Chris Eden, Driftwood, Cornwall

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th December 2011

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Chris Eden has been head chef at The Driftwood restaurant since he started in 2006. Chris’s passion for cooking began at the early age of 11 when he cooked his first lasagne for his mother. He also used to make Victoria sponge cake with his grandmother. Chris inherited his love of food from his family; his younger brother being a butcher and his mum a creative chef. At 17 he studied catering at the St Austell College and then joined Pennypots as a commis chef, working under Kevin Viner. He moved to London to work as a commis at The Lanesborough, under Paul Gayler, graduating to Senior chef de partie at The Orrery and The Square respectively. He returned home and joined the restaurant at The Driftwood Hotel, Cornwall. Chris perfected his technique working under Phil Howard, a chef known for his exacting standards and classical approach. The traces of his influence are clear in Chris’s dishes for example his luxurious beef dish, supreme sirloin and frugal featherblade. His outstanding food won The Driftwood its first Michelin star in 2012. Give us an outline of your role here at Driftwood. How long you've been here? I've been here for five years my role is obviously day to day running of everything that happens in the kitchen, menu development, general business, everything really that goes into making up the kitchen"¦ How many boys in the team? We have a team of five so it's me and four other boys. And how difficult is it recruiting, I mean you're in an idyllic location here but in the nicest possible way you're in the middle of nowhere so how difficult is it to get people here? It's a real nightmare, I mean you really do have to find the people that really want to be a chef and commit and dedicate themselves to this job. We are in the middle of nowhere, there isn't a town near us for miles and when the boys go home it really is they've gone home. So once you've got them here you've got to hang on to them have you? Yes you've got to hang on to them and obviously look after them, nurture them, give them as much time as you can but the menu does evolve and we always play around and so there is a lot of general interest for everybody always lots to see here lots going on, it's a small kitchen as well which I love. So everybody can see and everybody can understand what's going on with the team. So you've been here five years how have you and your food style evolved in that period of time? I think I've become a lot more comfortable with what I do and I understand what I want to do and I think there's been a merge between myself, the understandings of how I've cooked and the technical side of what I trained in London and obviously the owners' perception of the restaurant as well is very important because I don't want to alienate them from eating in there. So we have feedback and we have discussions on dishes and perhaps Paul and Chrissy both love a dish, which is always a good sign. I think the restaurant is actually at its peak where it's a merge of my concept, the owners' understanding of what they want from the restaurant. It's not pompous, it's not in your face, it's just a really nice, enjoyable evening as far as we're concerned. You say though you think the restaurant's at a peak is that reflected in the fact, and congratulations you've got a star and I just want to say for the record we did contact you before you got the star it wasn't the fact that you'd got the one"¦ No this is the first time I've ever heard from you!!!!! (Laughs) But do you think a combination of all those things has been reflected in the fact you have got the star? I mean it was a real shock and a real"¦ You didn't even know did you? No I didn't know, I didn't have a clue. I had a phone call"¦ You were probably the only chef that wasn't looking at the Guide on the internet. I'm really happy right now. I'm really happy with what we do here at Driftwood. We source really well. We use the best ingredients that we can get in the kitchen, and I'm really happy with the food that we cook and I think that as a journey for the last five years we've actually, as a kitchen at a point now where I'm happy. I understand what the limitations of the kitchen are, and the restaurant also, what we can and can't achieve and the most important thing is now that we cook to a consistent standard. I'm not trying to do things that I can't achieve day in day out. We cook to a consistent standard now and I'm really proud of that. I think, I've said this before on the record, I'm very fortunate I go round and meet a lot of chefs and the more I hear chefs who are not cooking for guides and are confident and comfortable with what they do, the more the accolades seem to come their way. I think a few years ago I was really driven by it, I thought the most important thing was for us to have the rosettes or a star, but then you understand it's not, and when you speak to the guests; what's important is to have plates come back into the kitchen empty and see clean plates, you don't want to see food pushed to one side, or to the edge of the plate. You want the customer to say that they had a lovely time, that they had a fantastic evening that we really enjoyed ourselves and you leave that lasting impression upon them. We are not trying to alienate people from the restaurant with food they don't understand what they're eating. We're in a cliff top restaurant that looks out to the sea, or over to the fields on the other side and there's some sort of relationship with the restaurant and the food now. We have hand dived scallops that come from two miles away. We have local meat delivered, all of which has taken a lot of hard work for us to get to where we are but it's been a real journey. And do you think having the star is going to raise your profile, raise the hotel's profile and therefore generate more business because it puts you on the map so to speak? Yeah it does, overnight all of a sudden we are elevated in people's perspective and in people's opinions. Do you get what they call those tick box diners because now you've got a star they have to come and visit you? Yes but I don't want that. I want people to still come into the restaurant regardless and have a good time. I know that there's going to be some people that come to the restaurant and say, "Well when we ate at another restaurant it wasn't like this and it wasn't like that," but I think I'm really confident and really happy with what we do and I think people will come in here and have, I hope, a good dining experience, whether we do or don't have the star and that's key to it. Give us an example then of a Chris Eden dish, something that's on your menu, something that really in one dish says, "This is my food style?" We have a dish on the menu at the moment, we use the Cornish Duck Company so we kind of do a pastilla of duck we get the legs, we confit them down, flake the meat, mix it with a the red onion marmalade, roll that in fielle de brick then we roll that in a potato spaghetti which we deep fry. Accompaniments to that is a almost Ras El Hanout and date purée, pickled carrots, endive, presses,people just go nuts for it and I think as much as nobody ever wants to have a signature dish,I think there's certain dishes now and you think to yourself, "˜You know what I'm so happy with that and people love that dish that it might not come off.' As a chef, are you able to look at a dish and say, "That's it I don't need to do any more with it. It doesn't need anything adding"' I don't think anybody can ever do that. I think that's almost like in certain ways that's the three star mentality because you've got to the pinnacle and you've got there that you end up defending what you've got but I'm still young and I'm still driven, I'm still ambitious and I'm still, we cook to the seasons here, things come in and things go out and I think to myself, "˜What can we do to make things better? Is that right?' and I always question everything that we do. You've been on a massive journey in five years, you've come a long, long way where are you going to be in five years time? I'm not sure I mean I really can't answer that question. At the moment I'm happy and that's what I care about the most that I come into work and I love it and I still enjoy what I do here. If there ever comes a point when I don't come into work and it feels like a job then I have to start questioning it then at that point. And how do you broaden your own horizons food-wise? Are you dining out? Are you reading books? What do you do to take inspiration Obviously we are actually in the middle of nowhere and I think you need to understand that here we are so isolated so I'm always on Amazon buying cookbooks and my bosses go nuts because every day there's a book coming in from Amazon. So I read an awful lot and then when we close down I'm up in London eating everywhere. When do you close? We close down from the 5th December, this year we close down basically from the first week of December to the first week of February. And that's still quite common down here in Cornwall isn't it? We are a seasonal trade down here still in Cornwall. The trade is getting elongated, we are still having a busier September, October is getting better for us but I don't care who you are unless you're doing Christmas turkey nights in December you are in trouble and I think obviously we don't do that.So the boss just says, "Yeah close, that's it happy days." And we all go away and have our own life. So you eat out during that period of time? Yeah I go up to London basically and I spend probably a week, ten days eating out. For you at the moment who's really on form? I mean the places I love to go and eat are places like Chez Bruce and the places that, not similar but a neighbourhood restaurant where people don't feel alienated and want to come in and eat in here and that's what I want. The people who are on complete fire at the moment, there's a great friend of mine, which is Brett (Graham The Ledbury), when I go up to London we go out and eat "¦ I don't think there's an award Brett hasn't won at the moment. He's cool, he's so cool and I got a really lovely card from him just saying, "Welcome to the elite." And I thought that's when it started to sink in a little bit when you've got peers of that kind of calibre as well as a friend, saying things like that and that's really nice. Fantastic. Well listen thank you very much for today. Thank you very much. Wonderful to come and meet you. Congratulations as I say again on the star. Thank you. And good luck over the next 12 months. Thanks very much Chris. Yes exactly. Cheers. Thank you. Have a look at our jobs board if you want a head chef position like Chris's. 

In these challenging times…

…the hospitality landscape has dramatically changed in the last two months, and with that our advertising revenues have all but expired, significantly impacting our business. Despite having to furlough a large portion of our staff, we are still delivering the valuable content and honest information, which hundreds of thousands of you come to The Staff Canteen for. We believe we have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs, are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector.

Your financial support means we remain independent and open to all. We were launched by a chef and remain the voice of chefs and other hospitality professionals.

We need your support to keep delivering the products and content that you love, giving you the platform to share opinions and inspiration. Every contribution whether big or small, means so much.
Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th December 2011

Chris Eden, Driftwood, Cornwall

IN ASSOCIATION WITH