Interview With Adrian Oliver Chef Patron Margots Padstow

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 24th November 2010
Adrian thank you very much for inviting us down today, great to see you and the wonderful Margots, and probably the best chocolate croissants that I've ever eaten!(Chough Bakery!)  Adrian tell us a little about Margots, and how you came to be here.   I describe myself as a back street bistro"¦(Laughter) You need a PR company Adrian No, I don't that is the last thing that I need. I think they would come up with something far more creative and flamboyant than "Back Street Bistro". That's exactly what I don't need as it goes against everything I believe in. (Laughter) I started here in "¦"¦. 19..1996, and worked for three years under the previous owners. So you haven't always owned it? No, it was Bistro Margot Thomas when I arrived and I worked for Elaine, who's nickname was Margot, so she was the Margot. She owned the restaurant with her husband Mike, sadly Elaine became ill in 1997. I came here as second chef, with the idea that Elaine would be able to spend more time in the garden, and away from business, but still being hands on, as it is a small team. So that's what I came to do; it was another job.  I saw a small ad in the back of the Caterer; I had never worked that far south before. Where were you at this stage? I was in mid-Wales. You're a Welshman, I believe. Yes, but I left when I was very young. We were in Newtown, we were looking to buy a small place, but it didn't quite click. I was working for the owner, as they were very picky over who they sold to, he was a lovely guy. "No bones Jones" they call him. he now runs vegetarian catering on festival sites. What a great name for a vegetarian business. It's perfect, isn't it. He is a legend -  Hugh Jones, I worked for Hugh for a little while after leaving Hampshire, at very cheap rates!!! He could see what I wanted to do with the restaurant as he was going to be the landlord - he owned the building. But it didn't happen I just couldn't see myself staying there. Having moved around a fair bit moving to Cornwall was very easy. I'd never really felt that tied to a town, though I do now feel very tied to Padstow. So we came down and with Elaine becoming ill Mike also stopped work to look after Elaine as she needed a fair amount of care, and my wife (Julie) and I became acting managers really. Elaine sadly passed away in ninety eight, and my wife and I completed the season. Mike didn't want to come back and gave us first refusal on the business. I think we'd really found what we were looking for - small, Padstow, Cornwall back street bistro, and if we didn't buy it then someone else would, we haven't really changed it that much since we brought in ninety nine. Adrian , who makes up your clientele? It's a huge mixed bag - locals, very important to look after the locals; the second homers, and the longer we are here, then the more our customers are repeat customers, we actually see less new customers, which is a great position to be in and I'm not complaining, we have what may be once a year regulars. But that is testament to what you do, surely? Absolutely, so look after the locals the Cornish pound is very hard earnt. I would image in the winter your locals are very important? Yes, of course, tonight we have locals in, we have regulars, we have special requests - a guy in that only eats Brandy Snap baskets"¦"¦ What just Brandy Snap baskets? No, just for dessert, so that is what I'm making today.  Then we've Audrey, who likes chicken livers, she comes every September, and I really enjoy that aspect, it can be a little pain in the bum at times, but there are nights when I can also name every customer that we have there is almost a club feel to it. So you've really become part of community and social fabric? Yes, you could see this as a commercial venture, you couldn't really see this a business as we don't really make enough money, but that's not the point  It's an institution and we are simply looking after Margots  before the next owners, which may be my kids, or someone else. OK, Adrian, there are a number of puns around Padstow - Steinville, Padstein, you have a very famous "Celebrity Chef" on your door step, and a number of restaurants under the "Rick Stein" banner - is that an advantage or disadvantage? It's a huge advantage. Because of the draw and natural audience on your door step? Rick is the one Chef, Celebrity chef, what ever you want to call him, that is identified to where he is based - Padstow.  You could pick six other chefs that have a profile, and people won't know where they are from. Probably even Heston; people would say the Fat Duck rather than Bray. So even if Rick is cooking in Thailand, people remember Padstow, and the first series was just awesome. They were very natural and genuine the first series was very good. They were and they showed Padstow in a great light. Padstow has always been popular, it always will be and if Rick, suddenly disappeared, it would still do well, but the top ups of course help. They always say, the best place to open a restaurant is next to successful restaurant, because there is a market and people are not going to eat with Rick every night, they could, but people come to Padstow, for many different reasons. I guess you need to tap into a small percentage of that market? Padstow is not a competitive place, we are all sharing the same customers, and suppliers. OK, Adrian are you weather dependant in the business? Not really, it doesn't really effect business, it just effects the mood of the customer  If August is a bad month for weather it doesn't effect us too much, it's the pluses and minis' of running a small business, we don't need to be rammed in August as long as we do good business for ten months we'll survive. Some of the larger businesses in town need to get more people in August - those with beer gardens or outside catering.  If those people don't do so well in the summer, then that may impact on us in the winter, as they have perhaps less to spend, so the town is probably more weather dependant than us. Adrian, I made a joke earlier about PR companies, but my guestimation, without being patronising, is you probably don't have a large marketing or advertising budget, so I guess a lot is viral.  How important is things such as Twitter, I see you posting table for two tonight, does it work for the business? I love free marketing. Who doesn't ? Anything that is free. But does it really work? Yes, it does.  We'd had a nightmare situation where we had a large table booked a year in advance and they had done it the year before. So I didn't worry that the table hadn't been in touch, I kept saying to myself "it's fine, it's fine, they'll get in touch", and totally my fault I'd lost the contact details. OOoops! It was a half six table, so we placed it on Twitter and we had a waiting list.  We kept people up to date. We passed the cut off point, pressed the button on Twitter and sold three tables, so yes it works. It's also great for communication.  There is Paul (Ainsworth) just around the corner, Nathan (Outlaw) just across the water and often at the end of service, we are all on line and we can communicate.  It keeps you connected and connects you to the public. I stopped advertising along time ago, it was rather like throwing something against the wall and seeing what stuck, it's so hard to quantify. Also without being modest, we are popular. So Twitter just keeps your name out there? Yes and I enjoy it. I enjoy Twitter, Facebook, you guys on The Staff Canteen, and few other forums that I use, I enjoy it. I like to share. I love Cornwall and I can never see myself leaving but you can, at times, feel a little isolated, so the internet keeps you connected; it keeps you informed; you can share with others, and you can gossip, and I love to gossip..(Laughter) Adrian, being a total opportunist and never preparing any questions for this interview, you've just called the fish order through: Scallops, Mackerel, Cod, are you a predominately a fish restaurant? No, we have someone around the corner that does fish - ah! I'll get in trouble for that! We have a number of great Chefs now; the world has changed. Paul (Ainsworth) just around the corner Nathan (Outlaw) across the water - fantastic chefs and great with fish.  We are Bistro and therefore offer meat and fish. But using mainly Cornish produce? Absolutely, but I only use Cornish produce when it's good. So you're not on this bandwagon of it must be local? Local, is great, when it's good.  I've a local duck company, that took me a while, and they are very good but it's no point being fundamentalist about it we simple don't grow olives here. No, I guess not!!!! Coffee. Give over, no Coffee tree in Cornwall. We have amazing produce from outstanding suppliers, and the menu will almost write itself. So is that how you approach the menu, one of your suppliers calls saying "I've got some outstanding Mackerel today". My menu doesn't change that much.  When fresh Asparagus is in season, Cornish Asparagus, then strawberries, which tend to tie in when the town is at its busiest. We've had Cornish figs from a friend's garden, he had around two hundred which is just a little too much for a family to eat, so we've had those on the menu. It's amazing what you get offered, if you've been here a while and connected with the local community -  flowers; Mackerel - it's almost a barter system. Adrian, you are obviously very community focused. Yes, which is why perhaps we are not as commercial as we should be, as I spend too much time doing things which perhaps doesn't make us any money. Adrian, how important is it to be on the inside of the community?  There is a perception that perhaps the Cornish community is fairly closed and breaking into that can be tough. The Perception is utter bollocks to be honest. So do you have to work at being accepted? Yes, but that's the same as you have to do in any town because of the commercial aspect of the town. Rick's turnover is £millions, to talk about a Cornish town, who's turnover is millions and for people who perhaps think that they can come to Padstow and make a fast buck - charge the earth, double sittings, and don't make the effort to blend in.  If you go out of your way to blend and work with community then it's very easy to be accepted. I know that I could charge more here for the food that we serve, a couple of pounds on each and no one would bat an eyelid, but part of thing in my mind is to offer value for money, and for the people that have been coming to me for ten years come because they get value for money and they are not ripped off. Adrian, that's very moral of you but we are not getting any younger, in fact I think we are both the same age, with kids, is there not a part of you that wants to increase your earning and build a safety net for the family? Yes, I'm sure that I should be but I just can't. Is that you?  Is that just an Adrian Oliver thing? It's difficult to change your personality and perhaps in the future, we may make more money, but we won't change the way we do things or the business.  If we don't make enough money, then we'll just stop. I've got a new accountant, who tends to roll his eyes at me quite a lot. In a patronising way"¦(Laughter) Hmm yes, but I tell him, this is what I do. I love the work and if that allows me a day off on a Sunday to spend it with the family and Monday poker, then, I'm very happy with that. I'm very lucky, if you're not born and bred in Cornwall, then I get an estuary view, while driving to work. I'm two minutes from a beautiful harbour, I can take the kids crabbing, which growing up in the Midlands this was something that never existed for me. I know what you mean, an old bit of rope with a hook, and bacon on it is hours of fun. I'll give you another example of how good life can be, we went to Newquay to buy school shoes for the kids.  We got hungry on the way back, none of us wanted to cook, so "Lets get a KFC" I like the idea more than the product  we drive to Porth and sit and eat KFC on the beach, you can't put a price on that! We don't have motorways, we don't have taxi ranks, mobile phone signal is poor here, no multiplex cinemas, and people come to Cornwall to escape and to enjoy. I've stopped wearing a watch, I lost my phone and haven't bothered looking for it. I love it here, I love the work, and I love the place and the life that I have. Adrian, I want to thank you for your time today.  You seem like a person that is completely comfortable with where you and your family are in life, and I wish you, the family and Margots every success in the future"¦Thank you! Thank you.

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 24th November 2010

Interview With Adrian Oliver Chef Patron Margots Padstow