Ben Radford, Head Chef, Timberyard

The  Staff Canteen

Ben Radford is the head chef of Timberyard in Edinburgh. The 3 AA Rosette restaurant is owned and run by Ben and his family who have a proven track record in the hospitality industry.

His parents, Andrew and Lisa Radford, owned bar-bistro Blue for 18 years and Atrium for 22 years both in Edinburgh, before closing them in 2011 due to rent issues.

Ben, who has a degree in photography, opened Timberyard in August 2012 with his parents, brother and sister and it has continued to go from strength to strength.

He spoke to The Staff Canteen about the importance of his relationship with suppliers, why Scottish restaurants don’t receive as much recognition as their English counterparts and a new site which they will open in 2018.

MACKEREL 1 low res
Mackerel - credit Abi Radford

You opened Timberyard as a family – why did you all decide it was time to do something new?

My parents came to me and asked if I wanted to do something together. They obviously had the know-how, experience and importantly they had the backing. My brother said he would come back from Australia where he had been running a bar and get involved. My brother and I are the ones who are at the helm, and the dynamic does work but as with any family there are obviously hiccups every now and again.

Your dad was a chef for many years, is he still involved in the dishes and the menu?

My dad has stepped back from that role now but he does a lot of foraging these days and he project manages any new plans we have such as if we wanted to build a new bar for example. The menu is very much me and the team – we bounce ideas of each other and if there are any questions I’ll go to him with that.

What is the vision for Timberyard?

There is a huge amount of curing, smoking and pickling which I think a lot of people instantly associate with Scandinavian cooking but it is very much a part of British cooking. But obviously new Nordic cuisine has brought it to the forefront.
Timberyard has evolved in its own way, when we set out it was fast paced and simple – we were doing 120 covers on a Saturday night and there was just an à la carte menu of six starters, six mains and six desserts.

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Within four years we saw a different direction which we wanted to go in – we phased out all the options and now we just have a 4, 6, 8 course tasting menu for dinner plus a lunch tasting menu of 4 and 6 courses as well. At no point did we consciously say ‘this is what we want to be doing’ it just slowly morphed in to what it is now. Who knows where it will go in the next five years?

And what can people expect from the menu?

The dishes on the lunch menu change on a weekly basis, at the moment we have hare on the menu and there is not a huge abundance of people shooting hare so we got ten yesterday which has been prepped and will be served with some baked and barbequed squash, forced kale which comes in fantastic vibrant yellows and other unusual colours and is buttered and charred.

On the dinner menu we have a partridge breast roasted on the crown, basted in brown butter and stuffed with heather and fresh herbs. This really infuses into it as it cooks. There is a confit leg which is then brushed with a rowan berry glaze and we caramelize it. With the offal we spread this on a rye bread toast and it's served with baked Jerusalem artichokes, black truffle and some fresh pear and watercress.

How important as a chef, is your relationship with your suppliers?

It’s massively important. We work very closely with them and I think what is important is we don’t just understand how they work, they understand how we work. We use small suppliers who will come in for dinner and they will try you out. Bigger suppliers don’t understand who you are as a business or get the ethos. Small companies want to know things like what size you want your chickens when they get slaughtered or how many they will need each week. So you do have to build up that rapport and as a result we get a better product and they get continued business.

Timberyard - credit Abi Radford

Is it tough being a young chef with an independent restaurant in Edinburgh?

As a business for the past five years, every year has been up – which is fantastic and we are still growing and developing. But we are still young, we have that on our side and we are a very different style of restaurant for the city. The one thing which has changed is the lunch trade, there isn’t the same spend per head at lunch, the suits don’t go out to entertain as often as they maybe did in the past. As an independent restaurant in Edinburgh I think we are more than holding our own.

Are restaurants and chefs in Scotland recognised enough?

In a lot of ways probably not; I’m sure there are lots of chefs and restaurateurs who don’t think they are getting the accolades they feel they deserve. But I’m more than happy with how we have been received.
In terms of say Michelin I don’t think they are as present in Scotland as they do suggest, and I think a restaurant in London will receive its acknowledgement and nod far quicker than somewhere north of the border. Not for any reason other than that’s the Michelin base and word gets around so much faster down there.
A star is not something we are going after here however to get one would be a massive pat on the back for the team. They are fantastic and I think the strongest team we’ve had since we opened.

Was it a given that you would follow in your dad’s footsteps and become a chef?

It was never the plan! I worked part time at Atrium as a teenager as a veg prep chef and then from there I started as a KP in the restaurant. The year between university and school I started full time on the pastry section and I did thoroughly enjoy it. I carried on part time through uni for some beer money.
My parent’s ethos at their restaurants has always been the same as what we are now doing at Timberyard – very local and very seasonal. I always loved working with amazing produce and it was what I was brought up with at home.

PARTRIDGE 1 low res
Partridge - credit Abi Radford

Talk us through your cooking experience and restaurants you worked in?

I went to Café St Honore and chef owner Neil Forbes was great to work with and for. He gave me the reins as head chef there after a couple of years as chef de partie and then sous chef. That was my first head chef position which was great. It was the same ethos as what I was used to but it was French based cuisine although I think my background in terms of technique was classic French and that applies to Timberyard now.

What did you take from your experience at Café St Honore?

It was fantastic, there was team of six and we got free rein. We were all young guys and I was the oldest at 26! It was a motley crew of guys I had known for years and we learned a lot. There was a lot of trial and error but it was a good place to learn the classic techniques and that’s what we concentrated on.

We were, as I mentioned, using local produce and we were getting in whole lambs, pigs, venison and games to break down. Plus we were getting sacks of seasonal veg. I’ve been very lucky to have always grown up with that nose to tail eating and to see whole 80 kilo pigs coming in to Honore was amazing. We’d make bacon with the belly, ham with the back legs, we might make a pigs head terrine plus we would use the prime cuts on the al a carte menu. It’s a great way of cooking, it’s cheaper buying in whole animals and it’s a skill I think a lot of young chefs coming through now don’t have. I don’t think there are as a many chefs kitchens practising butchery these days.
We tried to do the same with fish and it’s good for the guys to see the whole product and it not coming in as a pre vac packed, 80 gram fillets of fish.

And what are your future plans?

Next year the plan is to open a new site in Edinburgh with the same ethos and concept but it will be fast paced, three or four components on a plate wine bar with a small plates vibe. It’ll be casual and fun. We have the site and the backing we are just waiting on the council and the paper work.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2017

Ben Radford, Head Chef, Timberyard