'What I've learned in life is that when things like that happen, you do get to see people's true colours and their intentions around you'

The  Staff Canteen

 

Fifteen graduate Gavin Gordon had only recently joined The Hut on the Isle of Wight when the pandemic hit, meaning that he was stuck on the Isle away from his children during the first lockdown. 

"That was hard," he said. 

"For the first month it was fine, but after the second month I started to go slightly crazy." 

But all the hard work paid off: The GQ Award for best overall experience came at the end of the season, and felt like a well deserved pat on the back after a tasking few months.

"It was a very good team award to get and it made all of the blood sweat and tears worthwhile. It always does, when you get commended on things like that."

His role at the Isle of Wight restaurant inauspiciously began in early March, but even all this considered, the chef is glad to be part of the team there, partly thanks to the owners, whose approach he has great respect for.

"If anyone's ever been there they'll know, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful city and just looking out of the restaurant straight into the sea is amazing.

"And what [the owners] are about, their ethos and how they carry themselves. They were running a successful business and still did during this pandemic, which is crazy compared to most people right now." 

"They built a business plan and stuck to it - and exceeded what we were supposed to do, which was brilliant." 

Who is Gavin Gordon?

Born in Leeds and raised in London, the chef calls himself "an adopted Cockney."

Though he got off to a great start as a chef as part of a Fifteen London brigade, this would see him progress on to great restaurants including one Michelin-starred Novecento in Italy, Gordon Ramsay's The Narrow, Mac n'Wild, Bonnie Gull and to make it to the quarter finals in MasterChef: The Professionals 2018

Training at Fifteen, he said, "was definitely one of the better parts of my career.

"I was very determined at that point but really young and really fresh. It was the right environment to put someone like that in."

As opposed to other formative restaurants, where the approach is more of a 'sink-or-swim', at Fifteen, "they spoon-fed cooking." 

He recalls visiting cattle farms and observing rearing practices delivering the best quality meat, spending time working at a butcher's, a fishmonger's, visiting Jimmy's farm in Ipswich and Jekka's herb farm in Bristol.

"I got that in my first eighteen months, which some people don't even get over their whole career. It was a really special place."

As an alumni of the now-defunct restaurant, he was saddened by the news of its demise.

"It was a great project and it's a massive shame for this country that that small institute had to shut, because it was an opportunity for fifteen chefs every year to come into this industry - but coming in the right way." 

In his case, he had been working as a mecanic but seeking another career route, and his partner at the time did the course, leaving him in charge of cooking for his kids.

"I just really enjoyed it. I stayed up late watching cookery programmes.

"I got a chance to be myself, and even adding garlic and rosemary to potatoes would blow my mind, like 'oh my God, this is really good,'" moving on to trying more adventurous dishes, "and then growing myself like that." 

Not to misportray himself, he said: "I've always loved food. My mum was a chef in a Caribbean restaurant - which her being white and English is quite unnatural - so I've always loved her food but I've never seen that as a path for me." 

Having recently seen his application to become a fireman rejected, he said, "I was a little bit lost at the time, I didn't know what to do professionally. Then it came about and I got in!" 

 

The loss of Fifteen

The chef sees it as there being a hole or vacancy for such a project, "especially coming from someone from my background." 

"Because of the set up of Jamie Oliver, it's either for disadvantaged kids or people from different backgrounds and the less traditional route. 

"It's an easier way in for someone who's from my background." 

The widespread public criticism of Jamie Oliver's own person when his restaurant empire crumbled last year was heartbreaking to Gavin, as the founder was always very invested in the project.

"What I've learned in life is that when things like that happen, you do get to see people's true colours and their intentions around you. 

He continued: "It was horrible for me to see that. But at the end of the day, it's business, nobody died and I'm sure he'll build himself back to whatever he wants to be. He's got that charm and a good core team around him to be able to build a great structure again." 

"He's still got certain things going on - his books are still selling, he still has revenue, it's not like he's bankrupt and lost every penny he's got. He just needs to find another way, and I'll be honest if anyone can I'm sure he can." 

Moving on

By the time he left Fifteen the chef said, "I got to go to Italy, to a restaurant called Novecento," a one star nouvelle-cuisine kitchen. 

"That was a complete shock to the system because it was nothing like what we were doing. 

"The amount of time we'd spend on one dish we'd do sixty covers in Fifteen.

On his return to London, he went to work at One Aldwych Hotel for Tony Fleming, which he said was "a whole other story for me, for my career."

"As much as I learned from Jamie Oliver's, I learned more about how to be a chef under Tony Fleming. 

"Not taking away from Jamie at all, Jamie's foundation was great but Tony Fleming - he'd see the baby plant and he grew it and pruned it. He got the best out of me out of anyone I ever worked under. 

"The respect I have for him as a chef is unbelievable.

 

The Hut

After working in starkly different restaurants throughout his career, the chef said, "I tend to cater for the site and not just do what I want to do." 

Because The Hut was an established business before he got there, the same applied there.

"It was more about enhancing what they already had."

On the menu, expect a predominance of simple seafood, and every ingredient to be greatly sourced.

"All of their suppliers are top top suppliers," he said, naming Flying Fish, Celtic, HG Walter among them.

"They cater for all sorts of people - if you want to go there and spend £1,000 you can, if you want to spend £50 you can, on a table of 2. It's whatever you want it to be." 

As for his own cookery, without throwing his classical training out of the window, he said, "I do like to enhance classical things with modern techniques," emphasising different cuisines as he sees fit. 

"I'll have a moment where I'll focus on Japanese, and everything I do will be very Japanese-esque, and then there'll come a point where I'll go back to Fifteen, doing pasta. I just have moments. It's more of a feeling more than anything." 

"Everything I've ever done, there's always a backstory for it for where it's come from. One dish could be three different places, but everywhere I've gone, I've seen something, I see how they do it and I try to improve it if it can be improved.

"This might just be a puree, and then I'll go to another place and have venison, and see how they do it there and try to improve it and bring all these techniques together, and then that becomes me." 

What's next

Looking to the future is difficult at the best of times, let alone this year. However, the chef said, he "100 percent" is happy at The Hut and wants to continue to shape it and put his touch on it.

"But obviously at the end of the day, as most chefs, I have my own goals," looking to open his own site in ten years' time. 

"I want to run my own place to make all of this worthwhile, all of this time out from my family, to be able to have a restaurant.

"It doesn't need to be a chain of restaurants - just somewhere I can call mine, something that I'd give my heart to and express myself in the way that I believe food should be, without anyone else telling me what they want or trying to merge my vision with owners' vision.

"I just want a chance to say 'this is what I think will work because I've done this for quite a long time now' and that's what I want to do."

For the time being, the chef is happy to build The Hut's brand, he said, "and to be their guy." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd December 2020

'What I've learned in life is that when things like that happen, you do get to see people's true colours and their intentions around you'