'We've been well and truly looked after. Not a lot of people have had that luxury'

The  Staff Canteen

The idea of 'the kind chef' defies the stereotypes that fascinated the British public in the 90s and early 2000s, but it is a trait that describes many of the chefs in Tom Kerridge's circle.

Quick-fire Questions

If you had to be a farm animal, for the lifestyle, diet etc. which would you be?

Probably a pig. They're just so happy all the time aren't they! Have you ever seen an unhappy looking pig? 

Desert island utensil

A spoon! Chefs use a spoon for everything: tasting, flipping, picking stuff up. If I need to butter toast I'm more likely to use a spoon than a knife.

Desert island ingredient

Yorkshire tea bags, 100 %.  I'm not about the green teas or the fruity teas. I like it strong, no sugar.

Take That or Wham?

Take That, every day of the week.

Spice Girls or Sugababes?

Spice Girls 

Ainsley Harriott or Rylan Clark-Neal as the host of Ready Steady Cook?

Ainsley. When you think of RSC, you think of Ainsley Harriott.

Sprint or endurance running? 

Endurance. I'm crap at sprinting but I do actually quite enjoy running.

Ski or snowboard? 

I don't do either but if I had to pick, it would have to be snowboarding. I think it looks cool as f**k.

Breakdown song? 

We have an open kitchen at The Bull & Bear, but at The Coach Tomo used to always put Ariana Grande's 'Break Free' on. 

Sarah Hayward is the head chef at The Bull & Bear in Manchester, and can testify first hand to the ethos that runs throughout the group, may it be at The Coach, The Hand and Flowers, Kerridge's Bar and Grill, and at the latest of the celebrity chef's ventures, the Mancunian restaurant set in the old Stock Exchange.

Co-owned by former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, as well as by established hotelier Winston Zahra, the business is thankfully in a fit position to reopen, one day.

Like many other Britons, Sarah headed home to her family for Christmas, and as the Covid-related restrictions were ramped up, she didn't have much work to go back to.

'Chef Tom' told her she might as well stay put until the situation improves. 

"It's strange, it's not in my blood to not to anything," she said.

While admittedly more attractive than sitting in her flat waiting for a room service shift at the hotel, there are some drawbacks to sharing a home with her parents, namely that she and her father, also a chef, routinely squabble over who gets to make dinner. 

"It's the only thing that we both want to do," she chuckled.

Like father like daughter

Naturally. Sarah's father is partly to thank for her successful career.

"When I was in school they tell you to do a week's work experience and I asked if I could go and work with my dad for a week. 

"He worked at a place called the Crab and Lobster in Bembridge and it's really really busy in the middle of summer. So they were like: 'yeah, come along, squash this out of you'. And the complete opposite happened," she scoffed. 

Shortly thereafter, Sarah started with an apprenticeship at The Royal Hotel on the Isle of Wight, before setting her sights further afield, at the Michelin-starred Chester Grovesnor, where she completed her Level-3 apprenticeship under the watchful eye of Simon Radley.

"That was probably was one of my strongest career moves," she said. "I would probably have been on the island for a lot longer otherwise."  

She remembers feeling intimidated by Simon when she moved there, aged eighteen.

"They have such a high staff turnover that they were like, 'we'll see how long she lasts before we get to know her, we're not wasting our time.' "

"You get it a lot in kitchens; it's not because I'm a girl or anything, you do just naturally have people who are going to last it out and others who want to dip their toe in it but aren't really committed."

And for Sarah, these things have to be taken seriously. 

"If you're there to dilly-dally around, there's kitchens that you can go in and there's ones that you should probably avoid."

Fast-forward another year and a half and Sarah found herself at the one Michelin-starred Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park in Bath. Hywel, a proud figurehead to many a chef, still receives the occasional call from Sarah.

"He's a great chef and an amazing mentor," she said, and "it shows, because a lot of chefs have graduated from there and gone on to do amazing things, and they still call him their mentor." 

"I'd love for people to one day see me like that."

Joining the Kerridge circle

In 2014, an opportunity to join The Hand and Flowers came up, where she joined head chef Aaron Mulliss and senior sous Jamie May as a demi chef de partie.

While the atmosphere was always friendly there, for the first time, Sarah felt like she was at the heart of the action, giving her a real feel for how to run a kitchen. 

"I remember being blown away," she said, "because everyone just worked so well together," even in the tiny kitchen they used to have.

"At Lucknam, I'd always stuck to the more casual side of dining," she explained, as she worked at The Brasserie, helped to launch the hotel's cookery school alongside chef Hrishikesh Desai, and spent at year at The Park (now Restaurant Hywel Jones).

"So to then go from Lucknam to The Hand and Flowers, it was a bit of a change of pace," she said.

But not one to shy away from the action, she said: "I loved it. You can't help getting caught up in the intensity of it, the adrenaline. Every day is a learning curve. Even if it's just not starting your service with: 'have I got enough?' You probably haven't got enough. Go and make some more," she laughed. 

Two and a half years later, she moved to The Coach and joined head chef Tom de Keyser - or 'Tomo', as she calls him, to distinguish him from 'Chef Tom' - as a junior sous-chef.

After a year and a half, however, she had an itch to move again. 

Tom Kerridge's mantra of sourcing his talent from within the group meant that she was first in line to join the kitchen at The Bull & Bear, a multi-million pound operation at the heart of the capital of the North. 

"When chef Tom mentioned that something would be coming up in Manchester and would I be interested - I was kind of thinking it would be football based, then when he told me about The Bull & Bear I was like: 'I'm there, 100 percent."

She describes the process as one of the toughest things she's ever done. 

"I'd never done an opening before so it was all brand new. The Stock Exchange was in this limbo of being built but not quite finished, what they needed was Tom to come in and give them a kick up the arse, he was the one to push it to the point of opening." 

"It was pretty intense but you learn so much about people and what you can push yourself to do when you do things like that."

Given the way things panned out in the past year, the chef is incredibly grateful to have Tom Kerridge and The Stock Exchange owners as her employers.

"We've been well and truly looked after," she said. "Not a lot of people have had that advantage, or luxury almost."

And while it's easy to put it down to circumstance or luck, the chef is aware that if the past six years in her career have allowed her so many opportunities, it is thanks to 'Chef Tom.' 

Remembering that he took the time to introduce himself when they met six years ago, she said: "The thing that always surprises me about Tom is how humble he is. He's not a small guy - you could be quite intimidated by him, but he's so down to earth and friendly."

"Anyone who's met Tom Kerridge knows who he is, I'd been there for about six hours. I always remember thinking: 'that's the kind of person that you want to be working for.'"

"When he comes to the hotel, he goes around, gives everyone a first bump, asks everyone how they're doing, then he'll go to do whatever it was that he's at that particular venture for."

Though a shy nature means that she would never boast her own talent, the chef has earned her stripes, and her high-calibre pub grub is a testament to that: hearty, meticulously executed dishes justify the relatively new name of 'gastropub' food. 

After all, The Hand and Flowers and The Coach's Michelin stars weren't uncalled for, they were the recognition that the British take on haute-cuisine is here to stay.

And who knows, Sarah might lead the brigade that secures another star for the wonderful city of Manchester.

In the meantime, she said: "We're sticking it out until we're eventually allowed to open - and hopefully stay open this time."  

"Hopefully it's going to be super busy, everyone's going to be so ready and rearing to go, it's going to be such a good atmosphere in the restaurant, atmosphere in the kitchen, I'm absolutely buzzing for it." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th January 2021

'We've been well and truly looked after. Not a lot of people have had that luxury'