Paul Leonard, head chef, Burlington restaurant at The Devonshire Arms

The Staff Canteen

Paul Leonard is head chef of the four AA Rosette Burlington restaurant at The Devonshire Arms.

He previously worked at Michelin-starred Isle of Eriska, joining the team after working for two Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles.

Paul spoke to The Staff Canteen about restoring the Burlington’s Michelin reputation, implementing a four-day week and why Andrew Fairlie is his biggest influence.

Heritage Carrot & Smoked Eel low res
Heritage Carrot & Smoked Eel

You left Isle of Eriska a year ago, how are you settling in at the Burlington?

Being from Hull, I’ve always known the Burlington as Michael Wignall, Steve Smith, Adam Smith – so to get the job and try and recreate what these guys have done here was a challenge that I fancied. When I first started I was tasked with getting the guys in the kitchen on a four-day week, I know it’s done a lot in restaurants but to do it in a hotel when we area seven-day operation with breakfast, afternoon tea and functions, it’s pretty nuts! The Devonshire is a beast, our passion lies with the Burlington restaurant, but we have so much more responsibility to look after.

We implemented the four-day week in September last year and it has been tough in ways but if you stick to it and you’re disciplined with it then the guys reap the rewards.

What skills do you think you need to be a good head chef of a restaurant within a hotel?

I think you have to be self-disciplined and you’ve got to be organised, if you are not organised you are up against it. Taking on the Burlington was the next step up in my career - the team is twice as big and you have to lead by example. I’d hate to be one of those guys who just sits back and lets everyone else do everything. I want to share my experiences with the younger chefs but also, I want us to all learn together with new experiences. As a team you make mistakes together and you achieve together. 

What can people expect from the menu at the Burlington?

The food is not massively technical, when I first started I wanted to meet all of the suppliers and carry on with the dishes which were left with after Paul (Evans) left. We made tweaks, but they weren’t noticeable to start with – we took unnecessary things off the plate and we didn’t want to overcomplicate everything. We have brought new techniques and new flavours, but we are not trying to be fashionable or ground breaking.

My biggest influence is Andrew Fairlie – you look at his food and you know it’s going to be beautiful. He sources the best produce, cooks it with respect and he keeps his self-discipline. If those three things stay with us we won’t go far wrong.

Info bar

5 other chefs / restaurants you consider stars of the future

Neil Bentinck at Skosh in York
Lorna Mcnee, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie 
Tom Shepherd at Restaurant Adams

Scott Davies up at The Chimneys in Skye

Our Team at The Dev certainly contains some stars of the future within it, I love watching and being a part of their progression.

Guilty pleasures

I love nothing more than a good Indian meal on a night off, also a great cheese on toast with loads of Lea & Perrins.
Also a big fan of the Chinese crispy onions you can get from the supermarket.

Top 5 restaurants
Geranium - Copenhagen
Lenclume - Cartmel
Bibendum - London
Moor Hall - Aughton
Blue Hill Farm Stone Barns - New York

Favourite cookbook (s)
I have just bought Daniel Clifford's book which is amazing
The French Laundry is classic
White Heat
Ramsay 3 Star
All of Tom Aikins books were great
The Square cook book
Le Livre Blanc

Do you create the menu or do the team have an input?

When grouse came in to season we wanted to put a dish on the menu so, everyone had a week to come up with ideas – some came with too many elements on the plate so I’ll send them away to work on one element which will marry with someone else’s and ultimately it creates a Burlington dish rather than a Paul Leonard dish. In the last six months we’ve really started to get a hallmark of our food and it has an identity.

paul leonard
Paul Leonard

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in this role?

Sustaining the team and getting the consistency in the team. Also, changing the mindset of people – the Dev has so much history especially food-wise there was sometimes the view that changes we wanted to make ‘were not the Dev way’. We did it anyway and it puts you on a knife edge because you feel like people are waiting for you to fail. But because I’m quite determined, and I believe in what we are doing, it’s a matter of going at it head on and saying ’I know we will succeed’. I think the decision we made in the first few months are paying dividends now. No one in the kitchen works more than 50 hours now.

You’ve clearly created a working environment which you enjoy being in.

I don’t want to work somewhere which I don’t want to be or hate getting up to go to – for me it’s the excitement when you have a day off and you want to get back in and try a new dish idea and share it with the team. We are building foundations, we will take on people who might not have experience but have a good attitude and ultimately, we want to grow them and feed them back in to the industry – hopefully this will help with the skills gap.

pork cheek and scallop low res
pork cheek and scallop

Do you offer apprenticeships?

Yes, we have two apprentices and we work as much as we can with colleges in the area. I love watching people develop and I think we owe it to them – I came through an apprenticeship and I look at the chefs I learnt the most from and that’s what I try and recreate. Everyone learns differently but that’s all part of being head chef and a manger, getting the best out of people in different ways.

What are your plans for the restaurant?

I need to remember I’ve only been here a year – where we are now, if I had aimed for that in my year plan, I’d be over the moon. I want to get more consistent – the Dev was always Michelin- starred when I was growing up, we’ve had inspections and I just want to stick to what is true to the restaurant and us as a team. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t get it back if we just carry on doing what we are doing. You can’t make it the holy grail and you have to be balanced enough to keep your guests happy and the dining room full and you have to retain your staff and keep them interested. So, are we chasing it? Definitely not. Do we want it? One hundred percent.

Our main goal is to be respected by our peers in the industry and to be endorsed by the people we look up to and respect. There’s a lot more recognition than just guides.

And what about you, what are your goals?

I want to make the Dev and the Burlington relevant again in the food scene. Not just in Yorkshire but in the UK. I want people to look at us and think ‘you know what we need to go and eat there’. That’s my first goal. The second is making a name for myself in the industry so people respect me. And thirdly, once we’ve done what we need to at the Dev and we’ve built something my aspirations would be to have a restaurant for myself and Robin my wife.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th November 2018

Paul Leonard, head chef, Burlington restaurant at The Devonshire Arms