Bruce Rennie, chef owner, The Shore

The  Staff Canteen

Bruce Rennie is the chef owner of The Shore, in Penzance, Cornwall

Born in Fife to a Scottish father and a Belgian mother, Bruce Rennie considered a career in architecture or music technology before, like many a penniless student before him, he applied to work in a kitchen. He soon discovered that not all restaurants are created equal; he poured himself into Ladenis, Rhodes and Marco Pierre White books, and decided to pursue a higher standard of cooking.

Since then, he has worked at The Balmoral Hotel, Gary Rhodes' restaurant, Shanks and Martin Wishart's. 

He moved to Cornwall ten years ago, where he ran St Ives gastropub, The Gurnard's Head, for four and a half years, followed by a short spat at Rick Stein's Porthleven restaurant. 

Finally, in 2015, he opened The Shore in Penzance. 

What is it like to own and run your own restaurant, alone?

Financially, damn nightmare. It’s so seasonal down here it’s horrendous. I think people don’t get the fact that sometimes it costs me more to open than it does to stay at home in the winter. That’s why I don’t like closing at times, because in the winter, if I’ve got four people booked, I’m not going to make a profit on it for the utilities that I use.

It’s a learning game. I’m learning as we go along what works and where I can save money and where I can prioritise my time so I’ll take some down time, I’ll make improvements to the restaurant, I’ll focus on [other things].

Grilled mackerel%2C oyster%2C cucumber%2C horseradish

I’m not the most confident of people. I’ve had my issues, I do have issues, I am an alcoholic, I’ve not had a drink for a wee while now, but I’m trying desperately to stick to that, it’s got so many adverse effects.

It’s hard when you’re working on your own and surrounded by very nice wine. Because the problem is I don’t just drink any crap either, I drink the really nice stuff.  So yeah, trying not to do that, but I need to keep my mind active.

Creatively it’s brilliant owning my own place but the pressures elsewhere, financially, I wish I could have afforded or had backing to buy somewhere rather than rent because renting is crippling. The landlords took three times as much as me last year from the business and I’m doing up their property because it’s in a poor state.

It’s a nightmare, but I wanted the lease signed because I like Penzance, I love the air and I love the fish, you don’t get fresher.

It’s just under two miles to the local market, and I get on brilliantly with the fisherman and a lot of the suppliers so it makes sense.

If I was giving advice to someone I would say: 'fight for what you want, be prepared to say no and try and put a break clause in your contract.' But frankly that forced me to stick my head down and just make sure it got on and hopefully worked.

Rising stars: Name other chefs or restaurants you think are set for stardom  

  • Ben Crittenden at Stark, Broadstairs
  • Whateley Manor
  • The Cellar, Anstruther
  • Hide (Piccadilly) is going to keep going up…

Guilty pleasures : What food that isn’t considered ‘cheffy’ do you love to eat?

Instant noodles. The spicy Asian ones…

Favourite cookbooks

  • 11 Madison park
  • Pollen Street Social
  • Salt (Paul Foster)

Far too many to mention actually….I’ve got hundreds…literally, but never have any time to look through them!

Tell us about the type of food you serve at The Shore. Monfish%2C dashi%2C kalettes%2C daikon

I started off doing à la carte -  doing what I thought I wasn’t going to do, which is trying to appease people - but what I’ve found is I wasted a huge amount of food, so I reduced the menu and put a tasting menu on because I wanted to curb the wastage that might have.

It started going down really well, and seventy to eighty percent of my trade were going for that menu so I thought "actually, this is what I’ve always wanted to do." 

It’s not quite the sort of place that locals can afford on a regular day, but on a special occasion. It’s still evolving at the moment. I am purely tasting menu now, and I make some fish and veg, and I’ve got a lot of Asian influence in what I do.

Did you have any formal training in Japanese cooking? 

People are always quite surprised that I don’t because it’s quite authentic. I get lots of Asians coming in eating because it’s fish; quite a lot of people who’ve lived in Japan  or someone recently from Hong Kong and they’ve said "this takes me back" and that makes it worth it.

That’s quite gratifying, but still, no matter how many times people come in and say that they love it, it’s very easy to get back in the kitchen and become enclosed again and too focused on trying to rework the food.

Pear & almond streusel tartDo you think a lack of confidence is what drives a lot of chefs to improve? 

That’s my drive to do better. I think: "it’s good, but is it great" and I will never rest on that because I think I could do better.

But what I do like about what I do is spontaneity. I try and get things accurate, but not so refined that they become formulaic and predictable. I like it to be violent.

No two carrots taste the same if you actually taste these things, no lemons will taste the same, they’re all different levels of acidity or sweetness at different times, potatoes, everything, they all vary.

That’s what food is, and it’s being able to harness that, and adapt, and put out a well balanced dish. There’s a slight element of freedom and aliveness and a vibrancy to what I do, I’ve got to try and keep that.

I buy most of my stuff from two farms down here. I like to play around with different flavours, but I like to keep the produce true to what’s local in so far as possible.The wasabi that I use is the English wasabi root, the saffron I use is from Cheshire.

I try and start off from home, from here and then spread out throughout the British Isles, to our country - as divided as it may be at points – keep it within this little locality. Bruce Rennie 3

Have you found your resting place then? 

I think so, yeah. It’s amazing for my kids. 

Growing up here would be very hard, and there are difficulties; but I’ve heard so many negatives about the area, locals complaining about this and that, or some drug issues but actually there’s nothing compared to where I grew up.

A lot of people complain about the weather, but there’s no such thing as bad weather, it’s your attitude to weather. It’s weak minded I think, you’ve got to get out there and relish what’s there, put a coat on, stick a hat on.

Everyone likes comfort too much. Comfort’s good but I love walking on the windy closed path, going up North and revisiting the mountains, going out for a walk up there, particularly when it’s horrible weather, because it just makes you feel alive.

It strikes me that there's a strong connection between your food and your beliefs. By that I mean your choice to use local, fresh, terroir produce which is also ethically sourced. 

I'm glad someone gets it.

That’s why I’m really focused on sustainability. I use - and I don’t push it too much because I think the quality shows itself - organic veg, I use the best fish; we’ve got a good seafood guy down here, which is very useful. 

So that’s helped me to decide on what I find acceptable to buy in for my restaurant and what I wouldn’t put on. I don’t want to support the catching of  blue sharks when they’re struggling, I don’t buy in dredge scallops like everyone else does around here.

But we get other things – spider crab, phenomenal lobsters. The guy who gets my lobster also collects any eggs that he sees and then sends the lobsters back and sends the eggs up to the hatchery.

I think that’s important, there’s too much reliance on supermarkets and unfortunately I think supermarkets give the wrong impression of the affordability of food, people don’t understand what the value of food is. 

Bruce Rennie 1

What do you want customers to get out of coming to The Shore?

All we’re trying to do is create an experience and create a really nice night out that offers something and makes it fun.

Lots of people come into the kitchen to chat because I’m in here all day and I don’t always get out to the front. I want people to come and chat to me, I want people to realise that this place is me. Of course it evolves and of course it changes because that’s my personality. 

What they’re getting when they come in here is just a very independent restaurant that reflects my personality. And some people won’t like that personality or my restaurant, and that’s fine, but I like them to buy into that personal side of it.

This is where I’m tied in, so I want to make it personal, I want to make it an extra little family and have fun with the people that are in. It’s that simple.  

By Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th February 2019

Bruce Rennie, chef owner, The Shore