Simon Bolsover, Great Fosters, Surrey

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd March 2011

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Simon Bolsover became head chef at Great Fosters Hotel, Surrey in February 2008. He has worked in exclusive hotels in Canada and Bermuda as well as some of the most beautiful recognised historic country house hotels and spas that England has to offer. Simon previously worked at Hartwell House, Ston Easton Park and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons before joining Linthwaite as head chef in September 2004. The restaurant was awarded three AA Rosettes in January 2007, Simon left in January 2008. He believes in using the best quality ingredients, at the right time of year by working closely with the supplier. So first and foremost Simon give us an outline of your current role here at Great Fosters? My current role is head chef and I've been here three years almost to the day. Great Fosters had not accomplished 3 rosettes, so when asked if I could achieve it, I thought about it and as I like to be set a challenge, I decided to move to the South and some of my brigade wanted to be part of this challenge. That's a massive mark of respect for you isn't it? It is! When I spoke about Great Fosters and the huge operation with banqueting and conference rooms to the brigade they all wanted to be part of it. Most of the boys had been with me for a number of years, some even since they were 15, 16 years old and to move out of their comfort zone it was a big step but as we had achieved 3 rosettes as a team at Linthwaite House Hotel there is no reason why we couldn't do it in the South. It's great to see my boy's progress and develop themselves as individuals and to become great chefs in their own right. When we got here we realised that the style of food and menus didn't reflect on the reputation of the property and the guest's expectations weren't being met. They want good customer service, they want value for money, they want everything! Well with that price comes expectations doesn't it? Of course and from day one it was obvious that it wasn't going to change over night. I didn't expect it to be easy, but as we'd just got three rosettes up at Linthwaite so knew that it was possible. Did that make leaving Linthwaite a bigger"¦ Linthwaite was my home to be fair and we'd built a fantastic team there. Did it make that decision difficult? It made it very difficult. I'd considered"¦my home's in Kendal in the Lake District and obviously I was a stone's throw away from work, granted you spend a long time at work, you spend more hours than you ever would with your own family so it's your second family. But your family are only ten minutes away. Yes, so leaving Linthwaite with three rosettes might have sounded like madness at the time but it was naturally the next step for us as a brigade, as a team, as a head chef, for us all to say, "Right okay this is our next challenge," and so we went for it. How have you evolved in the three years that you've been here? How has your food style evolved? Trying to find out the balance between the North and South, what elements work down here may not suit the guests we were used to in the Lake District. So it wasn't a case you could just pick what you were doing up at Linthwaite and then migrate it south? No all our dishes have evolved. In the six years from when we first started at Linthwaite we weren't using water baths, we weren't using fancy thermomixers, it was back to basics. Now that equipment has evolved and with the use of a sous-vide system it allows a more consistent product which as you know, is vital in achieving 3 rosettes and above. It's all changing and I think you have to keep with the Jones or in our case with the alginates!! I know a lot of chefs do use alginates, but I think there has to be a careful balance so not to detract away from the natural flavours. Isn't that trend dying off a little bit now? I think it's overused. I think you'll never beat "confident cooking" as far as I'm concerned. I always tell these guys if you can't cook a piece of fish in a pan what's the point? If you haven't got the passion to actually cook food in its basic form rather than serve it so it's not cold but it's just"¦it's on that verge of"¦ Room temperature? Yes, but you wouldn't have it boiling on the palette because there'd be no point, you wouldn't get the flavour, you wouldn't get the natural fruitiness of it all. If you had to pigeonhole your food style how would you describe it? I love the seasons, and like many Chefs see the asparagus season as the start to a new year. You're treading water for the first two or three months as fresh good local produce is not readily available, so when the season kicks in you can get excited. Suppliers such as James Wellock are fantastic and when I first met with him he opened my eyes to produce that is available to be used on a daily basis and comes from within the UK or just over the water in Europe. Seasonality on the menu I think is a must! You have to show that you work with the seasons, it's not just the guests who are seeing this, it is also teaching the chefs in my brigade what is available at different times of the year. As you know, we're getting the best quality ingredients on the plate at the right time of year and you only know that by working closely with your supplier. You don't have to put complex garnishes on a dish to try and enhance it because the product's there for you, two or three elements on the plate is all you need. Fantastic. You mentioned coming down to Great Fosters and it is a deceptive beast, which I use in the nicest possible way, it's a bit like a tardis, on the outside it looks fairly small, it has been a challenging property, previous head chefs to you have been tasked with three rosettes, none of them have got them, what's been your biggest frustration? Frustration? I'd prefer to use the word adaption! A politically correct chef wow! Okay. How have you had to adapt? "¦you don't get frustrated, you don't work in a kitchen and get frustrated, you can get frustrated with other departments but personally I think you adapt, you adapt to deal with situations which arise every day and you deal with it to the best of your ability. It doesn't matter where you are"¦"¦ in a country house hotel in the Lakes, a Michelin star restaurant, or Great Fosters in Surrey, you'll always meet different kinds of people who are going to put you to the test. The environment is constantly changing and going back to the horrible days not so long ago of the "R" word, ie Recession, which hit all aspects of the hospitality industry I had to loose some if the brigade"¦.. Absolutely, as many businesses did. "¦and it hurts, but like I said, you have to learn to adapt what you have got and evolve a new team, which is still going on now. So in terms of Great Fosters what do you think's been your biggest, or sorry who's been your biggest influence on your career to date? This is an interesting question as my career path has taken me to some beautiful country house hotels and restaurants; and therefore worked with some very talented head chefs who have not had massive recognition in the industry, but are damn good chefs in my eyes. Why is the industry not recognising these guys? Back 15-20 years ago the way hotels and restaurants used the media was not as proactive as it is now. Because there's lots and lots of chefs out there that are doing a fantastic job, why as an industry are we not celebrating people like that? Having the backing of a good marketing can help to propel a chef into the limelight so if the PR or marketing is missing then they wont progress. Because it doesn't sell enough copy or"¦ "¦sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. Is PR important? PR's very important to get the restaurant and the chef recognised on a local and national level. You have to get people interested in your product and so you have to market it - wave it in front of peoples faces! Is there more to being a chef now than just cooking? Oh absolutely! Nowadays a Head Chef is seen as a chef, father figure, social worker, man manager, accountant, negotiator"¦. The list is endless! Do you think then good chefs with good PR will be more successful than good chefs without PR? I think so. I think it's beneficial to your property wherever you work, whatever you do, that it is marketed to its full potential - like I said on a local and national basis. One of the biggest influences on my career was from the great Keith Floyd. I was lucky enough to meet Floyd in 2007 at Linthwaite House where he was involved with a cookery theatre at the hotel. As you know he was the original TV chef who had a charismatic and eccentric personality and set a precedence for all the current TV chef personalities to follow. Yes chefs have become household names now haven't they and TV's done that. Yes, but he was one of the first to do it right. A great loss Keith. Absolutely unbelievable and will be greatly missed. I have never met anybody like that, granted he was a character and a half"¦ Flamboyant yeah. "¦I'm not one to talk but I've never seen anybody down a glass of Bell's first thing in the morning as a little pick me up ((laughingly)) and then casually graze on a bottle through out the day and evening!! He was such a genuine person from sending a get well wish to my father "Get well soon you old bastard" to meeting my family including my boys William and Benjamin, who were 8 and 5 at the time. I had tried to introduce my boys to cooking by watching Floyd on Fish and numerous other programmes he had done and they had said "its boring" but when he walked in our house they immediately recognised him and shook his hand - with no prompting from me!! He was a hugely charismatic figure wasn't he? He sat there all night just chatting away and my boys just sat either side of him and they were just listening and absorbing and"¦ But to hold the attention at that age"¦ Fabulous. "¦it's not easy with kids, I've got kids the same age and you don't hold their attention for that long. No, no but he held their interest for at least an hour"¦ Fantastic. "¦after they had gone to bed, we got chatting about the people who had influenced him and his friends in the industry, who were legends in their own right, and it just goes to show that no matter who you are or whatever level of chef, you have to have someone to aspire to. It was a lovely experience to meet someone who had inspired me when I was at college. As I said, the role of Head Chef changes on a daily basis, you've got to react to the bigger picture and work with the whole team; its not just one section you are looking after but the whole kitchen. My knowledge is constantly being challenged by new blood but as Head Chef I am there to teach the brigade at various levels from my sous chef to apprentices. I wish we had more apprentices coming through the system, we seem to be struggling with that at the moment. I've got one fantastic apprentice who is bloody awesome and I wish we'd got three or four more like him knocking on the door! I've got TVU (Thames Valley University) down the road and"¦. Are you working with the colleges? Are you going out to them? I've called them on numerous occasions and I have had a couple from TVU who were quite successful. At the minute there are no more available but perhaps working on a national scale such as with Kendal College, would allow youngsters to be inspired like I was. But the thing is we can all be apathetic and say there's not enough people coming into the industry or we can actually be proactive and go and knock at the college doors and there's lots of chefs who say, "Oh there's no chef de parties," well we know that we'll get a commis to train them up. Yes"¦. To set up an exchange system with chefs in the North to experience the different style of kitchens in the South would be great. If someone had a week off they could come and work with my brigade and learn about the industry and broaden their experiences on life. Last question then where do you see yourself in five years time? Interview question. It's quite a difficult one, you could say there's lots of ways you can answer that question when looking at it from a chefs point of view. I mean is owning a restaurant your goal? I would love my own restaurant but that comes with its own financial constraints. It's a tough time still isn't it? Like anyone, it's about taking that step into the unknown and seeing if it would work. I'm quite content working at Great Fosters but would like to achieve a Michelin star before I'm 40. Is Michelin still the Holy Grail? I think it is, at Great Fosters obviously the third rosette was the key element for us to come down"¦ So you've achieved what they asked you to achieve. Yes. Set out, do this and you get a pat on the back and a stick of rock"¦ you know, we didn't get a stick of rock, didn't get a pat on the back either. ((laughs)) So we got the third rosette and yes that is what we came down to do. We received very positive feedback from Michelin this year and we had a good inspection last year. Are you changing what you do for Michelin or are you just carrying on doing what you do? I believe that we should carry on with what we are doing as a full restaurant 4-5 times a week is showing us that we are consistently offering the right product at the right price. When I recently met with the Michelin inspector I appreciated his positive comments and it was very apparent that AA and Michelin look for different elements in a dish. How much is Michelin going to impact on your business? Is Michelin about driving extra business or in the nicest possible way is it about massaging your ego to have a star? Ego's don't work in my kitchen! It's purely for the business and the recognition within the industry and getting Great Fosters the accolades it deserves. It's not Simon Bolsover who gets the Michelin Star, it is the whole brigade as they all contribute in delivering the end product. But Simon Bolsover, the Michelin star chef, will sound very nice. ((laughs)) Come on of course it would. It would sound nice! Look good on your CV. Of course! Michelin is known more on an international basis than the AA rosette system even though it is just as prestigious. I think you're right, you know, what Michelin has done it's created a brand, it's created a guide that everybody uses as a measurement. Chefs look at it they pull their hair out over it, they stress over it but it is still, rightly or wrongly, the guide that everybody bloody measures by. Yes. And every year there's a massive debate he should have got it, she shouldn't have got it, he should have got it, why didn't I get it? And you have to say fair play for Michelin for doing that. Listen, thank you for your time. Thank you. Wonderful to talk to you. Great to come and see you. Pleasurable! If like Simon you want to be a head chef then head over to our jobs board for current vacancies

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd March 2011

Simon Bolsover, Great Fosters, Surrey

IN ASSOCIATION WITH