Paul Hood, chef patron of Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd April 2014

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Paul Hood is the chef patron of Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House where he recently won a Michelin star in his own right after just five months of opening. Previously Paul worked with Jason at Maze as a sous chef and Pollen Street Social as the head chef. He has also worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like The Glasshouse and Thackeray’s after an early stint at Jamie Oliver’s private members’ club, Montes. Is it true that you failed home economics at school? It is unfortunately but what the teacher got us to do was crap. She used to make us copy out stuff from textbooks, so we’d spend a whole day copying out stuff about vitamins. One day was vitamin A, the next day B then C. It was only after five weeks of that that we finally did a lesson of cooking. So it actually made me want to cook a bit more when I finally did get to cook. What did you learn and what influences did you take from each of the places you worked before meeting Jason Atherton? Each one would do certain jobs in different ways. Going into The Glasshouse and seeing that kind of Michelin star kitchen, just how clean they kept it, and the standard of the food, the quality of the ingredients and using a lot more closer-to-home British ingredients. I quickly moved up to junior sous there and that’s when I learnt more about the management side of things and the ordering and the discipline of running a kitchen really at quite a young age which in some ways is good but in some ways is not so good because it makes you a bit of a d**k. It’s maybe a bit too much power to give to somebody so young. I realised one day that maybe I was getting a bit too carried away with it and I sort of reined myself back in. At Thackeray’s the number of covers changed from 70,80,90 for lunch at The Glasshouse down to sometimes as little as 20. It was a different type of food; they put a bit more finesse into it whereas The Glasshouse was all about good flavours and a bit more rustic on the plate. Equally what did you take from your time with Jason at Maze and Pollen Street? Day one walking into Maze was like, wow, this is a different level again – stepping up to 120 covers for lunches and hitting 160-180 for dinner, and the standard too was another level. It really tested you and put you through your paces. I did wonder at first, have I chosen the right thing? But after a week or so I settled in and I loved it. It was busy and hectic but it was great. We had eight sous chefs at one point which shows how busy it was, a seven day operation with a brigade of 35 chefs to manage; it was a massive operation. At Pollen Street we started from scratch. We took a lot from Maze but we binned a lot as well. We took some of our old suppliers but also set new ones up. I had free rein really on where to get the produce. Jason wrote the menus and we did the menu development at Parliament Square where I was working as a stop gap. Michel Roux Jr helped us a lot by letting us use his kitchen. How did the idea for Social Eating House come up and were you involved right from the inception? Even before Pollen Street had opened Jason said, if this goes well, we’ll start looking for a site for you. So we opened Pollen Street and about six months into it a site came up which felt right; Jason started negotiating for it and that was just a year into Pollen Street and we moved in by April 2013. It was always a dream but I never thought it would happen that quickly. How did you plan to differentiate Social Eating House from Pollen Street? I never knew at the time but Jason used to come to The Glasshouse when I was there on a weekly basis. He didn’t live too far away and he used to come in and order the same thing every week – the wood pigeon salad with a truffle duck egg. Later I’d always talked about how much I’d enjoyed working at The Glasshouse, so it was always in the back of my head to do something along those lines. At first we thought about tapas but then we thought about doing the neighbourhood British restaurant like The Glasshouse or La Trompete or Chez Bruce, that sort of thing, but in the centre of town, and that’s how the relaxed British concept came about. You’ve cited elsewhere Thomas Keller as the chef you most look up to; why is that? It’s everything about him, his whole philosophy; the guys I know that have worked with him; everything is so precise with him, everything’s so immaculate; I wish I could be a bit more like him. He admits that he’s a bit OCD and Jason’s a bit OCD too; I think you have to be in this career. I’ve got it a little bit, but maybe not as much as Jason. More and more of the traditional fine dining restaurants are looking to move into more casual dining concepts. How does it feel to be part of a group that was so ahead of the game on that? Yeah Maze was like a start to that because you could build your own tasting menu, have one dish and then disappear. Pollen Street then took it further although Jason says now that he thinks he got the concept a little bit wrong at the start by trying to please too many people, but it’s still a restaurant with very few restrictions. It feels very nice to be a part of the start of that and then of course here and Berner Street and Little Social; they’re all there to please as many people as possible. The whole white table cloth thing is starting to disappear; they’re restaurants where you go once a year for your birthday or anniversary, whereas we’re very much the sort of place where you can come in and if there’s no space you can eat at the bar or go downstairs and eat at the chef’s table. Read Paul's recipe for roasted curried hake here Read Paul's recipe for Smoked black angus tartare, radish, horseradish and mustard leaf here If you want to follow in Paul's footsteps, head over to our jobs board for head chef vacancies.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd April 2014

Paul Hood, chef patron of Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH