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Russell Bateman, head chef of Colette’s Restaurant, The Grove Hotel, Hertfordshire, wanted to be a chef from the age of six. After completing his first year at college Russell went to work at Harrods in Knightsbridge. Through the executive chef at Harrods, Russell was introduced to the head chef of Chapter One, Paul Dunstane. He went to work with Paul Dunstane and when Paul left to work at Chez Nico, Russell went with him. Afterwards he went on to work at St James Street, under Marcus Wareing. He spent two and half years with Marcus, opening the Savoy Grill, Fleur and the then new Petrus at The Berkley. Russell travelled to France to work with Marc Veyrat in Annecy, learning pastry in a three starred Michelin kitchen.
Returning to England, he then worked with Eric Chavot at the Capital Hotel before moving on to Danesfield House Hotel in Marlow, working for Aiden Byrne. Russell started as a sous chef, but having to look after the restaurant when Aiden got the call to go to the Dorchester to take on their Grill Room. He also worked at Midsummer House, run by Daniel Clifford. Russell got his first proper head chef job at The Feathers, where he worked for two and a half years before finally taking the head chef job at Collette’s.
Russell, great to meet with you today, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Let's start with you outlining your role as Head Chef at Colettes
Serving how many covers?
Forty-five covers is really the maximum that we do, it's a dinner only restaurant"¦.
That's a very nice job, Russell?
Yes I know"¦.. It's a great role.
Russell, let's talk about the aspirations for the restaurant. You've been awarded three rosettes, congratulations, where do you want to take the restaurant?
I want to take both Colettes and myself as far as I can go"¦"¦.
And how far is that?
I'd like to think that we could reach four rosettes with the AA and I want to improve our score in the Good Food Guide"¦
What's your score currently?
At the moment we are five out of ten. Going forward, you know I've worked in enough Michelin star restaurants, I don't think, you can ever say that you want one (Star) but I think we can. I want a full restaurant, I want the customers to be happy, and I want my team of chefs to be happy.
And what about the business, Russell? What are The Grove saying that they want you to achieve? Have The Grove set you targets?
First and foremost, we are a business and we need to make the margins which we are. The restaurant is also busy, we are doing good business, and that in a way is the main goal - it's working the way that we are doing what we do. The Staff turnover is low. The GP is good, the customer feed back is really good we are also getting strong non resident business, which for a hotel, and a hotel out of London, I think, is really good.
Do you consider the opportunity that you have is a real chance for you to make a name? You're young, you're not a "Big Name", and by that I mean, if you look at other hotels in the same market space as The Grove, many use a model that will franchise out it's restaurant to Gordon (Ramsay) Marcus (Wareing) Angela (Hartnett) Heston (Blumenthal) etc, and you have your own fine dining restaurant.
Yes, of course, all of those names that you've mentioned - Mandarin Oriental, Claridges and I have to compare myself against all of those places, that's my reality, I have to compare myself, with those Chefs in those operations, so when you say what are your aspirations then it has to be as good as all those places.
Russell, how would you describe Russell Bateman's food style?
That's a tough one to answer.
I know it's difficult to pigeonhole or to wrap it into one genre, but give us an overview of your food.
I think that it's cosmopolitan; British really, I think all Chefs are influenced by Spain, France, Chinese food that you eat when growing up, Indian food, again, that you eat growing up, Moroccan food, that you can eat down the Edgware Road. I'm influenced by so many things - I eat out a lot, I eat abroad a lot, and I try to take as much in as possible, whether I'm in Piedmont eating an Alba Truffle, or in the south of Portugal eating Sardines, what ever it may be.
I'm influenced by the seasons here in the UK, and they very much dictate what we buy and then, what we put on our menus, so I just try and get as much food knowledge as I possibly can.
Russell, what would you say has been your biggest challenge to date in your current role as Head Chef at The Grove?
I think managing staff, learning to manage a bigger team and having to manage myself.
Russell, as part of a large hotel, are you then tasked with appraisals, job chats? Is that all part of the process to managing staff?
Yes, absolutely, here at The Grove we do an EAR "¦.
Which stands for?
Employee Achievement Review, it's a process that we do every six months, and at first, initially, it is a menace - having to sit down with the team"¦
Did you do that chef-type thing of "I'm here to cook"?
I used to but it really is a great opportunity to sit down with your staff, at the same level, cup of tea in hand and chat to them one-on-one, away from the kitchen, in an environment that is much less frantic/hectic, and you talk to them, give them feed back, look at development for them.
Russell, what do you consider to be your greatest success in your role to date?
I think, it's my team. I've got a great team in place that have been with me for almost eighteen months"¦
Getting the team is always, let's be honest, is the biggest challenge. We know there is a huge shortage of Chefs, so attracting chefs and keeping them can be difficult.
It is a challenge, we know there are great suppliers out there and we can get great produce, but it's so different with Chefs, and getting good Chefs. Three rosettes from the AA is fantastic, five out of ten in the Good Food Guide is fantastic, but for me my greatest achievement has been keeping my team in place for eighteen months. We've done it together, we've raised the bar, improved the standard, and we've done it as a team. The team are hungry to learn, they want to do better, each day, and they are developing"¦"¦
I guess having the same team also helps drive consistency across the product?
Yes, of course, and it's built on trust, and if you have trust you can build consistency, as your team buy into you, and understand your ethos, they can see where you want to go, and they buy into the dream, I guess.
Russell, what would you say has been the biggest frustration in your role and how have you overcome that?
Umm"¦"¦.. Red tape"¦"¦. Bureaucracy.
Which I guess there does tend often to be more red tape in a hotel, rather than a restaurant?
Yes, unfortunately and I'm from a restaurant background, but you have to take the rough with the smooth, you get a lot of support in hotels, which often you don't get in restaurants.
And, of course, things like whites provided which often you don't tend to get in restaurants.
That's right, uniforms, I have in the past spent all day on Sunday washing and ironing, so in effect you don't get a day off, you get a day washing.
So how do you cope then, Russell, with the red tape? Is it a case of biting your tongue and working with the process?
At the end of the day, it's an education for me, it's something to learn, whether it be how to complete an EAR, a fire safety course, a health and safety course, employment law, or management skills. At the end of the day I'm progressing my skills, and the guys can see these sort of things becoming part of the every day, so it's better to work with it.
Russell, you've worked with a number of high profile Chefs. You worked with Nico (Ladenis), Marcus (Wareing) at Petrus, if you had to pick one Chef who has been the biggest influence on your career, who would it be?"
If I had to pick one, then it would be Marcus because I worked with Marcus the longest at Petrus.
Ok, what do you feel that you gained from Marcus over anyone else?
I think what I saw from Marcus was consistency, professionalism, control, highly organised - all the other Chefs had it, but Marcus had much more of it, and it was much more emphasised.
Eric Chavot - fantastic too. Nico, just a pure gastronomic genius - what Nico didn't know about food, you didn't need to know. Daniel Clifford - a hurricane: great cook and pure passion, and great imagination. Marc Veyrat - genius and way ahead of his time, Veyrat was doing what Noma is doing now, ten years ago and no one out side of France recognised it. Cooking the food of his environment. But as a single biggest influence, then it would be Marcus, more on me as a person over my food style.
Russell, you mention food style, how has your own food style changed in the last eighteen months? Is it a case of slow progression - a few tweaks here and there?
I wouldn't say that it's dramatic"¦
Would you say that there is a Russell Bateman style? Can you look at a dish, and think, yes that's me?
I think it's difficult for me to perhaps see because I'm always trying to think ahead, and to look at the next season.
Russell, are you one of these Chefs, that is never happy and everything could be better?
Well, I think you can always improve, my trousers could fit better, my shoes could be shinier - everything could be better"¦.. (Laughter)
But are you comfortable with where your food is at the moment?
Yes, I'm comfortable, I can see where it is and I can see that it is moving forward. For me a great sign is my team, when we talk about dishes and we come to try them out, they understand the way that flavours work, what works for me and the way that I would dress and present, which to me says, that there is a Russell Bateman style.
Russell, last question, bit of an interview question, but where do you see yourself in five years time?
Umm"¦.. Happy, I want to progress.
Are you not happy now?
No, I want to continue to be happy and I want to progress. I want to be up there with the big boys in Britain.
So, who are the big boys? Who do you aspire to be benchmarked against?
Those are the Chefs that you aspire to you?
Yes, of course, Chefs that have done it on their own, and made it on their own, they have made it through on pure talent, knowledge and desire.
Does being wealthy equate to being successful?
No! not at all.
Does having a star equate to success?
I think in one sense yes"¦"¦
You could die a penniless amazing cook then!!!
I guess I could"¦(Laughter)"¦why not? I was born penniless and couldn't cook when I was born, so at least I've progressed!!!! (Laughter)
Russell, being serious again for a moment, are you looking to have your own restaurant one day, it appears that most Chefs are?
Yes of course, I think all Chefs want their own restaurant and those that say they don't are perhaps frighten of the responsibility, but being a Head Chef is about taking responsibility, so why not be one hundred percent responsible for something. Yes, I talk about it all the time; it's something that I can see happening in the future.
It is a huge financial responsibility though?
It is but I think there are a lot of things that you can do; a lot of diverse options, there're BYO - a lot of people are doing just tasting menus so wastage is down.
Russell, do you think that there is still a place in the market for fine dining out side of London?
Yes, I think the guide books have proved that this year, especially the Good Food Guide, Nathan (Outlaw), Sat and Simon are higher than many London restaurants, both with five rosettes, there are many great restaurants around England, it's not just about London anymore. Paul at Number 6 in Padstow, Sat, as we mentioned the Casamia boys, Mark at Alimentum is doing great things, so much great young talent around, and it's a really exciting time for British cooking!
Russell, thank you so much for your time today, it's great to meet with you, I wish you every success for the future.
Thank you. Be lucky.