Jason Eaves Head Chef, The Asquith

The  Staff Canteen
Jason Eaves, head chef at The Asquith, has previously worked at a list of high-end restaurants boasting a collective haul of 11 Michelin stars. Jason worked at the establishment when it was called Jessica’s, he now returns as head chef of Glynn Purnell’s second solo restaurant. Jason did a year’s catering course at Stratford-upon-Avon College but got his first taste of real-life kitchen fireworks as a 17-year-old at the then Simpsons in Kenilworth. He was commis chef to Purnell, following in the footsteps of his brother Marcus, who runs the Michelin-starred L’Autre Pied in London. He then worked for a short time at Whatley Manor at Malmesbury. Afterwards, he worked at Jessica’s and then at Daniel Clifford’s Midsummer House in Cambridge, David Everitt-Matthias’s Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. The talented chef worked for his brother when Purnell rang him and gave him his third offer, to work at The Asquith as head chef. 

Jason first and foremost thank you very much for your time today lovely to come and meet you"¦ you look very strange, you look very apprehensive(laughs). Tell us a little bit about your role here at The Asquith?

Basically I'm the Head Chef,I run the kitchen on a day to day basis and work on the menus and dishes . But no "Glynn Purnell" above the door? I'm in charge of the kitchen, I run the kitchen, I'll work on new the new dishes, Glynn gives me great guidence, controlling the ordering, the usual Head Chef stuff really. Glynn owns the restaurant, and I'm the chef. And how many boys have you got in the kitchen? At the moment there's just three of us but hopefully as the business grows we can start to stretch things out. So what was here before The Asquith, obviously we know it was Jessica's but what was in between Jessica's and The Asquith was there anything here or was it derelict? It was a place called Pascal's Restaurant. Okay. But I don't think it was too much of a success. Did it work here when it was Jessica's? Yeah I was here with Glynn "¦Glynn was the chef then and there was a sous chef, so similar situation. So there was only three of you in the kitchen then when it was Jessica's? Yeah, exactly yeah. So it's not a strange thing to be working in such a small team. I've seen how Glynn ran the kitchen and nurtured this place into what became Jessica's. So hopefully we can certainly try to have that success What are your aspirations for the business? Where do you want to go? That's a hard one really, I just want to get it busy, just want to become a busy restaurant that's known for serving quality food at a high standard that's good value for money as well. Okay. Are you open for lunch and dinner? Yeah, we open lunch and dinner. Seven days a week? No, we do Wednesday dinner, Sunday lunch and then Thursday to Saturday lunch/dinner. Jason obviously Jessica's had a star under Glynn (Purnell), is that part of the remit for The Asquith or is it just simply to get it busy?  At the moment I think we're just concentrating on trying to satisfy the customers we've got coming in and just try and get people coming back basically and then hopefully, you know, what comes, comes and if you deserve it, I suppose. It would be nice to get some recognition Jason how different from Purnell's is The Asquith going to be? That's a hard one "¦I mean Glynn's got his style, his ideas for his dishes and he does it"¦he nails it every time but I don't think that way because that's his way. I like to think along a sort of natural route,classic flavours that go together and just try and execute it as best as we possibly can. Give us an example of a classic Jason Eaves dish. What would you describe you as a chef"¦ A classic Jason Eaves dish? One dish at the moment on the menu is ballontine of quail which is stuffed with umm, like a farce of hazelnuts, foie gras and sweetcorn in the middle.thats rolled and poached, That's with sweetcorn and chorizo salad, a poached egg yolk and sweetcorn purée. Sweetcorn very seasonal at the moment? Yeah, yeah exactly so it's basically just sweetcorn and bacon really but just a little bit different but that's one of my favourite dishes on the menu at the moment. Tell us a little bit about your background, you started at Jessica's? Yeah. Where did you go after that? From Jessica's I went with Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House in Cambridge. How was that experience with Daniel? It was great, an amazing experience. Daniel and Midsummer was probably one of the most inspiring jobs I've ever had, it's still in my mind now ...I refer back to when I'm thinking about food and menus. I look back to the ecxiting times i had working there So who else was at Midsummer when you were there? Was Mark there at that time, Mark Poynton? Yeah Mark was there. Michelle his girlfriend was there, me and and two others, Was Russell there? Russell Bateman? No that was after I was there. Where did you go after Midsummer? After Midsummer I went to work at Le Champignon Sauvage. Okay with David Everitt Matthias? That was another great experience a bit more of a controlled, mellow enviroment.  That job came through word of mouth from Glynn and because of David's unusual style and what he was doing at the time, it seemed like the right move He's very much a chef's chef David isn't he? Yeah, at that time no one else was doing all the wild leaves and totally like off the wall sort of stuff. So I thought, "˜Why not?' I'd go and see what it was all about and learn something. So how long were you with David for at Le Champignon Sauvage? A year and a half with David and then the opportunity came up to go and work with my brother to open L'Autre Pied. Opening a restaurant with your brother is tough and put alot of pressure on our relationship, so I left there, took a break, took a breather, decided on what I wanted to do, thought, right I'm going to go back to London for two years, just go in, do two years, get two more years experience and just take whatever I can and then come away, I like it here, I like the city but then again I still like the countryside, do you know what I mean? Yeah. So the city life's nice but I like to have a little balance. So then I went to work at Marcus Wareing's for a year "¦ Which one was it Petrus at The Berkeley? no it was when marcus wareing had gone independant Jason how was working for Marcus? I mean you've worked for some very different chefs, Daniel Clifford, David Everitt Matthias and Marcus Wareing, all very different chefs, very different food styles, who would you say first of all has been the biggest influence? Biggest, two of my biggest influences are probably Glynn which is one of the reasons why I've come back here to The Asquith,  I've known Glynn since I was a teenager, and so Glynn and Daniel Clifford probably have been the biggest influence, just from the way they run their kitchens and the way they look at food, 2 exciting characters to be around From other people I've spoken to Marcus's kitchen is quite a regimented kitchen, it's quite disciplined is that a fair comment?"¦ Very yeah. "¦structured, would you say that's fair Yeah definitely, working in these small kitchens and then working in a very profesional,structered kitchen was a great learning curve Yeah you've probably got a maximum of five or six chefs in the team in those operations haven't you? Exactly so it's like. I wanted to see how a kitchen with 20 chefs actually works and doing that amount of covers every day,day in day out ,lunch and dinner and to that level was the thing.   Daniel Clifford puts amazing energy into his kitchen. You've got Glynn he's got a spanking personality He's like a coiled spring Glynn and you just let him go and off he goes. Exactly. And then you've got Marcus Wareing very, very high standards, so take all of these different little things from different places and hopefully pull it all together and you've got something to build on How did you find working in London? At first it was really hard I mean starting at seven in the morning, finishing at one at night, you know, just into four and a half hours sleep. That's tough. How many boys were there in the kitchen, 20 you say? Yes at Marcus's at the Berkerly, I think there was roughly about 20. Who was Marcus's head chef then? Alan Williams. Is Alan still head chef. Not sure.  Alan's top notch a really nice guy. Yeah it was a really good experience there. So tell us how did The Asquith come up then? How did you come from London back up Birmingham?"¦ Basically I phoned Glynn just because I got my job at the Champignon through Glynn,  sort of networking. I've always looked up to Glynn, I've sort of always phoned him for advice and stuff like that so I was in a bit of a "What am I going to do? What am I going to do next?"situation, I was starting to hit that wall and here i am back on old turf It's important though that to keep in contact with good people, isn't it? Yes. So I sort of phoned Glynn, for a bit of advice and then basically Pascal's went down, went under, I don't really know the ins and outs but that's finished and then basically this (The Asquith) was empty and it was just like why not? Let's go for it. I think Glynn's got quite an affinity for this place as well hasn't he? Definitely yeah. I mean this is kind of where Glynn made his name isn't it, put him on the map so to speak, he got his star here and all that sort of stuff and then everybody suddenly started going, "Who is this Glynn Purnell guy?" YesI think as well this restaurant came at a perfect time for Birmingham because there wasn't a Michelin star restaurant. There was no one doing that sort of food, I mean like now you've got three one stars in Birmingham, you've got purnells , Simpsons, you've got Turners and they're all very experienced head chefs and they all know what they're doing with putting flavours on the plate but I think when Glynn started here and he did his unusual style and a few different combinations of flavours , it really took off and hit people and they were like, "Wow that's good we've got to go there," and I think that was one of the main things that attracted people so much but now  there's starting to become a good sort of food culture here in Birmingham. Well there was always a good food culture here but I think the sort of eating fine dining food is really becoming well known"¦ Yeah it has become more cosmopolitan Birmingham like you say because of the people you've spoken about. Where do you look for inspiration now Jason? if you were to go out for dinner where would you look for inspiration or who inspires you? To be honest at the moment I'm just working on in my own mind , finding my style ,I'm not really going to eat in restaurants or reading books or having them influences, I'm just kind of trying to find my own way ,how I like things to look and taste , training the lads up as well like how this should be or that should be and stuff like that so things like that are in the future really for me. but for dinner restaurant wise ,theres so many great restaurants ,but i would definatly like to go and eat at midsummer again. So it's just hard work for you and the team, at the moment then? Yes, and it's going well for us. If you take any of the chefs you've already spoken about you tend to find they're influenced by people they've worked with before and then when they go on their own they've got to find their own feet and to a degree sometimes you have to get rid of a lot of negative stuff that you've got in you and"¦ yeah,not negative mentality ,just so your thinking on your own two feet instead of being told how to think Then you can start going, "Actually that's where I am. That's where my food is," and I think the older you get the more comfortable you become with your food, you actually start trying less hard to a degree because you have more confidence in you and your food. I've noticed that "¦I've only been the  head chef here for a few months, but at the start I was going, ((whispers)) "Oh no that's not ecxactly how i wanted it" so now I'm just thinking more about the dish before it goes on the menu, because at the start I was making like rash decisions, "I'll change that now that's not right, no, no change that," but I'm already learning, right just step back think for a sec, have a bit more of a think about it, be a bit more organised and then nail it first time instead of no change it, no do it again, you know what I mean? Yeah. That's the thing isn't now about being a head chef everyone knows you can cook because of the places you've worked at before but you've now got to make sure that you can get that message across to your in the team but also make sure it's consistent. Exactly. That's one of the main things, we're going for just simple, well executed food really and like I said just keeping people happy, hopefully they'll come back and then we can build from there.weve got a great team so I don't see why good things can't come, Absolutely not it's already been done here, you know, and you've got a great mentor with Glynn and you've got a great background yourself and I wish you every success and thank you very, very much for your time today. ((laughs)) Not a problem. It wasn't that painful was it? No, no, no.cheers mate Head over to our jobs board if you are interested in finding a head chef position 
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The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd March 2011

Jason Eaves Head Chef, The Asquith