Shay Cooper, The Bingham, Surrey

The  Staff Canteen
Shay Cooper, executive chef, of The Bingham restaurant, began his career in 1997 at Paul Heathcote’s School of Excellence, Manchester. He has worked at Putney Bridge in London; Juniper in Altrincham, Cheshire; and the Vineyard at Stockcross, under executive chef John Campbell.  Shay then became head chef at the Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, owned by Olga Polizzi, where the restaurant was awarded three AA rosettes.  He then joined The Bingham gaining three AA rosettes and his first Michelin star. He has earned praise for his light touch, allowing his ingredients themselves to do the heavy lifting. Shay creates simple dishes with subtly sophisticated flavours and textures. One of England’s young generation of up-and-coming, ultra-talented chefs he has been awarded the Hotel Catey for best chef (under 250 covers) in 2010.

Photographs by kind permission of Malcolm Campbell, www.malcolmcampbellphotography.com Shay, give us a little outline of the current role here at the Bingham.

I'm Executive Chef of a 15 bedroom boutique hotel with a 60 cover restaurant and a garden room space, banqueting rooms that cater up to 100 people. We're a busy wedding venue, we did 92 weddings last year. It's a stunning location isn't it here next to the Thames. Yeah. It really is. It's absolutely idyllically beautiful here isn't it. Yeah it's gorgeous, right by the river and I guess it's kind of not too far out of London, both for people who want to have this sort of scenery without having to go to a country house hotel. Yeah. It's accessible and that's why we do very well and we're busy. It is exclusive use mostly for weddings or? No not at all. Oh really, right so lots going on? So, that runs concurrent. Come summer we can be doing four weddings a weekend. That puts a big challenge on you and the team what you do when everything is rocking?. Yeah, well initially it did but we're at a stage now with a solid team and everyone knows their roles and the two don't meet so much"¦ Yes OK. ...in terms of obviously there's support between the two kitchens. We have two small kitchens, one's just been re-done, we've generated a bit more of pot-wash area upstairs. I think you saw it last time you came here. Yes, I did it was quite tiny from memory. It was but, it's a good size now that works better. Between the team, Shay, how many in the team? Eleven. Eleven in the team. Eleven yeah, so, like on a seven day rota obviously you've got about seven guys on the team, in the team upstairs, about four downstairs doing the banqueting and pastry. And restaurant covers, what sort of covers are you doing in the restaurant? Well weekends we'll be doing 50/55 on a Friday/Saturday night and Sunday lunch. A pretty strong lunch trade nowadays. We do between 25, up to 20/25 most days, the early part of the week's a bit quieter, mid-week's covers again around about the same, sort of 20/25 range. That's at this point but in summer we open up this balcony and every night it's pretty busy. I can imagine people using this with views of the river. And we offer everything as well from a bar menu, afternoon tea's a big service here for us, nowadays, again up to 25/30 covers at the weekends, Friday, Saturday, Sunday in summer, you know, it ticks over very nicely. And obviously you've got the other hotel offers that you of course have to do, breakfast and whatnot. Yeah. Of course, of course. In terms of your career, you've been hugely successful. Three rosettes at Talland Bay"¦ Yep. "¦and you  moved from Talland Bay in Looe, you went to work for Olga Polizzi, at Hotel Endsleigh, three rosettes there, you've come here, three rosettes here, a Michelin star here, I believe you won best hotel under 250 covers for the Catey's"¦ Yeah. "¦what are the goals for the business now? Where do you go next? I mean, I guess for the business, we want to become more profitable, I mean it's profitable currently but"¦ You can always make more. Yeah that's how the boss is going to look at it. Of course, of course any boss would. But in terms of for me and the kitchen I pride myself on being a complete hotel chef and I think every element is as important as each other, for us to achieve, what we have we have is fantastic. We've taken the Bingham from where no one had heard of it, it had one rosette, it was in danger of losing that. So to be where we are now is quite an achievement. We are essentially a wedding venue, with 92 weddings each year. I mean there's not many other hotels  that'll do those kind of numbers but in spite of that, we've still get a great reputation for the food here at the Bingham "¦ Yes. "¦is a really good thing. In terms of what I want, I'm not looking towards, you know the two stars necessarily, but with regard to my boys, I've got a strong,  bunch of enthusiastic, loyal guys and they want to do the best they can and we want to keep pushing the food forward of course"¦ Yes. "¦to stay motivated and just keep learning new techniques, putting new dishes on, trying new things and being ambitious like that"¦ Yes. "¦and hopefully things'll fall into place in terms of accolades. Yeah, no that's a fair comment. Now you have been very successful with your food. If you had to pigeon-hole your food style, and I know no one likes doing that"¦ Yeah. "¦how would you describe Shay Cooper's food? I mean essentially it's  refined comfort food. Okay. Really? Well it's got it's"¦How would you say? Like at the heart of the dish there has to be an element of familiarity about that the guest can connect with Okay.and catering, first and foremost for hotel residents and Richmond localsto establish ourselves. Okay. Right? That's what we set out to do. So you had to adapt  for your market? Yeah we did do but at the same time you want to have some creative outlet and have a sort of your own personality to your food and menus Yes. "¦and so when you approach new menus or new dishes just always try and do something that you feel is original"¦ Of course "¦you know different dishes that people might not of heard or seen before. I guess it's again, getting back to that whole "Modern European, But if I said to you "Shay, pick one dish off your menu now that best says this is me, this is Shay Cooper", what would that dish be? Menu now. I don't know, I couldn't pick one right now. We've just changed the menu "¦but we've got a Tiramisu dish which is, it's a classic dish. "¦but done in a way that's sort of like a little bit inventive"¦ Okay. "¦and surprising when it arrives at the table"¦ OK. So for the guest there's a small element of showmanship about it which I really like"¦ Okay. So it's taking a classic idea like Tiramisu and then just tweaking it to make it a little bit more refined. No, absolutely fantastic. Fantastic. You've been, as I say, hugely successful, great accolades but this is a very busy business"¦ Yeah. "¦and it's not just a restaurant"¦ Yeah. "¦what do you find the most frustrating thing about being a hotel Head Chef then, with such a demanding and high profile restaurant? Because you can't be everywhere at once can you, it's impossible. No. No, no, no. I mean what you've got to look at is if you're a wedding venue, every single bride that walks through this door every week"¦ It's the biggest day of her life. Yes, so you've got to deal with that. If you're a restaurant chef you can set your stall out and you say "This is what we do, if you like it then come back, if you don't then it's really not for you" but here we're on the back foot always, like catering to someone else's demands"¦ Yes I know what you mean. "¦a lot of the time and you have to be flexible and that's an important part of any hotel chef's role I think. Yes it is of course. At the end of the day people are coming here, they're spending a lot of money, on a room, on the whole package, on their breakfast and they want everything to be right and "¦There's always going to people who will find problems and obviously with a hotel you've a layer of middle management coming from at you from different departments, "We've had a complaint on this" and you know there's a certain amount of politics in a hotel environment"¦ Yes you can say that again. "¦more than there is in a restaurant. Shay you've worked in some fantastic places in your career, obviously John Campbell, The Vineyard springs to mind. Who would you say has been the biggest influence in your career, chef-wise? You take a little bit from all of them"¦ Fair comment. "¦but I mean for sure John Campbell in terms of he opened my eyes to what you needed to be a manager of a hotel kitchen"¦ Yes. "¦and John puts a lot of procedures in place"¦"¦that work well. Paul Kitching, he ran a very disciplined kitchen in terms of everything was just so, you know, how he wanted things cooked and I know people perceive him as being a little bit"¦ That surprised me because I always imagined Paul"¦to be a little bit quirky if I'm honest"¦ Yes you would "¦and a little bit kind of out there"¦"¦in the nicest possible way to Paul. Yeah that's what throws everybody. You'd think he was very free flowing"¦ Yes you would. "¦because of his mind and what he puts on the plate"¦"¦but in the kitchen"¦ "¦everything had to be just so. Fantastic, really disciplined Yes very. Every single element of every dish was how he wanted it to be"¦ "¦so that was Paul and when I was working for Anthony Demetre I felt that he was like just a really fair manager"¦"¦and the way, his people skills were, was his strong point, and I hope I took this from him. He treated his boys very well and he's a really decent bloke. Again, being very repetitive, a great success here, but what does the future hold for you, Shay Cooper? Is there a free standing restaurant in your own name? Are you going to carry on down the hotel chef route? Where are you going to be in five year's time, Shay? Well I think the Bingham wants to expand"¦ Okay. "¦in terms of a second operation. There was talk of doing an event side of the business"¦"¦which would work well because"¦"¦you've already got an established name in the area"¦"¦and you've already got a lot of marketing established with the Bingham and catering towards wedding people"¦"¦except we can only set a limit at 100 guests so if it gets any bigger then maybe we could do it externally at different venues, so that's one thing but a second restaurant would be great. I mean I'd like to have a little restaurant, not fine dining, but more of a - mid-level sort of dining experience I mean you mentioned people like Anthony Demetre do you see yourself expanding like Anthony has done"¦ Yes perhaps"¦  Well listen Shay, I just want to say thank you very much for your time today. Alright, thank you Great. You're going to continue with your success. Lots of people saying some wonderful things about your food and thank you very very much. Thanks man. If you are interested in what Shay does why not check out current head chef vacancies on our jobs board 
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2011

Shay Cooper, The Bingham, Surrey