Paul Foster, Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 24th November 2010

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Paul, maybe you can just introduce yourself.  Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role. I am Paul Foster I have been at Tuddenham Mill for four months, I was previously Sous Chef for Sat Bains for two years at Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham and I have come here to take it in a different direction; to do my own food and develop my own style.  We have a fifty seater restaurant with a Private Dining room for 25.  We have 15 bedrooms ...so a nice small scale.  We have a team of six, including myself, in the kitchen which is a decent size.  There were five when I came here - they let me have the extra one, so there is always four in the kitchen so it is quite consistent in the kitchen at the moment. So what are the goals for you? And what are the goals for the business Paul? I want to push it as far as I can. I want to do something different.  I want to try and stand out in Suffolk because at the moment I think there is only one 3 Rosette restaurant - The Bildeston Crown and there is nothing that really stands out; nothing doing the sort of food that I want to do and hopefully make a name for myself. OK, how would you describe your food style? I want it to be as natural as possible with purity of flavour; not getting too carried away with techniques but keep it interesting and clever and unique. Really working with the seasons. When you say natural?  You mean, you're not using products such as meat glue and alike? No I try and steer away from all that.  I use things like agar agar - it's a natural substance anyway, but only to achieve different textures and things.  But I won't be going crazy trying to make warm jellies and that sort of thing and foams, I just want to keep a real purity of flavour. You mentioned Sat (Bains), earlier on, how big an influence has he been on your career?

Massive, really.  He really taught his chefs taste over technique Sat is all about flavour.  It can be very easy to get carried away, especially as a first time Head Chef wanting to impress, sometimes with crazy ideas - trying something new out and pushing hard  because you are let free. The owners are really supportive, and let me do what I want here, so I have got to rein myself in - I have Sat in the back of my head saying "Calm down!"

I think that is a good philosophy.  How important is it to you, in the nicest possible way, shake the mantel of Sat Bains off? Because Sat does a fantastic job; He does what he does; He is highly recognised for what he does but is there an importance of you to rise up as Paul Foster Head Chef? I think so but I don't want to disregard Sat Bains as a person, because I learnt so much from him. Of course not, but what you can't do is open a Restaurant Sat Bains here and simply replicate the menu. Yes, that's true, I have got to be me.  I have got to take the best things I learnt from him (Sat Bains) and develop it in my own way.  And just become unique.

Paul, what has been your greatest success to date, you have only been here 4 months but what have you achieved so far? I think it has been getting the team on board, and getting them around to my way of thinking.  It was a tough job. How have you gone about that? Umm, constantly preaching and pushing on.  Telling them passionately exactly what I want from each of them; getting the consistency in the food.  I really wanted them to appreciate the ingredients and show respect for them... and that comes through now.  That was my biggest battle.  I showed them the first menu I introduced.  They could all produce it but they weren't questioning themselves they weren't tasting the food; they weren't questioning how far they could take it. And what has been your biggest learning curve, to date? I think, like I said earlier, you realise that you are on your own now.  Whereas Sat gave me a lot of free rein on dishes and recipes and development in the restaurant, he was always a safety net.  He was always the final "Yes or No", whereas now the buck stops with me. Every plate, now, is down to me.  You always know that, but it's the realisation.  The first day of a new menu I s**t myself.  I have become a lot more self-critical. I guess it is always very difficult moving from Sous Chef to Head Chef, you never know if you're ready for it until you do it. Yes.  I had this conversation with Sat before I left, he said I was ready.  Had he said I wasn't ready, I'd have respected him, and I would have stayed for longer and done what was necessary.  It was pretty nerve racking at first, but you just have got to go straight in there. Would you say that Sat (Bains) has been your biggest influence in your career to date? Yes, definitely.  The only way to describe it was like a finishing school.  I am nowhere near finished but it geared me in that way and set me on the path that I had always wanted to go in terms of philosophies of food and ways of working and ways of leading the team.  And ways of getting the best out of people because that is one thing he does is get the best out of people. Yes, sure.  Who else inspires you? Thomas Keller was someone I always admired from a young age, I was lucky enough to go out and do a six week stage. How did that come about? I won an award called the William Heptinstall Award and they gave me three grand (£3,000) to go anywhere where I wanted to work. Wow! So I did six weeks in French Laundry; a couple of weeks in WD50 and a couple of weeks in Lyon at Auberge de I'Ile.  So it was a great award to win and I wanted to see three completely different restaurants.  The French Laundry was always a dream for me, so I went there - that was easily my first choice.  And then WD50 was something completely different - very modern; I took a few bits from it and a lot of things that I wouldn't want to do but it was a great restaurant.  Very good, fun food and then a more Modern Classical French restaurant because I had never worked in France and I had always wanted to go over to France.  I just wanted to have a little taste of it. You say you are going through a transitional period as a business, and you have got the team on board now, how receptive has your clientele been to your new ideas and menus? We have had a lot of the regulars from before I arrived  - I'd say about 20% of them have not come back.  It wasn't for them - they like quite big hearty food, but we have got a lot of new customers.  Customers have heard the local PR and they have seen the style of food we are doing so they come specifically for that.  And I would say the other 80% of customer have come back because of the change.  Because we are doing something different - the rooms are lovely; the restaurant is lovely and the food matches up. Where do you see this role leading to?  What do you hope to get out of this?  Where is this within your career plan? And where do you want to be in five years time? Umm. Sounds like an interview, doesn't it?  (Laughter) It does.  You are making me nervous!! (Laughter)  Have I got the job? Like a lot of Head Chefs, my ambition is to have my own place.  On my interview here, I expressed that was my ambition so this isn't a lifetime job for me, it's somewhere where I can make a difference; I can make a name for myself and the restaurant.  I don't know how long it will be, but after a few years I hope to move into my own place on a small scale.  I don't know where it would be.  I would like to do something back towards home but Coventry has never been a gastronomic city, so maybe on the outskirts. No, but then who would have thought Nottingham would have had a Michelin Star? That's true. You now have Mark Wilkinson up at Fraiche; Aiden Byrne now with two restaurants in Merseyside; OK it's maybe not in the heart of Liverpool but you know there might be an opportunity in Coventry. Yes, maybe.  I doubt it!!  It is rather industrial. Paul, give us an example of what you would describe as a Paul Foster dish? We are just coming to the end of British Tomatoes, but we have a British Tomato dish where I have a plum tomato, which is slow dried for 12 hours in an oven and a vanilla syrup and then plum cherry tomatoes, which are also British and one of those I confit very slowly in butter and then the other one I compress in a vinegar syrup, so you get three completely different amazing tastes with raw courgettes, sea aster, which is foraged from Kent and then, just to give it some creaminess and lactic acid - some feta cheese.  A really simple dish in essence when it comes to you, but it takes a lot of work in terms of preparation and techniques but very easy to plate for service.  It comes to you looking like tomato and courgette but when you taste it you get an explosion of flavour in three different ways.  What I teach my lads is "How can you make that tomato taste the very best it can?" How many menus do you run, Paul? We do an a la carte menu, which is a six; six; six.  A Tasting menu, which is available all the time, and is eight courses. And what do you charge for that? £65.00.  Before I started here, you had to order it two days in advance (Laughter)  I know it was crazy.  So as soon as I came here I said "Right we are doing it all the time now - lunch or dinner".  We added an extra course; took a fiver off and we are selling probably about 30 or 40 a month. Fantastic. Which is a great increase. Paul, thank you very much for your time.  The very, very best of luck here.  I think you have a great talent.  Your food images look fantastic and I hope the future goes really well for you. Yes, me too.  I have just got to push on and keep going.

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 24th November 2010

Paul Foster, Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk

IN ASSOCIATION WITH