Paul Ainsworth, Chef Patron, Number 6, Padstow

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Paul Ainsworth, chef patron at Number 6 Padstow, grew up in the culinary environment. His parents ran a guesthouse and he was brought up with both of his parents always cooking dishes such as Sheppard’s pie and traditional Creole dishes with fish, vegetables and spices.

Paul studied catering and hospitality at Southampton City College as well as working shifts as a waiter at The Star hotel in Southampton. From 1998, he spent two years with Gary Rhodes at Rhodes in the Square, and then three years with Gordon Ramsay working at Royal Hospital Road. 

He then moved to the original Petrus site in 2003 to work for Marcus Wareing for three years before finishing his time in London at the Berkeley Hotel. After eight years of living in London, working eighteen-hour days, Paul met Derek Mapp. With Derek’s backing Paul and friends opened Number 6 in 2006; Paul taking sole occupancy in 2009. Paul,  thank you very much for inviting us here today.  It's a lovely part of the world.  Tells us a little bit about Number 6. Basically, Number 6 has evolved and now we have got it right where we want it, and that is, a really, really informal and relaxed dining option.  I came down here (from London) with a bit of a different idea - to give lots away lots of extras, amuse. Pre-desserts, but it didn't really work, if I'm honest.  We had the clientele through the summer but we alienated the locals and we put people off. Quite dangerous in a small community like Padstow, I should imagine? Yes, we put people off because it became an occasion restaurant and we just couldn't make a business out of that. So tell us a little bit about the structure of Number 6 because most people will know your background with Gordon (Ramsay)Marcus Wareing (Petrus) Gary Rhodes - do you own it or lease it how does it work? I own Number 6 Padstow ,it is a Limited Company and I lease the building. In 2008, in a very rocky period I set up the business and I must say, for me, the recession  - I was one of it's success stories.  Padstow was still quite busy and I just introduced a lunch menu that was £5 a course, or £13 for three courses and then the a la carte menu - I lost the set price for three courses; I got rid of Tasting menus - stripped it right down.  Around that time I went to London and usually I would have gone to lunch at places like Hibiscus and instead I started going to Antony Dimitri, who was at the forefront of this sort of thing of serving really humble ingredients. I think Padstow has quite a London set to it, I guess people come here to get away from it all, and therefore they want something a little bit different to what they can get in London? Yes, that's why we had to change and if you have just come off the beach and you have got your flip flops on, then you are more than welcome.  And that is what August is all about - we are doing big numbers in August, in a restaurant that seats 40/42 we were doing 95 covers every night and 30/40 lunches.  The proudest thing for me is that the locals come. So you have won the locals back, have you? Yes.  But I'm not talking about the people that have moved down here; that have a few quid in their pocket but the true locals; Padstowniens born and bred and they come regularly now. Fantastic.  Paul, what are your goals for the business now?  You come from a very high profile background; a very accolade driven background.  You say you have stripped back things and simplified what you do food wise, but are you still pushing for accolades?  Or is it bums on seats (I don't mean that in a nasty way)? It's both.  I turned a corner, when I came here I didn't have a clue about VAT returns or Corporation Tax - all that sort of thing. It's a massive learning curve I guess? Yes and now before a dish goes on the menu - the first question is "Does it make money?"  Is it making a 65% margin? Which is a conservative margin.  So it's about getting a balance.  But we always seem to do quite well in The Good Food Guide - we have always retained 6 out of 10.  Yes, I am not going to lie to you - I would love a Michelin Star.  It would be the first in Padstow; it would be great for the boys.  I have got boys that have been with me right from the beginning and they work bloody hard.  We make all our own bread - we make everything. Am I right in saying there is not a Star in Cornwall at the moment? That's right.  But to be totally honest, it used to come to January and I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about it and January is the only time I take my holiday and my wife is like "This is meant to be our holiday" and where ever we are in the world I am on the internet, but now I have just learnt to accept that if we deserve one then we deserve one.  They'll make their mind up. I am just enjoying having my own business. You say you have changed the food style; you have taken away all the chintzy bits.  Describe the food style that you are now doing at Number 6. We make the most of what we have got around us, that's from the Scallops to all the local beef - everything.  We do things like the slow cooked Cornish beef - we use the cheek and we slow cook it in a water bath for 18 hours and it's just lovely.  Just simply served with some lovely confit of red onions, mash potato and we do a texture of onion, and some nice buttered spinach.  And then I add a little bit of theatre to it - the red onions come in a little copper pan and the beef comes on a nice wooden board but you eat the whole thing together and it's amazing.  It's all in season; it's all local.  But then I don't firmly believe that it has to be local for me to use it.  I like to introduce something different, like peaches - we have got this lovely peach dish on at the moment. But there are not many peach trees in Padstow!? No, exactly.  But I am not going to stop using them.  I think it's about using what's best and in season. And if it can be local then great! Yes. You mentioned earlier about VAT returns etc, how big a learning curve has the business side of things been for you? Huge.  To get my head round the accounts, well!  When I started off I did absolutely everything and I didn't set out to do that in life - I set out to be a Chef. But the thing is you can't be a Chef if you are not making money! No, you can't.  Yes it is about being on the hotplate; it is about being in your kitchen and I try and do both, but at the same time if you tie yourself to your hotplate and upstairs (The office) is an i9mportant part of your business too. Of course it is.  You have got to manage the business also. You know, if one of my boys sends back a batch of ducks, for example, that aren't good I have got to follow that through because I don't want to pay for those ducks that we never had in the first place.  But I have come to grips with now. Paul, who has been you biggest influence in your career, to date? Chef-wise - everyone I have worked with.  The first hotel I worked in was a two star hotel in Southampton but the Chef in there was German and he was strict - he was an ass kicker.  The next Chef I went to work for was at Carey's Manor. Oh, you worked at Carey's Manor, did you? Yes.  Then the break came when I was at Southampton College; my lecturer was Godfather to Gary Rhodes' children - they went to Fanning College together.  And Gary phoned up, as I do now, and said, "Have you got any boys that want to come and work?"  Gary had a restaurant in Pimlico; he put me up in the Dolphin Square Hotel and he put me up for three months until I'd saved up enough to rent a place of my own in London. Fantastic. Back then, the term Celebrity Chef wasn't like it is now, but at the time Gary was a "Celebrity".  I remember seeing his hair and thinking "F**king Hell" Yes, I always think Gary's hair is like Gordon's swearing - it's a status symbol; part of his image and brand. And he was a really snappy dresser.  He was always in a dapper suit, and he had about eight different motors.  He made no bones about not seeing him for months but when he was in the kitchen ... I understand that Gary is a very good cook, isn't he? Amazing.  I can't talk about Gary Rhodes highly enough.  When he was in the kitchen - he was in the kitchen.  6 O'clock in the morning and he would do everything - help out on a section - the lot.  Then I left Gary and Gordon was at Aubergine then and the first thing I knew about Gordon Ramsay was his name plastered all over the Evening Standard that he had just walked out and took everyone with him. And the Head Chef at Gary Rhodes, and Gary himself said to me "Look we don't think you know what you are getting yourself into going to work for this guy - he's nuts!"  And then I had a mate who did a trial there (with Gordon) and he got the job and lasted about two weeks and he told me what had happened to him but it still didn't put me off. So was it really like Boiling Point? Completely. But you seem very different from that?  You seem quite warm and friendly to your team. Yes. Did you learn from your time with Gordon, then? Definitely.  It was regimented, right the way down from Mark Askew to Mark Sargeant.  I remember when we did the Faking It programme and that Geordie bloke said "He would rather hammer his b*****ks to the mast of a sinking ship than work in there for another hour! And that is really how it was (Laughter) And I will never forget that quote.  But I truly believe that that is not the way to get the best out of your team.  People will go and work for Gordon whether they like the way he works or not because having Gordon Ramsay on your CV opens up so many avenues.  But you can't knock Gordon - he has been hugely successful. Paul, last but by no means least, here we are you have got Number 6 you are developing into other areas - what does the next five years have in store for you? Umm, to make Number 6, to a really good quality dining experience that is accessible to everyone.  We have just bought a second operation which is big, big covers - 200 in the peak season. Paul, how old are you, if you don't mind me asking? I'm 31. You are going to be the next Rick Stein, aren't you? I don't know about that.  (Laughter) You are.  That's a compliment, by the way. It's a completely different concept to Number 6 - I'm not going to be there cooking.  I'd like to have Tapas, wine tasting, some hams hanging upstairs and down stairs - home made pizzas - really simple.  A place for the whole family.  I want it to be in Padstow,I couldn't do what I do in Southampton.  I miss my family; my wife misses her family (she is also from Southampton).  You have got to have millions behind you to set up in London ... And it is highly competitive. ... There is a good market down here; it does go a bit quieter in the Winter but I think it is getting less and less seasonal. Paul, you are only 31 and you have two restaurants I think you just epitomise what this feature is all about - Britain's Got Talent.  As I said to you the other day Gary Jones was in here and had lunch - he said it was fantastic. Yes, that is a massive compliment. Paul, seriously, I wish you every success. Thank you for your time. Pleasure. If you dream of running your own kitchen like Paul then check out current head chef positions on our jobs board

Paul Ainsworth

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th December 2010

Paul Ainsworth, Chef Patron, Number 6, Padstow