted to eat. Neo is just going to focus on beautiful produce and getting the customers really involved with the food. Quality is quality at the end of the day.
What’s on the opening menu?
We’ve got a josper grill so we’re doing a lot of high quality meat around that, as well as fresh lobsters and oysters. We’re trying to do the dishes sympathetically so it’s not too chef-y and over handled, you can really see what the food is.
Neo looks over the sea and is very relaxed. We want to offer really good service but not people standing over the table with a bottle of wine pestering you, because no one really likes that.
Have you been affected by the chef shortage?
I’m very lucky because I’ve got a really good head chef in Chris Howard, who worked with my friend Paul Gayler at The Lanesborough for a long time. But we haven’t been able to get that much British talent, so most of our chefs are foreign. They’re all very good, but we’re struggling to find British lads for sure.
Why do you think there’s such a shortage of homegrown talent?
The industry’s bigger than it’s ever been. The problem is that there’s so much on TV that everyone expects to be some sort of celebrity chef, when in reality it’s quite a hard slog with long hours. It’s one of those industries that you’ve really got to love; it’s not just a job. There’s a lot of pressure and that doesn’t suit everyone, it’s not as glamourous as they all think.
You’re a former winner and chairman of judges on National Chef of the Year, what are your tips for this year’s contestants?
Maintain consistency and quality of flavour, and really emphasise your product. Because if you cook a piece of fish or meat and it’s wrong it doesn’t matter what garnish or sauce you do, the dish has failed.
After Neo, would you ever open another UK restaurant?
Possibly in the future, but at the moment I’m quite interested in what I’m doing here. Around £1.5-£2m pounds have gone in to the restaurant and the owners really love what they’re doing. But the world’s a big place, you never know what’s going to happen in life.
Neo opens in Bournemouth on April 29.