10 Minutes With: Ellis Barrie

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th February 2017

Ellis Barrie is the chef and co-owner of The Marram Grass, a quaint little café bistro situated in what is essentially a shed on a campsite which has been listed in this year’s Good Food Guide for those looking for quality food on a budget.

Ellis was 19 when he first began The Marram Grass, in Newborough, Anglesey. The unassuming tin-roofed cafe and bistro nestled on the edge of Ellis’s parents’ campsite is near one of the island’s many beautiful beaches - hence its name, Marram Grass.

Marram Grass
Marram Grass

Ellis originally planned to run the café (initially serving all-day breakfasts) for a year with his brother Liam to help his parents after returning from his travels around Australia. Yet he began cooking up a storm in the kitchen, serving the finest cuisine with local produce from the salty island.

Seven years later and The Marram Grass is one of Wales’ best café-bistros and is listed in the prestigious Good Food Guide. The brothers have also had hits on national television, cooking with the late Terry Wogan and preparing mussels on the beach for presenter, Julia Bradbury.

>>> Read more from the Good Food Guide here

“The restaurant has changed and grown with me and my brother,” said Ellis. “I was 19 when I started and Liam was 21, so although I had cooked since I was 16, I hadn’t learnt everything I needed to know. I still haven’t. Running a business is a massive eye opener, even on holiday your head is still working.”

Originally from Liverpool, Ellis said his obsession with food was sparked by his two grandads.

“My grandad Jim managed to retire at a handy age. He found himself bored and decided to kick my nan out of the kitchen,” said Ellis. “He was always making the most amazing curries he’d learnt from his Indian neighbour!”

At 12 years old, Ellis attended a Saturday junior cookery course at Knowsley Community College in Liverpool and by 15 had completed a work experience placement at Radisson Blu Filini Bar and Restaurant, which has two Rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide, run by Chris Marshall.

Dish from Marram Grass

Hake , Menai mussels, masala potatoe sauce,

Anglesey leeks

Ellis recalled how terrified he was before starting the work experience. By the end he loved every minute of it.

“I ended up getting offered a job which I obviously had to take,” he said.

Whilst working under Chris Marshall, Ellis learnt basic cookery skills and was allowed to explore his own culinary creativity, though it wasn’t always plain sailing.

“I remember not sticking to one of the recipes that he had in his little black book and I dropped the consistency,” said Ellis. “After he unleashed a tub of pass spoons at me, he took me into the office to explain the importance of respecting his recipe and his palate.”

“He was right,” continued Ellis. “Painfully he was always right. He taught me the principles I have today. Know the produce, build supplier relationships and support local when possible.”

After working at the Blu Filini, Ellis moved to the Panoramic with Chris Marshall, who became chef director with head chef Marc Lara. The camaraderie of working as a team in the kitchen and the work ethic inspired Ellis.

“He knows his craft,” said Ellis, describing his time with Marc Lara. “I remember at 17, we were still in the Panoramic prepping pigs until 2am. Even though we were working from 7am this guy would carry on.”

“He was an inspiration as a head chef,” he added. “It wasn’t a big team at the Panoramic so we had to work together. When the head chef says at midnight who wants to stay and help me do the pigs, we all stayed.

“Although it nearly killed me doing it, looking back at it I can’t say I never enjoyed it. I almost miss it.”

Dish from Marram Grass

Pan roast cod, local turnip

variations 

The Marram Grass has evolved and transformed over the years, though the brothers have managed to maintain its welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. And despite the restaurant’s seasonally focused menu, you can always expect Ellis’s signature fish and chips or his big bowl of Menai mussels.

>>> Read more 10 Minutes With here

“I can’t take them off because I’d probably get drawn and quartered by my regular punters,” said Ellis. “But at the same time they’re taking up some valuable menu space for my creativity. I have come to terms with it and I suppose they’re just part of the woodwork now.”

Ellis places a huge emphasis on local ingredients sourced from the farmers, producers and suppliers he has built strong relationships with - a sure sign of Chris Marshall’s influence.

“Right now the food is North Wales with a big emphasis on Anglesey,” explained Ellis. “That’s our menu. Whatever comes in the back door goes on the menu.”

“This is reflected in the pricing but it sticks to my values,” said Ellis. “If you eat at the restaurant you know you are supporting a local farmer and his or her family. It’s real and true sustainability.”

Since 2015 the brothers have bought several acres of land for their own kitchen garden and to rear animals, making the restaurant almost entirely stocked by island produce.

“We have just set up our own pig farm - that is great fun and a lot trickier than you think in terms of getting them to the right fat content,” said Ellis. “But what an enjoyment for a chef!”

Dish from Marram Grass

Smoked and cured mallard, roast chicory,

Seville orange marmalade,

blood orange, pickled and

puréed celeriac. Bronze fennel

They also run a crop exchange where customers can bring in anything they grow or forage and exchange them for vouchers to eat in the restaurant.

“It allows me to get hold of the freshest ingredients which might usually go to waste and also allows our exchangers to eat in the restaurant,” said Ellis. “It creates great relationships and amazing interaction with your customers. I find these folks will always give me honest feedback as well.”

This attention to detail and sustainable thinking earned Ellis an Acorn Award in 2016. The honour recognises rising stars under 30 years old who have shown a passion and flair in the hospitality industry.

“After being on my own since 19, I’ve always judged myself and never had a lot of confidence,” explained Ellis. “In my head, if I wasn’t surrounded by the best chefs in the country I wasn’t going to improve. Or get noticed.”

He continued, “From about 2013 I started getting these little nods of acceptance. Very humbling really, they’ve really allowed me to chill out, relax and enjoy the journey me and my team are on.”

By Lauren Phillips

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th February 2017

10 Minutes With: Ellis Barrie