Casamia Restaurant, Bristol

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th April 2011

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

    The Michelin Guide. Any surprises for you in the Michelin Guide this year? (Jon) Just that there wasn't any three stars and the lack of stars I think. I really thought that this year being the hundred year anniversary I thought there was going to a lot of stars. So I'm quite shocked at that. I think that's the only surprise for me. What about you Pete, anything? (Pete) Yeah, I don't know, nothing really surprised me too much. Nathan Outlaw, he deserved that two stars. It was great to see him go from a new restaurant and just straight entry two stars, it's a pretty amazing achievement. So, God, maybe in the next few years he'll be one to watch for like the third star, possible. It's good for the West Country as well isn't it. (Pete) Yeah exactly, all West Country guys are trying to push it. I was trying to connect the whole"¦If you think in a gastronomic kind of route there's going to be a lot of guys who are going to be coming out from Bristol coming to the South West doing a Gidleigh Park, Nathan Outlaw, coming up to Bristol, Casamia, then Pony & Trap, then Bath, going out to see Lucknam Park and that's the way I kind of think about it and it's all good for everyone. I always think anywhere that's got more food destinations that brings people to it is a place that people are definitely going to go to. (Jon) The South West has been such a desert for years and I was quite surprised, obviously the Bath Priory never regained their star. Yes it's a shame for Sam that because he was working hard down there. (Jon)  So that wasn't on there but there are so many stars now. Well, you think, three stars added overnight to the South West with Nathan's two and Josh Eggleton's one star at the Pony & Trap so it is amazing. I do really 100% believe there's going to be at least another five or six in the next few years, there has to be because there's too many chefs down here and the produce is brilliant. The produce is fantastic here. (Jon) So there's no excuses today. We've got our own bit of Nordic cuisine you know, we've got our South West cuisine, so I think it's very, very good and there's no excuses down here. Talk to me about Casamia. Here we are, Italian restaurant, Italian names and two of the strongest Bristol accents I've ever heard. Talk me through a little bit of the background, where you guys are from, how this all came about. (Jon) Well, we obviously started Casamia, well it opened ten years ago by our parents and it was a very traditional trattoria restaurant and me and Pete grew up with it and within a few years we were working here part time and then one day Pete had a very good, strong passion for cooking, became a chef here and worked under a few guys. Was that sort of expected Pete? Did your parents expect you to come into the business? (Pete) Yeah I think it was expected in a way because obviously, I don't know, coming down here, trying lasagnes and what the chefs had made, getting into food, it was a little bit inspiring for me. Obviously it wasn't nothing gastronomic but at the time I really did enjoy food and when I was younger I used to eat for England, like literally eat, eat, eat. That's all I ever did so I kind of really enjoyed looking at another aspect, looking at Italian culture and Italian cuisine and it was a good stepping stone and from that point I think I knew that this is what I want to do, I want to be a chef and the passion just took over me and I just went for it and here we are now. So, you started working part time, for mum and dad, in the restaurant. Did you get formal training or was it just sort of hand me? I mean that in the nicest possible way. (Jon) You went to Bristol College didn't you and got some basics under your belt. (Pete) Yeah I done NVQ1 from scratch so that was quite tough because, I don't know, there was one point where there was actually a canteen kind of dinner lady and it was really weird and I was thinking oh God is this"¦ I've got a picture of you in a pinny now Pete thanks. (Laughter) (Pete) Oh Jesus. So anyway and then obviously I went onto NVQ2 where I did it on a part time basis one day a week and went onto NVQ3 and yeah just learnt all the basics for food. It kind of got me introduced to the whole Gordon Ramsay era because that was coming through at the time. He'd just started his TV and was becoming massive and yeah, just came back to Casamia and wanted to do something a little bit different and at the time we didn't have the greatest chefs in the kitchen. It was really tough trying to do what I wanted to do and when Jonray stepped in one night, just to help because one of the guys never turned up, we kind of clicked and he loved it, I loved it and we both bounced ideas off each other and overnight we started changing things and that's how it grew from there. So the two of you have not done the traditional restaurant circuit then? Work for whoever and then worked for somebody else, you're pretty much self taught to a degree and learnt by your mistakes and trial and error here at Casamia. (Pete) Yeah we've had no training but in a way we look at is as a positive thing because we haven't took on a particular style from a chef, we haven't adopted nothing. We've kind of got our own vision, our own kind of way that we perceive and we eat food so it is different and I think that is a positive to our careers definitely. At what point did the two of you become chef-patrons, for want of a better description, of the restaurant? At what point did your parents say "There you go"? (Jon) Well I think when we left Cheltenham, we took on our own restaurant at Cheltenham we proved a lot to them that we could run a business and stuff and even if we were lacking in financial support so when we came to Casamia after that spell we kind of proved to them that we could do it and so after a while we were changing a lot around and we were allowed to do it to pick up the business. They never really let go, they've always just kind of gave us the reins because they trusted us and after we were awarded our first Michelin star it was kind of like oh that was for them because it kind of rewarded them for their belief in what we were doing, which was quite crazy to change the restaurant format so much in such a quick space of time and the fact they we had no money as well. Because most people when they start a Michelin star restaurant a lot of people spend millions trying to get it up and running and you know we did it dead broke, on no budget basically and just put, I think any bit of money we had invested in the kitchen and pushed it forward. Sorry I've gone on to another question now. No, no, no not at all. That's fine. How would you describe the food style here now then? (Pete) We were saying about it yesterday weren't we? We were saying it's very refined"¦ I know no one likes to pigeon-hole anything and put it into one genre but"¦ (Jon) Yeah, it's difficult because like I feel that sometimes we have been restricted because we took on the Casamia, you know the Italian brand only because we just had to create the style of food we were doing but in a way it helped us because we found a lot of flair from Mediterranean styles and ideas but we've used a lot of South West produce to create most of the dishes that we do here. Our style I'd say it's very, I don't know, Angela Hartnett and Gordon Ramsay say our food's quite feminine but at the same time I think there's a lot of thought process behind it so it's very creative. What do they mean by feminine? (Pete) Delicate. (Jon) Yeah it's very delicate. Nothing's very bold and strong so everything's quite delicate and like Pete said it's very pretty. Simple but very pretty and I think that was one thing that came across to them, especially Angela when she saw it. Whereas what, maybe Italian food's more sort of hearty and rustic traditionally? (Jon) That's right, yeah. (Pete) Yeah pretty much, yeah. A lot of people can look at what we're doing that we're not really Italian, it's not Italian food but when you think Angela with her Italian roots and stuff, she did not think that for one minute when she came here and kind of went"¦ But that's maybe not such a bad idea is it? I always think we have a mentality here in the UK of whenever anyone says Italian restaurants we just have this horrible vision of pizzas, spaghetti Bolognese, carbonara and it just couldn't be further removed from the truth of what an Italian restaurant should be and it's kind of like when you say to people Indian food straight away they think of a curry house and when you go and talk to people like Atul Kochhar it's totally different. It's absolutely miles away from that. Pete, what dish on the menu best describes your cooking style in Casamia at this moment in time? (Pete) I believe it's probably the beetroot with the barley and the iced yogurt and pickled fennel. It's been on the menu since 2006 but it really does show the kind of balance of something new and something traditional. So we took a traditional risotto kind of technique and we modernised it by using a siphon to finish it, to lighten the actual risotto and the whole combination between the hot and cold; there's a thought process behind it and it makes you think and it makes you almost taste the contrast between two flavours and two different aspects if that makes sense to you guys. So yeah it really does define where our style has been and where it has gone and it's a mixture, it's really weird but it definitely defines the way me and Jonray are, with our cuisine I would say. As young chefs, who inspires you? Who do you look to for inspiration? (Jon) It's a good question because we've followed different paths of chefs because of the way fashion and cooking goes but we've never tried to copy anyone, we've only just tried to spend time with Gordon with the show ('Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant') - what a massive mentor to have behind you. I know there's a lot of people out there they're not happy with what he's doing and not being in his kitchen but it's amazing what that guy has achieved. I think everybody likes to knock successful people don't they? (Jon) Yeah they do, yeah, you're right. We're bad at that here in the UK. It's like Man United, we all hate Man United but why? Because they're successful. (Jon) Exactly. I think Gordon knows how to take that, he's a big guy. Gordon has obviously been so successful over the years with what he's done and I think he understands that he has got to take, he probably lets it go over his head, a lot of the press, especially when you speak to him about it and he's just like, you know, there's no point taking notice of it and it's better keeping sight of what you're doing and I think that, it will probably help us a lot especially when we get older and if we are lucky enough to be successful, more successful with what we're doing, then I think to look back on what Gordon's experience has been will be a great way to try and figure out how we'll cope with it ourselves. So, in that respect, obviously Gordon for what he's achieved there and you've got the likes of Heston (Blumenthal) that's changed food dramatically in the country and he's really inspired so many young chefs and I think he's amazing what he's done and what he's achieved there. Again, with not a lot of money and a dream and a belief in what he's doing. Yeah absolutely. Let's talk about the TV programme. Obviously I think that raised your profile no end and brought you into three or four million households. Talk us through the business before then and the business after then. Where were you before the TV programme? Were you a good, strong, stable business? (Jon) It was stable but it was not busy, busy it was just kind of slowly"¦we exhausted our marketing funds really early and so there wasn't money there to just chuck at PR and stuff and so it was slowly plummeting a little bit and it just revived us, the show, there's no doubt about it. How did the show come about? Were you approached? (Jon) Yeah and they approached us didn't they? (Pete) Yep. (Jon) It was just a phone call, it was just out of the blue. We didn't even think anything of it. So no PR company involved or anything, just the TV company phoned you direct. (Jon) No, no, nothing. Yeah they rang up and said that we'd been nominated by a customer, well several customers of ours through the last year and asked if we would"¦it would be a case of a telephone interview about what we do and stuff and they spoke to me, Pete, mum and dad and then it moved onto a week later we had "Can we bring someone down with a camera?" and we were like fine. This guy came, a very small Director came down with another guy and just filmed and asked questions and wanted to try some of the food and then left and then a week after that they asked us if they could bring a bigger crew down with a camera. So that was amazing. Then we spent two days with the Director of the show, which we didn't know at the time it was going to be, and spent two days with him and it was an amazing experience and they really got into depth about what we were about and I think the footage they were using was to obviously show Gordon and the producers about what we were about, which we didn't know at the time but obviously that's what they did and that's how they categorised us and the next thing we knew we were signing forms to say we weren't going to talk about the show and we knew Gordon was coming to eat with 30 diners and we didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know if we had to do it all together, we just didn't know. Gordon kept it very, very real, like the whole experience and what you've seen on there was real, TV was nothing really made up or anything was there? What's the most difficult thing about TV. (Pete) I don't know about you but when we were actually cooking on the stoves and you've got Gordon on one end of the pass shouting at you, trying to get everything perfect, get it out on time and then you've got a camera looking directly at you, asking you questions and someone asking you questions behind it like "How do you feel right now?" that was seriously, seriously very tough. (Jon) And you couldn't move around much because of the cameras. So let's be honest, it is TV and therefore they want to see something don't they? (Jon) Yeah they've got to capture it. (Pete) Yeah. It made your heads absolutely spin but it makes sense why they do it. Yeah of course, of course. (Jon) But Gordon didn't allow anything that"¦the nice thing about him was he was protective over us. Okay so as a chef he kind of looks at it from a chef's point of view and says, "Oh hang on a minute." (Jon) Yeah like he said at one point, "Look, just leave them the fuck alone, back off". "I know you're trying to make a TV programme," yeah, yeah. Yeah he's like "I don't give a fuck, this is real shit, this is real cooking, this is something happening now and I don't want no one interfering with it and if you can't capture it then that's your tough shit basically" and he was really good about that kind of thing. But the most amazing part about the whole show was just working with him, I think, just to be around him. It was almost like"¦I think he's got a great presence about him and... Okay so you go onto win it and congratulations. Lots of people were rooting for you. (Pete) Yeah thank you. How's that changed the business now? (Pete) Massively. Obviously by that reaction quite a bit. (Jon) Yeah crikey yeah. Overnight, it was just a saviour, it was almost like we couldn't believe it. We had to have two phone lines set up to take all the reservations and pull in more guys in the kitchen. It was just unbelievable. Brilliant (Jon) It was just overwhelming but at the same time we really had to think about it wisely and learn from last year's winners and stuff and how they did it and we thought if we do win we have to have these systems in place. Yes absolutely (Jon) We really just jumped the gun but we really had confidence with what we were doing and we set up systems ready for it and a new website launched. Because if you can't handle that influx of business it goes doesn't it? (Pete) It does, yeah. (Jon) And we did that with the star. We weren't ready for it and we got hit big time, we didn't capitalise on the marketing side of it and it kind of went within the year and then we're back as everyone else, as all the other Michelin star chefs, you're not the new one on the block. Yeah, you do, you have to capitalise on it fast. You mentioned earlier that having worked for no one you've got no pre-conceived ideas of how things are done but do you think to a degree that's hindered you a little bit for example you got the star but maybe you weren't expecting the consequences of that in terms of not having the marketing in place and things like that? (Jon) Yeah that's right. Is there a slight downside to not working in other businesses? (Jon) Yeah I think so. I think only because you haven't got no one to guide you. If we had to take Gordon as our mentor back when we worked in Cheltenham and I had his number and I could ring him and say "Gordon, we've just won a f**king star" and he's like "Right, we're going to help you sort out what you need to do now" we never had nothing like that. It was we just made it up all on our own and it was hard work, yeah you make mistakes but we learned from that for the next experience. Yeah absolutely. (Jon) If we won two and three stars now it wouldn't be that at all. The important thing with mistakes is not making them again isn't it? (Pete) Yeah, exactly. (Jon) If you keep making the same mistake, you have to learn by it. So, two young ambitious chefs, any sibling rivalry? (Pete) No. (Jon) No not really. I would say we're positive. Any tantrums? Any pans against the wall? (Jon) There can be, it's only over dishes isn't it really? Like if one of us has put so much time and effort into a dish and the other one kind of picked holes in it. (Pete) Yeah, we disagree about food sometimes but it's good. But is that how you do it? Would you do up a dish Pete and then give it to Jonray and then visa-versa? (Pete) Yeah and sometimes it's like "It's not good enough you have to change something on it" and I'm like, "Sh** I worked really hard on this," but it's good because then you've always got someone to judge your food and at the end of the day and when it's judged there's always probably something that is picked up on thatt only makes the dish better so it's good. It's positive. I guess as well if you're honest with each other and if you put something up in front of Jonray and he says, "No it needs something else," you know that you can trust him because you're always honest with each other. (Jon) Yeah exactly, exactly right and I think our palettes have grown so much over like five years in particular, eating and eating and eating we know exactly what we should be looking for in a dish and when one of us explains it and you actually eat it straight away you can identify if something is wrong with it. But it's good because it could be fixed. So, you've got a star, TV fame, the restaurant's doing very, very well, two young, ambitious chefs, what's next? (Jon) Crikey, I think just sustaining it all really, I think that's the biggest thing we need to do. I think we just want to sustain it all and keep it going. I think we're always worried, constantly worried that it's going to drop off and we don't want it to. I think everybody worries like that, it's natural. (Jon) Definitely but at the same time, and I know we want to build a team that's strong enough to win two Michelin stars and then hopefully three one day. So is that the goal? (Jon) Yeah, absolutely. (Pete) It is the goal, yeah. I think we just want to be the best we can possibly be and I think if you're at that kind of perfection where the restaurant's perfect and you've done everything right you're going to be at that kind of three star level. How long have you held one star for now? (Pete) Three years so it's good. So was it a disappointment this year that"¦ (Jon) In the back of your mind, like any chef, you're thinking "Oh," you know, when you feel you're good enough but then I guess reality hits you like "Well we're not good enough so we've just got to keep pushing". (Pete) In a way I would love for Michelin to give us the chance to have the rising two star because I know it would give us the boost to go "Right we've got two years and we're going to do this and we're going to put every single last bit into it" and I know we wouldn't let them down and I know we would do it. Two years, a lot can happen, a lot can change but you can never know with Michelin. They do what they do and you've just got to accept it. (Jon) They've stunned everybody. You think all the odds on favourites to win one it's just"¦Every year it's the same thing. (Pete) The two stars, Nathan and Helene Darroze no one mentioned. (Jon) No one mentioned. Everyone was saying Sat (Bains) going to get a third, or Marcus Wareing will get a third"¦Simon (Rogan), sorry, Claude (Bosi) would get a third, Simon two, Sat two, everyone was cast iron about that, and what happens? None of it's right. (Pete) Nothing, absolutely bloody nothing. (Jon) Whereas the one star, to think Koffman never got one, Latimer (Pennyhill Park) and then our friend at the Pony & Trap serving ham, egg and chips at lunch and then amazing food at night pulls one out of the bag and surprises himself and gets one star. (Pete) Absolutely unbelievable. (Jon) I think it really does prove it, especially with that guy. I'm still amazed myself with that chap because, you know, flipping heck, what a rollercoaster. It's different for us, we're doing something a bit more out there but I know it's hard for him to believe, when he's on wooden tables doing simple, simple food and it just happens. It's great because it'll inspire a lot of people. I'm in a very fortunate situation, I come and talk to lots of people like you and the more I go and talk to people the more that people actually don't try and get stars they end up getting them because they're more focused on the food"¦ (Jon) Yeah I think you're right. "¦ and cooking the food they want to cook as opposed to cooking the food they think Michelin want them to cook. (Pete) No you shouldn't ever, ever cook how they want the food, you've got to do what you want to do otherwise you won't be the best. You will literally fall at that point because if you try to guess what Michelin are looking in a two star dish and a three star dish you'll go round and round in circles. You've just got to make your style, your personality, the best dish you can physically make, what you know "Man! That is a good dish, it's such a good balance" and then it should do well. (Jon) It's like with Marcus, I think he wants to be in that three star club whereas we don't want to be in the club we just push ourselves because we want to get to that level. Me and Pete are like, if we won two stars say today we would be the same guys, nothing would change, we'd just kind of be like that's our goal, that was our goal in our heads of how we wanted to be perceived as. So it's not about having the badge it's about having the recognition of two stars. (Jon) Yeah and I think it gives you something to aim for as well because at times this bloody industry can be bloody tough and we're so fortunate that there are these goals in place to aim for and it would be stupid not to try and aim for it but at the same time I totally respect what you mean that there's guys out there"¦ they don't believe it's going to happen and it did happen and I think yeah it's a very good attitude. I don't think there's anything wrong with thinking that you're going to get it, I don't think so, but I think it is nice when you don't expect it and then it happens. Yeah absolutely and it's a massive surprise yeah. (Jon) It is definitely. Well listen chaps, thank you very much for your time today. I wish you every success with the restaurant, every success for your future. It's great to see two young guys doing incredibly well and long may it continue for the both of you. Thank you very much. All photographs by kind permission of John Arandhara-Blackwell Fancy being in charge of the kitchen in a restaurant like Casamia? Then have a look at head chef positions on our jobs board. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th April 2011

Casamia Restaurant, Bristol

IN ASSOCIATION WITH