'I don't think you can become the best that you can be without having a difficult story to tell'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

he moment Kerth Gumbs' destiny was drawn in the sand can be traced back to a specific point in time. 

The head chef at Ormer in Mayfair remembers his school days, when he was given a choice between learning auto-mechanics, woodwork and food and nutrition. 

The first two, he said, "were dominated by boys. Banging, welding, sawing away at things. That didn't really appeal to me." 

A win win

Food and nutrition made more sense, he explained: "I was like: 'at least I'll be able to get to eat what I create." 

"Coming from the Caribbean, I had a tough upbringing. And when you're never sure what your next meal is going to be and going to eat, well I'm like: 'If I'm going to be doing this in school I'm going to be getting a win win situation here." 

His mother was also a chef, and, he said: "I used to always love to see the faces of happiness and sounds of appreciation that she got from whoever she cooked for." 

Kerth visited London for the purposes of a scholarship - which fell through - he was in awe of the city's culinary scene.

Yellow tail ceviche

"What I saw blew my mind, and I was like: 'If I apply myself and really learn as much as I can, one day I'll be able to have this craft and receive the sounds of appreciation from guests, the same that I witnessed my mum was getting when I was growing up." 

Armed with the resolve and determination many great chefs have borne before him, he sought to work for the best. 

Julian O'Neill, who led The Perfectionist Café at Heathrow airport (the restaurant inspired by Heston Blumenthal's TV Series, In Search of Perfection) was his first true mentor in high level cooking, opening doors Kerth never knew existed. 

It was on Julian's advice that Kerth went to work for Tom Aikens at his eponymous restaurant, an experience he describes as one of the hardest a person could endure. 

"When the alarm goes off in the morning at 6-6:15 I looked at the alarm and clenched my teeth - you almost feel like you want to cry because you have to go in, but I stuck it out and I did it." 

From there, he worked at Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier (and was there when it earned a Michelin star, and still so when it earned another), Jason Atherton's Pollen in Singapore before taking on a role at Shaun Rankin's original Ormer restaurant in Jersey

It's a hard knock life 

Grateful for the opportunities he was afforded, Kerth nonetheless believes there is something in the hardness of chefs like Tom Aikens that destines them for glory. 

Ormer Mayfair - coconut

"Working one year [for Tom Aikens] would've been like working two and a half - not just the hours and the times - it was really mental.

"But he was on a mission and a path - and now you can appreciate it. 

"I thoroughly respect it; I don't think you can become the best that you can be without having a difficult story to tell sometimes." 

Celebrating almost four years of success at the London branch, albeit in the context of a global pandemic, the chef is determined to keep improving. 

His overarching mantra, he explains, is to turn negatives into positives for the business and for his team - enforcing a policy of openness, fostering discussion and encouraging his chefs to be part of the creative process. 

Every week at Ormer, the team convenes in order to let everything off their chest. 

"Everyone gets to hear what the other one says - not that it's going to solve any problems of make it better with the snap of a finger, but it gives us a bit more awareness and most of all, it gives everyone consideration towards the next person." 

Kerth's drive led him to appear on this year's series of Great British Menu, which he describes as the culimination of a personal aspiration dating back 15 years. 

Challenge yourself, always

What's more, he said, being on the show gave him a chance to 'stick it' to people who may have under-appreciated his abilities, willingness and energy. 

"You come to the point where you want to set the record straight. Not for them, but for yourself. Am I actually good, have I actually learnt.

"I think the Great British Menu hosting all these talented chefs and being amongst them, it was a good way for me to finally do it." 

Laying himself bare - the show was a test of his own self-belief, of his skill, consistency and loyalty of which he is proud. 

"There will be a point where you have to step out from behind the shadows and let the world know who Kerth Gumbs is." 

The chef is hopeful that once the industry has overcome the challenges it now faces, Ormer will come back in a whirlwind of glory, and that one day he might have his own name above the door somewhere.

He concedes that it takes more than the skills of a chef to be a good business owner, and that he will take the appropriate steps before he launches into that unknown. 

"It's not about just food or cooking - you need to have the help with the other aspect of things, business management etc. Very few chefs come from being chefs and go over to restaurateur - I'm looking over my own shoulder now and trying to see what I can do to learn my way of doing things." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 7th May 2020

'I don't think you can become the best that you can be without having a difficult story to tell'