'For me, there was nothing else that was going to be my job'

The  Staff Canteen

Having lived in the west of Wales since he was six and food always being a big part of Nathan Davies’s life it, just made sense that he would become a chef.

Nathan's first position was at his local pub while also a college, starting with washing up and serving, following in the tradition of the local pub as "a rite of passage" into being a chef.

"For me, there was nothing else that was going to be my job. From the age of about 10, I was already into cooking shows.”

Career

His first proper chef job was in Tresaith at an establishment called The Ship. He said: "Working around [Aberystwyth] you get a bit of a baptism by fire because there isn't the skill set around here. You have to get stuck in from the ground up and you have to do some of the meat and fish prep early on. Which was ace for me."

After that, he moved to London, at only 18. Although he didn’t have a plan he was offered a job at The Swan, through a connection with someone he had worked for at The Ship. He would stay there just under a year before deciding London wasn’t for him.

"I thought 'there's better out there. I don't need to be in London, running the rat race. I need to get out of this. What it really taught me is to look around. I was like 'yeah, you know what I've learnt loads here, but London is not my lifestyle.'”

Nathan went to “the middle of absolutely nowhere” to a country house hotel called The Lake near the town of Beulah. After spending, in his words, “an Ace time being mentored by a great chef,” he jumped over to France, where he worked as a private chef for a short while before returning home again.

 

Ynyshir

Nathan came back from France to work with Steven Terry at the Hardwick very briefly before a role came up and Ynyshir, working under Gareth Ward, joining the restaurant at the same time as Gareth.

While Nathan would leave Ynyshir for the birth of his child, he would return after its refurbishment, moving from a chef de partie to a head chef as he did.

When asked how much Gareth and the style of Ynyshir had affected his own style in the kitchen, he said: “We were all invested in it, so we all threw ourselves into it 100% - we were doing big hours, over six or seven days a week some weeks - but all into it and that's why the style sort of rubbed off. So, you look at Zak [Hitchman] at Casimir it's very similar - the loud music and stuff like that. But Zak used to organise the music for Ynyshir. So, that didn't happen by accident."

So, in a sense, it’s hard to tell how much Ynyshir affected Nathan’s style and how much his style affected Ynyshir.


Great British Menu and Michelin Stars

With this year being Nathan’s second appearance on Great British Menu he was asked why he would do something like that and he said: “I loved the experience of it. I like the TV thing - I enjoyed the process. Surrounding yourself with creative people and I enjoyed the process of putting a TV show together. 

“Ultimately, you go on something like GBM because you know it's going fill the restaurant if you do well.”

Regarding the first time, Nathan said: “I knew going on it was a bit of a risk, because the restaurant was so new - I think it pushed the restaurant forward five years.

“We knew we'd done quite well so we knew it was going to be busy, which meant that we could put the menu together with the dishes that we wanted to put together not the dishes we had to put together to build and to stay in business.”

 

He added: "I don't know what I'd gain from doing it again. When I did it the second time I felt enormous amount of pressure to perform. I thought that the first year we snuck in under the radar and nobody knew what was going on.

“But I wouldn't want to go back now, having felt the pressure of the second year, the third year would be even worse.”

On winning a Michelin star Nathan said: “It doesn't feel real. The thing that made it even sweeter was that Gaz got his well-deserved and overdue two stars.

“So, Gaz was a massive part of my life and wouldn't have been able to do it without him. So, for me as an apprentice of him, for him to have got his two and for us to have got our first one on the same day you couldn't really write it and it's class for the area.”


SY23

Nathan says that when he wrote down his goals for the restaurant, he wanted people to leave 'feeling like they had eaten at a particular location.'

“I want you to come here and feel like you've actually been in the area," he explained. "So, whether it's the foraging that we've put on the plate, whether it's the other bits and bobs that have gone on the plate that makes you go 'oh cool we got that from SY23' because that's where it's from."

Despite having a well-formulated plan for the restaurant, Covid threw a spanner in the works causing it to close its doors not long after it originally opened.

He said: “As horrendous as covid has been for business, this restaurant would not be the restaurant it is now without it. I needed a break. I was at the end of my rope. I think if we hadn't stopped when we stopped I'd have snapped.

“Because we stopped, we had thinking time, we could change what the business was and then in terms of what it's become now it's completely different to how we envisioned it. I thought it was gonna be a casual restaurant, but now it has definitely changed.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th July 2022

'For me, there was nothing else that was going to be my job'