Toby Stuart, Roux at Parliament Square, London

The  Staff Canteen
Toby Stuart is head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, owned by the renowned chef Michel Roux Junior. Not brought up with a culinary background Toby was inspired by TV chefs such as Gary Rhodes with his enthusiasm for cooking really simple, accessible dishes. In 1997 Toby started his career in the culinary industry with work experience at Aubergine, working under Gordon Ramsay. He then went into full time employment at Cliveden, Orrery, where he first worked for the Galvin Brothers, and in 2001 to Neat in Cannes. From there, he went on to work at numerous restaurants in England and France including La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, The Square in Mayfair and Galvin at Windows, where he was senior sous chef. Toby first and foremost:  thank you for inviting me here to Roux at Parliament Square today, wonderful to see you. Give us a little bit of understanding about your role here at Roux, Parliament Square, the numbers in the team, numbers of covers that you do, how long you've been here, just a general overview please. Okay well first of all great to have you here. I started in September (2010) last year. There is a brigade of 12 chefs. Is that your full complement 12? That's the full complement, two of which are for the hospitality suites that are next door, the rest are for the main restaurant for Roux at Parliament Square. The Hub is a staff food restaurant which caters for 150 to 200, staff and members who work next door in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, We have one chef who cooks for their requirements too. Toby Let's just explain that a little bit please, you're kind of in a government run building here aren't you? This is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or RICS. It is an independent professional body originally established in the UK by Royal charter. Since 1868, RICS has been setting and upholding the highest levels of standards in Land , Property and construction. We are working in their space so to speak, running a hospitality operation which has its own challenges - of course. It's almost like a hotel set up here isn't it? Yes it can be, when you've got the buffets going and the canapés and you've got the soirées going next door, you can relate to a hotel sort of feel. In terms of numbers then what can you do in the restaurant? We can do 55 covers in the main restaurant between the two rooms, the restaurant space used to be an old Georgian town house. So that's lunch and dinner? Yes, 55 for lunch and dinner in the main restaurant and we have a private dining for ten as well. So 65 at the moment is kind of fully booked. We're not turning tables. Which I would say is more to do with quality and the things that we're trying to achieve rather than something that feels rushed. It's the kind of thing you can take your time over, especially dinner; make an evening of it. As I mentioned, there's 150 staff and members to cater for downstairs in the Hub and then there's seven commercial function rooms next door. We also have very varied requirements depending on what the customers are using the function room for. It can be anything, canapés, sandwiches, full buffet, hot and cold or a full sit down lunch menu, perhaps a three course meal. Depending on the business we can't obviously do everything all at the same time. Toby, obviously above the door you've got "Roux at Parliament Square". Yeah. It's a colossus in terms of a name, the Roux, how big an influence is that on the day to day running how big an influence does Mr Roux have on the day to day running menus, concepts that type of thing? Chef Michel's very much involved in it. We speak at least once a week. We've got correspondence via email as well. He does pop in whenever he's got a free minute, as well there's a monthly meeting between the Roux family and Restaurant Associates, where we look at the figures what we want to do, how to move the business forward. So who from the Roux family are involved in that meeting then? So it's Chef Michel and Chef Albert. Wow. When I first took over in September anything that we were changing on the menu we would obviously invite Chef Michel in. We'd do the dishes, he would taste them and we'd get feedback. Since I've been doing that and all the feedback was positive from Chef Michel, and we've had very positive feedback from regular customers from Le Gavroche. Plus Chef Albert comes to eat quite regularly. I would like to say Chef Michel is now more trusting of me. Of course he still likes to know what's going on so we still obviously let him know, and he guides me rather than saying, "No we're going to do this, we're going to do that." I understand. The Du Jour menu which we offer, changes every single week. We do a choice of three just because it gives people real choice; one meat, one fish, one vegetarian, so it caters to everybody and I think because of where we receive the business from, i.e. the area, Houses of Parliament, I think it's very important that has to change very regularly to keep the people interested, keep them coming back. How would you describe the food style then? I would say"¦ Is it Gavrochesque? No. Personally, I didn't work at Le Gavroche, I think the way they've always described it is kind of classical food with a modern twist, using modern cooking techniques. So we use sous vide, we use SOSA products, you know, if there's an application for it. I'm not a chef that puts "˜caviar' or jelly on the plate just because it's"¦ Just for the sake of doing it. "¦for the sake of doing it, it has to bring something to the party really otherwise I personally believe it's pointless. Also my personal training is quite classically French, in my formation, it's still kind of that sort of old school thing of, we test certain pieces of meat, I always prefer an oven roasted pigeon to a sous vide one, that's just a personal. I'd say we're a modern, European restaurant. Under no circumstances is Chef Michel trying to emulate another Gavroche - he specifically does not want that here. I think the Roux name affects us, in the sense that it's a benchmark for a standard that people know, and so a lot of the times we have to doubly question what we're doing and in which direction we're moving in as far as the kitchen is concerned. Does it put added pressure on you having the Roux name above the door? I'd say yes of course as there is an expectation, but I'd say in many ways as well it's a great support, and if I thought about that all the time and it was a negative, then I wouldn't come to work... Sure. "¦because, you know, it's kind of if you're thinking about that all the time then I'm not thinking about how I would do something or how would I move the dish forward, instead thinking more about "˜oh how would Le Gavroche do it?' and that's not really in the sort of vein of what we're trying to do here at Parliament Square. You had quite a baptism of fire didn't you when you first came? Yeah. It was well documented that Dan had moved on for whatever reason and there was obviously a period where there was not a head chef figure here and then you were recruited and I guess you sort of came in and had lots and lots of support to"¦ I've had a lot of support from Restaurant Associates of course, they're very much involved in the operation and they've got a great team just at the end of a phone, but yeah it wasn't the easiest thing to come into and I think to be honest we won't be hitting our pace until the summer. Don't get me wrong - what we do I'm very happy with and I'm happy that the team has started to gel together. We've got a lot of new faces, a lot of new people in the business and that takes time for people to find their feet. I think that's realistic as well isn't it? There's no point putting your team who are new under massive pressure and failing, you're actually better off building it slowly and being able to maintain the standard than being great one day and quite frankly sh*t the next? I agree with you completely. When I came in I always agreed that I wouldn't come in, and, bang! change the whole menu straight off. As it would alienate what kind of regular customers we had built up. I've sat down and I've thought about the structure of how I wanted to move the menu forward and the food and then if it was feasible on a day to day basis with the team that we had in place. I started off reasonably simple, I think we're building as a team now, and the structure of the dishes and the standard of what we do, I definitely feel the customer has noticed because we've become busier and busier, with a great regular customer base Where do you want to be in two or three years time then? I mean you've had a very successful career, you've worked at Galvin's , Troisgros, Richard Neat, all great operations, where do you want to take Roux at Parliament Square? Ultimately in my career I'd love to achieve a kind of Michelin recognition"¦. Is that possible in this building? Do you know why it isn't? No all I meant was you're not exempt from guides, I didn't mean"¦there's anything wrong with the building. No we're not exempt from guides! We've got a street entrance, we're open to the public so"¦ Okay I wasn't sure because there's government next door whether the guides had a ruling on it "¦ Yeah as far as I'm aware everything meets the criteria"¦ I guess you would attract the guides with the Roux name above the door. You'd like to think so wouldn't you! The feedback we've had has been very positive. I'd like to say that sometime in my career, whether it's here or whether it be somewhere else I would like to achieve some sort of Michelin recognition - However, at the end of the day it's not the be all and end all of everything. I always tell the team we shouldn't cook for a star we should cook for the customers and we should cook for the business and if we get a star from that, that's great. The food we do is of a standard and it's a similar standard of any restaurants I've worked in. I can't see any other reason why we couldn't, however, you can never tell, nothing's ever for certain. I'd love, too, for the guys in the kitchen to obviously achieve something like that, however, I think the biggest thing is let's make it viable as a business, make it profitable as a business. I would prefer customers to say "Where are we going to go for lunch? Oh let's go to Roux because it's great value and it's a good product," rather than we've got"¦ I don't know"¦ two customers in the dining room but we're Michelin starred. I'd prefer there to be 60 in the dining room and we're cooking the sort of food that we are and everybody's happy and that's more important to me Mark"¦ Who inspires you as a chef? I think you can grab inspiration from everywhere. I definitely think there's been some very interesting things coming out from Australia and the Nordic countries. Do you? I think it's been on the rise definitely. I think there's been some very inspirational cookbooks in the past couple of years from Australia. There's quite a melting pot of cultures there isn't there? I think there is. What was the last cookbook you bought? The last cookbook I bought was Bentley by Brent Savage. So I don't know if you've seen that? Before that there was a very inspirational book called cured by Lindy Wildsmith. I haven't no. Just the plating of dishes is inspiring, and the book "˜cured' was great for learning about our own cured and pickled meats/fish. Well last but by no means least, Toby you've had a great career and you've got ambitions to take this to potentially and hopefully get a star but where does Toby Stuart want to be in five years time? In five (to 10!) years time I would love to say that we've got a nice little kind of restaurant, maybe with some rooms attached and a little shop"¦ With your name above the door? Yeah I think with my name. Restaurant Toby Stuart with rooms? Maybe"¦.somewhere to become part of the community, I could help out with, or try to get some of the schools involved with what we do. We could have a shop, cookery classes, things like that, taking some of the products maybe that we sell in the shop which people haven't heard of and doing classes with them I would say definitely a menu which is completely inspired by what my suppliers on the phone are saying that they've got coming in, that's good quality and"¦ So no prefixed menus just"¦ No I think a very fluid menu"¦ Chalkboard. "¦chalkboard style - that's the menu of the day and then, as and when things come in and out of season, interesting things and just as I say be part of the community and buy of people in the community and whether that's in England or France or New Zealand or Canada who knows that's the opportunity. Is that because throughout your career you've been sort of confined within certain restrictions that  it's almost you want to kick back and say, "No structure we're going to do it this way?" No I just think it's a nicer way to do it, I think one of the best meals I ever had in my life was at L'Astrance in Paris and I ate there when it was a one star back in 2004 and honestly"¦"¦"¦.. have you been? No I haven't no. I don't think I get paid enough. You go in - it was €150 at the time for dinner with wine and it's a small restaurant 27 covers or so. You didn't have a clue what was being served"¦they ask you what don't you like and then they just serve you food inspired, from the market, exactly what was in season. I think as a chef what a fantastic way to cook and you go to the market and see some amazing fish or something like that and you think, "˜Right I'll have that going on the menu.' Get them in for lunch on the menu and just having that freedom. And why not? Well listen thank you for your time. Thank you for the tour round the very impressive building. It's been great to meet you and thanks very much and I appreciate your patience. Most welcome anytime. Yeah brilliant. Great! Thank you. Are you a head chef wanting a change? Or a chef wanting to become a head chef? Then check out our jobs board. 
In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th May 2011

Toby Stuart, Roux at Parliament Square, London