Chris Godfrey, The Sir Charles Napier, Chinnor, Oxfordshire.

The  Staff Canteen
How did you first get into cooking? My parents did the catering for Royal Ascot so I used to get rolled in to help at the age of 16-17. I used to be put on the pot wash and from there I could watch the buzz around this massive kitchen. It was a great insight into a different world and with a big event like that you feel that buzz of adrenaline, that was what hooked me. How did you find yourself at The Sir Charles Napier? I came here in 2005 as a chef de partie. I worked my way up to sous chef under three different head chefs, then I decided I wanted to go travelling so I took six months off and travelled around Asia and Australia. When I came back I decided that I wanted to give London a stint. I did six months on the pastry section at The Square under Phil Howard. I wanted to spend longer there originally but I missed the country and I chose the wrong place to live in London. It was just a nightmare trying to get to work and back on top of the long hours so I ended up going back to the country. I originally went to The Kingham Plough because I knew the head chef, Emily Watkins, had worked for Heston and I thought I could learn more about water baths and other modern techniques. I spent about a year and a half there out in the Cotswolds. Then I got a call from The Sir Charles Napier saying the head chef was leaving and would I like the job soI snapped it up with both hands. And was that your first head chef role? It was, yes. I wasn’t even sous chef at The Kingham Plough so it was a massive step up. Fortunately I knew the place and the owners well, having worked here so many years before. Also it was only a small team so it wasn’t like I was man-managing 30 or 40 staff. Did you feel the need to stamp your own personality on the food you were serving? Not really because I knew that the food they did here was good and people liked it. It was always seasonal, always quite British using great products. I just felt I could implement a bit more consistency, that was the only thing I thought was lacking. That was a great thing about working for Phil Howard – he had shown me how two Michelin star food could be so simple, using great seasonal ingredients and treating them really well. So I thought I would go in and do very simple, classic flavour combinations and keep it simple and consistent. And it obviously worked.  Was it a surprise when you got your Michelin star? Yes, a massive surprise. We were doing a demonstration on the day the guide was released and loads of suppliers kept phoning up my boss to congratulate her and she kept saying: “Don’t be silly.” It was only after the third call that she thought, hang on something’s going on here, and she went and checked online. When she realised it was really true she interrupted the demonstration and told me in front of everyone that we’d won the star, which was just mind-boggling. My second thought was, oh my God, we’ve got to keep this now! But overall it just felt like a massive pat on the back for all the hard work we’d put in. There is a very strong fine-dining pub scene in the UK at the moment; do you consciously see yourself as part of that? I wouldn’t say that I’m purposefully trying to be part of this pub group thing. I really like it though. If I had to choose the kind of place I would personally like to eat, it would be that kind of Hand and Flowers, relaxed, informal dining experience with really good food. I think the combination of the informality and the good food is brilliant and really refreshing. I think it’s great what’s happening in this country with the pub scene and I guess, yes, I do feel proud to be part of it. It’s part of our culture. You have a relatively small team; how important are they to what you’re doing? The team is everything. They’re a great bunch of guys who work really hard. There’s a great friendly atmosphere here; there’s no screaming and shouting; everyone respects each other and everyone pushes each other to do really well; I couldn’t ask for a better team. I think that’s also a reflection on the owners because it’s a family run business and you’re not just treated like a number; they really do welcome you into their family and it feels nice working for people like that. Do you see yourself owning your own place like this one day? It’s not really something I think about too much but I suppose the thought has crossed my mind occasionally. I’m happy at the moment and I think if you’re happy, why change things? The Napier is still improving; year in year out it gets better; more systems come in place; we get more organised and our work becomes better; it becomes a nicer place to work and the food becomes better because of that. I think now we’re coming to the point where we’re finding our own style, which is really nice to see. Before we were a bit like: “Is this how we should be doing it? Is this what people want to see?” Now whenever we come up with a new idea we’ve already got the style in place, which is really nice. Would you like a head chef position like Chris's? Then head over to our jobs board to see current vacancies. 
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2013

Chris Godfrey, The Sir Charles Napier, Chinnor, Oxfordshire.