10 minutes with: Arnaud Stevens

The Staff Canteen

Walking along Upper Berkeley Street you may be forgiven for not noticing Sixtyone Restaurant at first glance. Its simple white and black exterior is a subtle reflection of not only the interior but of the dishes created inside by chef patron Arnaud Stevens.

Some of his signature dishes include Carpaccio of octopus and roast squab pigeon with snail and parsley risotto; texture and flavour is very important to him which is why these dishes have been on the menu from day one. Despite being 40 minutes late for this interview with Arnaud, thanks to public transport, he still had a smile for me and some time to spare to talk about his restaurant. “Myself and my head chef Killian Lynch wanted to open a restaurant where we would go out and enjoy ourselves,” explained Arnaud. “When you enter Sixtyone you get a real feel of what I like – I love copper, wood and casual environments. We’re not here to do fine dining, it’s a neighbourhood restaurant, we want to look after people in this area who want to enjoy their local restaurant.”

You can see from the eye-catching décor and the calm, relaxing atmosphere that Arnaud is a chef who knows what sort of establishment he wants to be working in. But what inspired him to join the culinary world in the first place? “My grandma she was a private cook in a chateau in France,” he explained. “I often got to experience that on family holidays – that was an inspiration straight away to get into this industry. “She used to cook real rustic, classic dishes using braising French methods so coq au vin and bourguignon, whole bird roasts – it was really inspirational.” Arnaud knew at the age of 12 that he wanted to be a chef, after a visit with his dad to a Michelin starred restaurant in Angers.

He said: “It was all very grand. There were silver cloches, the service was immaculate and the food was incredible. I still remember at that age thinking ‘this is what I want to do as a job’.” Born in Birmingham but raised in Devon, at 16 Arnaud took his first steps to achieving his childhood dream when he started a day release apprenticeship at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay which had five stars at the time. “I was paid absolute peanuts and I worked my nuts off!” said Arnaud. “But I learnt loads from that experience.” Next stop for Arnaud was London, working with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes at City Rhodes. “It was a massive change,” he explained. “It was almost like I had to learn everything again. It was just a different level of cooking, it had one star and

Gary was in the kitchen cooking full on. People perceive him as a TV chef but he was very hands-on. “He was incredibly driven and he would be in the kitchen at 6.30 in the morning, way before any of the others, which is weird, you wouldn’t expect it. He did the hours with the boys and that stood out to me.” Despite working with the likes of Pierre Koffman, Tom Aikens, Jason Atherton and Richard Corrigan, Arnaud believes his grounding was City Rhodes which prepared him for future experiences in top kitchens such as Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons “Le Manoir was incredible,” said Arnaud. “It’s an institution and you know it when you walk in. You’re stepping into history and it’s well respected.”

Nostalgia aside, Arnaud makes it very clear that working in these kitchens has taught him everything he needs to succeed today. From sourcing ingredients and the quality of them to the discipline required in the kitchen and control of costs. “There was no waste at Pierre Koffmans’ Le T’ent Claire,” explained Arnaud. “And here at Sixtyone I have two great senior sous chefs and a great head chef and it’s about controlling the guys on how they order. Also checking the fridges and being in there with the team. He added: “The big animals are butchered down by myself and Killian and then we hand it back to the team. It’s key because you have little room for error and it’s controlled. When it comes to service we have sous chefs on each section watching, which limits the point of mistake - things disappearing and things going in the bin.”

As well as cooking in some of the UK’s best kitchens, Arnaud also spent time in Les Jardin des Dens a three-star kitchen run by the Pourcel twins in Montpellier. “The south of France is a completely different ball game,” he explained. “I found it very disciplined but also a very relaxed environment. I thought the markets there were mind-blowing! The produce there - I’ve never seen it as good as that.” When Richard Corrigan won the contract to open a restaurant on the top floor of the Gherkin he approached Arnaud to join his team, where he was junior sous chef for two years. It was his first step into more senior roles and working with the Searcys group. When he left the Gherkin as there were no senior roles available, he became head chef at the Hoxton Apprentice with Prue Leith. “She’s a legend!” Said Arnaud. “It was a big step, we had apprentices and ran a functional retail business but also trained apprentices to go through their NVQs.

It was backed by Training For Life and Prue was the chairman. She was big into great food, great service but also training and she was a great help in making me understand the importance of training people the right way.” Leaving here Arnaud spent several years as head chef at Maze Grill working for Jason Atherton before joining the team at the Royal Opera House as executive chef this opportunity was also offered to him by the Searcys group. He wanted the challenge of running multiple sites, and he was in charge of three restaurants, an events space for 300 people and private dining rooms. He said: “I was in charge of five head chefs and lots of egos! Having the grounding and the discipline from working for chefs such as Koffman, Prue, Jason and Gary really helped. In that situation you need to be well controlled and well organised – you’re cooking for 2000 people a day on multiple levels.”

Arnaud became more involved in the Searcys group working as the executive head chef at the Gherkin, and being part of the management buyout of Searcys – he then became head of development for the group. Arnaud said: “This role was a great learning curve. I was still on the stove cooking, this didn’t stop but I was exposing myself into the retail and corporate business sector which I think is very important to understand as part of your growth as a restaurateur.” In 2013 he did a deal with Searcys to open Sixty-one as chef-patron. The Anglo-French restaurant uses French techniques and British produce. Arnaud has 11 back of house and 11 front of house staff and prides himself on having an equally calm environment both front and back. This hands-on chef has learnt from some of the best in the culinary world and it’s clear he is very passionate about passing on his knowledge to his brigade and anyone else who wants to learn – including guests! He said: “I entice guests to come into the kitchen and have a look at it. Some nights we do six and eight-course menus where the guests can come in and finish off one of their courses. It’s great to have that interaction with them.” He added: “My only focus is that we are trading well and the guests are happy. Without a full restaurant, we don’t have a business.” By Cara Pilkington @canteencara See more: 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th February 2015

10 minutes with: Arnaud Stevens