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One of Birmingham’s best, Glynn Purnell has been delivering fine dining to the West Midlands since he launched Jessica’s in 2003. As head chef and co-owner, he was largely responsible for the impeccable reputation that the adventurous menu earned the restaurant. With experience working alongside Gordon Ramsay, Alistair Little, Gary Rhodes and Claude Bosi, Glynn’s culinary expertise is only to be expected. In 2005, the Birmingham restaurant’s success culminated in the receipt of Glynn’s first Michelin star. Unsurprisingly, this inspired the young chef to pursue owning a restaurant that would be solely his enterprise.
Glynn Purnell opened eponymous restaurant Purnell’s in 2007 and two years later was reunited with the Michelin star he had previously earned at Jessica’s. In 2009, along with the Michelin star, Glynn was also honoured with AA Restaurant of the Year to reward the high quality menus and service on offer at Purnell’s. Glynn has gained further recognition for his appearances on TV shows including the BBC Good Food Show, UKTV Food’s Great Food Live and his documentary, Working The Sea.
Glynn, first and foremost thank you very much for your time today. It's greatly appreciated as I know how busy you are. Tell us a little bit about Purnell's.
Purnell's has been open for three years now, I closed Jessica's down and within 6 weeks of closing that down I opened Purnell's here in Cornwall Street.
Glynn, what was your involvement in Jessica's restaurant? Did you own it?
I co-owned it. I had 25% and I ran the place, but I decided, if you have got a partner and they want to do one thing and you want to do another eventually you going to want to go in different directions. I have always wanted my own restaurant in the centre of my home town. That has always been my dream as a kid ... and to score a winner in the FA cup, obviously! I got to the stage where I needed to do it, so I re-mortgaged my house; bought Purnell's. It took 6 weeks to turn it round from one restaurant to another ... which was quite stressful, but I needed to do it like that for financial reasons.
Glynn before setting up Purnell's here in Birmingham, did you do all those things such as look at the markets; any research - what was the clientele; was there a demand;or did you just think - I'm going to open a restaurant in Birmingham?
I just said "I'm going to do a restaurant!" Jessica's was a successful restaurant - I could see that people were coming for my food and I wanted to make a big impact myself, and put my name about the door. First of all I wasn't even going to call it Purnell's. I thought it was a bit pretentious.
But then from a business sense, people recognise me as Glynn Purnell at Jessica's restaurant so that is why we went for that name. Other names we thought of were so cheesey - like Le Girolle, so I thought Purnell's; and put it on the door, for me it has a bit more of a classier edge to it than Smith! No disrespect to anyone called Smith but if it was called Smith's I don't think it would be such an impact.
It's a massive risk, though Glynn for you to take - what were you early thirties at this point?
Yes. I'm 35 now, so I was 32 when I opened Purnell's.
So married; Kids mortgage?.
I'm not married, I have been with my partner 14 years ... but I'm not sure she's the right one?! (Laughter) ...... I've said that to her a few times; We've got two children ...
She probably says the same about you!!!
Probably, yes. I've got two children, a house, a Jack Russell and a Cat.. and I have to make sure she is the right one! (Laughter)
On a serious note, the point is, it is a massive risk remortgaging your house you have got to be very dedicated and committed to the cause to do that and have great belief in what you can deliver.
Yes, you look at the financial risk but you have just got to believe in yourself. I know that sounds corny and all the rest of it but you have just got to think "I can do it." I was rubbish at maths; I wasn't bright at school but when you start counting your own money you never make many mistakes and you are realistic and you don't buy yourself a massive flashy car the first time make a bit of profit, then you should be OK.
So, was becoming a Chef one of these stories of "You used to sit on your Grandmother knee shelling peas ..."? Or was there just nothing else you could do?
Ummm, I wanted to be a Chef from day one. My mum was a good cook; my dad's a good cook and I also enjoyed trips into the market when I was a kid. Going out; seeing the produce.
I know it's quite diverse here in Birmingham, isn't it?
Yes, it is. It was exciting. I wasn't like picking fresh peas; it was going down the market and you see all these unusual vegetables. We always used to go to this one butcher who we used to order the meat from and he would always give use 4 or 5 Pigs Trotters. And we would take the Pigs Trotters home and my mum would braise them in the pressure cooker and by the time they were cooked, Blind Date was starting, so I would sit down in my pyjamas, with a little plate with a Pigs Trotter and a packet of plain crisps watching Blind Date. So food has been a massive part of my life.
Pigs Trotters are not the staple diet of every family, though, are they? So was it, in the nicest possible way, economy food at that stage in your life?
Yes, definitely. I was bought up on a council estate; I had two sisters and a brother; mum and dad. Dad was in factory work, so he was made redundant quite a few times. I had a great childhood but we certainly weren't lavished with ...
Does that focus your mind more on your business now, because of your background?
Yes, it does. I have always been pretty sensible with money but I think when you run your own business you have to be because it is not just me now - it's my two children; my wife and also I am responsible for the 20 odd people that work for me. And I am very conscious of that but also using cheap cuts - it's not because I think it's trendy to use them ...
There was a bit of a "Cheap Cuts" bandwagon, wasn't there?
Yes, but I use them because I understand them, I have eaten most of them most of my life. Belly draft (which is pork belly) we had constantly, once a week and Ham Hock and Gammon and stuff like that. Smoked Haddock milk, which is part of one of my signature dishes, comes from my childhood, so I use it because it's the make-up of me. It's what I am about as a Chef.
I think a lot of people know Glynn Purnell from Claude (Bosi) but before that, where were you? Before Claude?
I spent a long to with Andreas Antona in Kenilworth at Simpson's. I bumped into Andreas at one of the hospitality shows and when I was a young lad and asked him if I could come and do a day and then, basically, he just offered me a job. And I was there for nearly seven years. I had a fantastic time there, but I got to the stage where there were people above me in the kitchen that I wanted to step over and ultimately, I have always wanted to be my own man. And I went to work with Claude (Bosi), which was a massive eye opener and I was only there for about eight months - like a season, almost but he has been so influential. He and Andreas have been the two key players in my cooking life and so has, Marco Pierre White with White Heat. As a lad of 16, I wanted to grow my hair and a beard just so I could look like Marco! But I think most Chefs of my generation have got that little special bit of what White Heat was all about.
What sort of influences has the city of Birmingham had on you and your food style?
Birmingham has been a massive influence. I am a part of Birmingham and Birmingham is a part of me. When I was a bit younger I wanted to try and shake it off, to be honest. Birmingham has never had the most romantic feeling about it; people's perception of Birmingham is very different from what it actually is. So it is important to me that I am happy in Birmingham. It's where I feel comfortable. I think once you are happy you cook well. You thrive on that and I think Birmingham has got a lot to offer and I have got a lot to offer Birmingham. So we work with each other.
I notice in your dishes, today, there are a lot of Asian influences; you use a lot of spices - is that a reflection of the diverse culture within the city?
Yes, definitely. I use a lot of spices but in a very delicate way. I am not an Indian Chef I don't claim to know everything about ethnic food but I can only work on what I have been bought up with.
Nobody would put bloody curry on in Birmingham, would they?
No, you'd have too much competition. (Laughter) .I think growing up and going down the markets in Birmingham; when it was your birthday you never went to The Bernie we'd go down the Lady Poole Road or Ward End and have a curry. And it would be £4 or £5 for a Balti and a table Nam, bag of cans and my mum would have a bottle of Liebfraumilch - bring you own . And growing up in the late seventies/ early eighties there was a lot of Ken Hom and Madhur Jaffrey's on the TV and one of the other major influences was Keith Floyd, he was going round in his randomly exotic markets and making stir-fries using Soya and Grand Marsala, Cumin and that sticks in my mind. I got a tape and a cook-a-long book for Christmas, when I was about 13 or 14 years old, of Keith Floyd making Devilled Kidneys.
Keith was brilliant, and sadly missed.
Yes, a great Chef. I wouldn't want to end up like him, but I think I could be the next Keith Floyd because that job is fantastic, that job that he did.
Now, Glynn, you mentioned Jessica's earlier - you got the Star there and that put you on the map. Obviously there were lots of rumours, and now it's official you are back at Jessica's as the owner. Was that always a long term goal? Was it somewhere you held affection for and you wanted to buy it?
A couple of things really, basically the Landlord phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to take it back on. I umm'd and r'd a bit really as to whether I wanted the hassle; it's a lovely little site; there is a bit of my history there; I thought hard about it; I dismissed it and then a young guy, Jason Eaves, who is going to take on the Head Chef position phoned me up (he'd previously worked for me) and he was looking for a job and I said "Well, look I think it's time for you to be a Head Chef now." And one of the Front of House girls Julie Tonsgaard, from here, was leaving and it is time for her to be a Manager, so I thought just the way it was all falling into place; I thought this could be an opportunity. So Jason and Julie agreed and I then went back to the Landlord and said "I am happy to talk to you about taking it on."
We have done a good deal with the lease because of the cold climate, so it is a bit of a project really. I got given an opportunity when I was young and I got given shares and eventually, if these guys can make it work then I am happy to reward them with shares as a sort of payback. Giving two people, who have worked hard for me over the years an opportunity to prove their worth... and if they don't, well, it's in their hands and I'll guide it. I have no intention of cooking there. I am not going to put my name above the door. Everyone will know that I am the owner and I'll work with the team there.
What else can we see in the future from Glynn Purnell? Books? TV?
Umm, I would love to do a book. I have spoken to a couple of publishers, but with the current climate people are a bit umm'g and r'g because a lot of the book publishers want you to do something very main stream. I mean, every Chef wants to do a book about their restaurant and food philosophy...
Yes, there are only so many Chef books you can do!
Exactly. I want to do stuff that you can cook at home; a book with a bit of a mix really - what you can cook at home and what we do at the restaurant; a bit about the Chef; a bit about food today. I have got a few little bits of television coming up, including Saturday Kitchen.
Your personality lends itself to TV, doesn't it? (Laughter) You are a natural, flamboyant extrovert.
I don't even see that. If I ever do something, then I do it because I enjoy it.
Yes, there are guys that we go to film and they are good at what they do but the moment you put a camera in front of them they go "OMG..." and they become shrinking violets, and that is no disrespect to them, but you have the personality. You have a very outgoing, warm personality.
(Laughter) I have got like two sides and they flip very quick. But, for me, I have never really tried on TV. Yes, it's just me.
So what they see on TV then it's exactly what you do, the real Glynn Purnell.
Yes. They probably don't see the more serious side, because I am quite a deep serious person - that's the two sides. I am a f***ing nightmare to live with, ask my wife!! (Laughter). I love doing TV, what slightly worries me is people's perception of me. I have been doing this job for 21 years and I have never done it half heartedly. I have worked in a two Star restaurant; I have gained one Star and closed it down and opened up another and got another Star, so I am not doing it for a laugh and that slightly worries me that the more TV you do people think "oh, he's f***ing lost it" but at the end of the day TV is there to get customers through the door and I would like to do more TV but it's time, really. You aren't pinned to the stove but there are other things that are important, at the end of the day I have got to make money.
Yes, you are never going to be a multi millionaire cooking in a 47 cover restaurant, where as TV opens you up to books or whatever.
Yes, I was a bit like that when I was younger, I used to see Chefs on TV and think "They can't really cook", but one person I will defend every time is James Martin - he really can cook.
Yes, he worked at Chewton Glen and all sorts of places, didn't he?
You see some of these two and one Star Chefs going on Saturday Kitchen, I am the same as well, James Martin is behind doing everything - he's a diamond; a really good lad. I was one of these guys who looked at him and thought "What a twat!!" Now I have got respect for him. It's a business. And I think some Chefs forget that we're in business and this should now be the cream on the cake... being a chance for the Chef to step out of the kitchen and actually earn some money. You know, we have families and I don't want to spend every Saturday night on the stove - for what? So when they bury me they can say "He never missed a service." I mean I try not to miss a service, but f*** me!
Yes, "Here lies Glynn Purnell - he never missed a service!"
Yes, but no one knew him because he was always in the kitchen!! So I'd like to do more television as long as it is about the food and it's not too pretentious because I try and make food understandable and good to eat. That, for me, is the whole point of food. So yes, definitely more TV, but when and where - I don't know. We've just opened The Aquith, so that's two restaurants to run as well and maybe Birmingham City top six, other than that, at the minute that's all that's planned really!
Well, good luck with the Purnells; good luck with the restaurants - I can't wish you luck on Birmingham being in the top six - that's almost impossible surley.
I think it is too! (Laughter)
Glynn, thank you very much for your time. One final, thing, Glynn can you tell us what you are going to cook for us today?
Carpaccio of beef - breasola -home corned beef - textures of peaches - schezuan pepper - basil