Graham Long, Head Chef, L'Autre Pied

The  Staff Canteen
Learning his trade under Gordon Ramsay, head chef at L’Autre Pied, Graham Long, has gone on to work with a number of top chefs in his culinary career. Leaving the UK to work in Hong Kong under Shane Osborn, he returned in 2014 as the executive chef at London’s The Chancery in his first solo head chef role. Originally from the London area Graham has spent the last 12 years working in some of the best restaurants around the country. Starting his career at 18  as an apprentice to Gordon Ramsay and Mark Sargeant he then went on to work at several other Michelin starred restaurants ending up at the then two Michelin starred Pied a Terre in Fitzrovia. He became head chef at L’Autre Pied just a few months ago replacing Andy McFadden who moved to Pied a Terre. The Staff Canteen spoke to him about coming back to the UK, his plans for L’Autre Pied and why he enjoys working in intense London kitchens. l'autre piedWhat made you want to come back to the Pied a Terre  family? I was at the Chancery in Holborn, we made progress but as it’s an individually owned restaurant it was quite difficult to make any major changes. I worked for David Moore under Shane Osborn at Pied a Terre for three and a half year- they were probably the happiest I’ve had in my career. Coming here felt like the right fit, it was the chance to be a part of something and help build something new and a little different. David seems excited about having you on board? We always got on on a personal level when I was at Pied a Terre, also I’ve cut my teeth on a head chef role before – I was Shane’s sous chef for two and a half years so, from a management level I have enough experience. I suppose for David I’m a bit more of a safe bet than an unknown quantity. We see eye to eye on pretty much everything.

>>> Related article: Shane Osborn, Pied a Terre, London

What drew you back to the UK and has it been a culture shock moving back from Hong Kong? There’s a big difference but what I discovered when I was in Hong Kong is how much I missed the UK in terms of produce and seasonality. A lot of the staff were local and they have a very different culture. The kitchen wasn’t the same as a London kitchen would be in the way it runs, food knowledge and people’s work ethic. Their knowledge was based on local food so I was having to teach people western cookery basically from scratch. It was fascinating and a great challenge but at the same time it’s nice to be back in London. Is seasonality something that’s not adhered to in Hong Kong?IMG_0039 graham long It’s very difficult because they don’t grow much produce themselves apart from the local stuff for Chinese cookery. Things like cream and butter we had to order from France! You just can’t get it, in the supermarket everything comes from France or England – meat we used to get from Australia or Japan. For some things the quality in Hong Kong was really good like tropical fruits, fish and some meat as well. They have a different mentality to us, we would appreciate a good quality chicken but to them chicken is chicken. When it was lychee season they were the best you’ve ever tasted, or baby bananas, pineapples – they are all phenomenal. But try getting a parsnip and you’ve got no chance! Your first job out of college was with Gordon Ramsay, was that an intense experience? It was but I didn’t know any different. I thought all kitchens were like that, to a certain degree they are at that level but I learned so much in those first couple of years because I had no option. It was learn or leave and it was brilliant. I basically learned to cook in those two years. It was very disciplined, the workload was intense – especially Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. I went there when it first opened and we were trying to do everything to the same standard as Hospital Road but for four times the amount of covers. It was really difficult but I learned my trade there and I’m very thankful for that. graham long quoteAt the time Gordon only had three restaurants so he was there every day. It wasn’t how it is now where there are people who work at one of his restaurants who have never met him. He would be at Claridges at least once a day and seeing someone you have idolised growing up and working for them is something everyone wants. I was about 15 when Boiling Point came out and it was one of the major influences on me wanting to become a chef and work in Michelin fine-dining. Was Gordon what you expected? Pretty much. Obviously Gordon has his moments and everyone is aware but the other side of the coin is he is a very good teacher and he wants his boys to do well, he wants them to be better chefs which is what we should all want really for our staff. The way he does it at the time you might find aggressive or a bit harsh but I never made the same mistake twice because I knew what the fall out was and it kept you on your toes and on your game the whole time. So are attitudes in kitchens very different now to your initial experiences? I think they have to be. When I first started cooking there were six or seven restaurants in London that if you really wanted to do Michelin fine-dining cooking they were the places you went to. Like The Square, Pied a Terre, Le Gavroche, Gordon’s – but it meant you had to fight to get in there and once you were in you had to fight to stay there. You knew if you pissed the chef off he would tell everyone else and you might not work in London again. There are that many good restaurants now that the young, hungry cooks get spread very thinly between them all. So when you find a diamond you want to keep hold of them but they want to experience other kitchens so keeping hold of your staff is a lot harder than ten years ago.image3 low res graham long On staff, how have you find coming in to L’Autre Pied and having a new team? It’s always difficult when you inherit a team but equally it’s enjoyable. I have some good cooks and Andy McFadden who was here before me I know very well so I had met a few of the guys before I started. Obviously I have had to train them my way as my food style is different to Andy’s in terms of what goes on the plate. But we are not reinventing the wheel, we are making a few changes but ultimately we want to keep the soul of the restaurant the same.

>>> Read: Andy McFadden announced as Pied à Terre Executive Head Chef

And the menu, will that completely change? Already done it! Everything on the menu is a new dish, some I have done elsewhere before but some are brand new and are inspired by the team I ‘ve got and the restaurant. I generally change a dish every couple of weeks anyway just to keep things fresh  - I like to use the best of what is in season and then not do a lot to it. It forces you to be creative and evolve if you constantly change your menu. Is there a dish you have created for L’Autre Pied that is a favourite? What I like and what is my idea of a good dish might change completely by next year. That’s probably the most enjoyable part of this job. No two days are the same, no two years are the same – your food style changes, your idea of what’s right and wring changes to a certain extent and you’re always trying to progress and do something different. Right now I have a monkfish dish; it’s roasted monk fish served with parsley root, wild Alexanders which are foraged for us, we use the stems and the leaves and we make an oil out of the leaves as well. We use things for what they are so Alexanders have  a very unique flavour and bring something to the dish rather than putting them on as garnish or for the sake of it. A lot of the foraged things, if they were that good we would have cultivated them centuries ago. graham long dishIs it difficult to find your own niche having worked for the calibre of chef you have? I think you find a middle ground in everything you have learned from other chefs. My initial training under Gordon was classical but working under Shane was more progressive and modern. But at the same time I was developing things on my own, seeing what other people were doing and coming up with my own dishes. I’m very conscious of not recreating dishes I used to do when working for other chefs – it’s their dish and method, I just take inspiration from what I have learned. What are your plans for the future? We have plans but we are going to wait and see a little bit. I’ve got to the point in my career where I want to enjoy what I am cooking and also I want my customers to enjoy what I am cooking. We’ve got to focus on quality and make sure the product we give is the best we can. I want a good relationship with suppliers and farmers but I want to be honest with the customers too. There might be things on the menu which are expensive but they are expensive for a reason. When things are cheap we won’t put a massive mark up on it. And do you want your own restaurant? I love London and I love the intensity of working London kitchens but that might change as I get older – I’d love a little Le Manoir one day but I think every chef would.

>>> Interested in being a head chef like Graham? Click here and head over to our jobs page

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th January 2016

Graham Long, Head Chef, L'Autre Pied