How I Got Here: Colin Clague

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with former Zuma chef Colin Clague who is the chef patron at Rüya restaurant in Mayfair

Related tags: Restaurant, Chef, Mayfair

Former Zuma chef Colin Clague is the chef patron at Rüya, the Anatolian-inspired restaurant from Dubai that opened its first UK outpost in Mayfair last year.

Why restaurants? 
I am far happier in restaurants; hotels are a bit stiff, and I was always finding myself on the wrong side of Human Resources.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career? 
It's bloody hard work, you’ll have little social life, and work/life balance is virtually impossible… but still we love it, and wouldn’t do anything else!

What do you do in your spare time? 
I try to spend as much time with my family. I read a lot, and when in London I will try and see the Arsenal whenever possible.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)? 
I have to say Zuma, I was there at the beginning of that journey in 2002 and stayed for over 10 years. What they have achieved is truly remarkable, and it is the benchmark for what I would like to achieve with Rüya.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants? 
Something historical. I always wanted to be an archaeologist, but nobody told me you had to be really clever. I could see myself on a dig somewhere looking at pieces of pottery, though; would love that.

What motivates you? 
My family, and just trying to create a better recipe than the one I did previously.

Where was your last holiday? 
Surprise surprise, it was Turkey with the family. It ticks all the boxes: fantastic food, history, culture, and good weather. We managed to take in Ephesus this time, which was truly spectacular.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business? 
Must be Rainer Becker at Zuma. I try to emulate Rainer every day; he sees everything, and has a fantastic palate. We disagreed on recipes many times, but he was never wrong. I also still remember getting a bollocking for not noticing a light bulb that had gone out in the restaurant, which was quite hard to see from behind the kitchen walls. To this day I still walk around the restaurant first thing to check that everything is in order.

What keeps you up at night? 
Worrying about my family, my chefs, my restaurants, and Arsenal football club; supporting that club is one hell of a roller coaster ride.

Worst business decision?​ 
I don't regret leaving Zuma as it opened the door for a fantastic opportunity with Rüya. However, financially you never know if you would be better off staying somewhere or starting somewhere new. But I think I had reached the end of the line as far as being creative with Japanese food went, and had to do something new; once you stop being creative it's time to seek fresher pastures.

Best business decision? 
Again, joining Zuma; had an amazing 10 years. In time I have a feeling Rüya will be up there, though.

What are you reading at the moment? 
Two books on Greek mythology by Stephen Fry: Mythos and Heroes. Brilliant reads, and funny; both should be compulsory reading at school.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business? 
Be in it for love, not money or fame; hard work, long hours and commitment are the only way to succeed in this business… oh, and have a good palate!

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?​ 
I would teach everybody in school both junior and high school cookery. There are so many things they taught me at school I have never used in my life, but how to cook, where does your food come from, healthy eating etc. now that would be useful. We would then have a generation who would see hospitality as a career and not just a pay check. If children embrace food culture early, it's so much easier for them to get a buzz out of cooking. I still get a kick when I am creating new dishes, it's what it's all about. It would also make the population healthier, which would be a bonus.

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