"It's nice to have a Green star but it's not like anyone from Michelin came rooting around our bins"

Alex South

Alex South


Mark McCabe, Head Chef of The Ethicurean, discuss how to get a Michelin Green star and how he likes to hire and retain staff.

In this week’s episode of Grilled by The Staff Canteen head editor Cara Houchen was joined by co-host Adam Handling, Chef Owner of Adam Handling Restaurants, and their guest Mark McCabe, Head Chef of The Ethicurean.

During the episode, the pair talked about how to get a Michelin Green star, what sustainability means to both chefs, and their very different views on recruiting and retaining staff.



Mark McCabe is Head chef and Co-Owner of The Ethicurean.

Located in a beautifully restored Victorian walled garden, Mark and his business partner Matthew Pennington have created an oasis of fresh produce and a unique fine dining experience.

The restaurant's ‘Ethicurean Experience’ is a set multi-course menu which showcases to guests a stunning range of seasonal produce, ending with treats around the fire overlooking the Mendip Hills.

Since opening its doors to the public in 2010, thanks to Mark and Matthew's hard work, the restaurant has won several accolades including a Michelin Green Award and TSC Sustainable Hospitality Business of the Year 2022.

With a focus on sustainable fine dining and tackling issues such as the cost-of-living crisis for hospitality operators, to launching fundraisers for Ukraine, The Ethicurean has made a name for itself as one of country's most sustainable restaurants.

In 2023, Mark competed with Adam in Great British Menu season 18, with Mark achieving the status of the Scotland Heat runner-up, and Adam winning the competition outright.


During the podcast, Adam and Mark’s conversation turned to Michelin Green stars and how to get them.

Talking about the prestigious accolade in more detail, Mark said: "It's a difficult one because sustainability, I'm not a massive fan of that word, but being responsible business owners and responsible cooks, has always been in the DNA of the of The Ethicurean long before I came along. It just happened that our values were very in line."

Just like the Guide’s famed Michelin stars, inspectors do not share with chefs what they need to do, or which criteria they need to me, to be able to successfully obtain the award.

Trying to answer the question of how to get a green star, Mark added: "Whilst it's nice to have a Green star, it's not like anyone from Michelin came rooting around our bins, to see if we were throwing out clingfilm or whatever. I think there is a modicum of trust involved in terms of them just accepting what we sort of present to the world, but it does appear that having access to some sort of growing space is a good starting point. That's the one thing that all the green star restaurants seem to have in common, is a garden.”


Despite the Michelin Guide creating the Green star award to celebrate and promote restaurants and suppliers who follow sustainable practices, many restaurants feel left out and ignored regardless of their approach to environmental ethical practices with food.

Mark explains that the problem is what defines sustainability and how that matches up to the vision of sustainability in the eyes of Michelin.

"Unless you have a very ostentatious example of being connected to the land, unless you're able to show that you grow your own vegetables then what is the next auditing step? I'm not entirely convinced we even got inspected for the Green star and I'm not entirely sure we've had an inspection for a while,” suggested Mark.

He added: “Unless you actually look into everything you're doing, unless there is that auditing process, how will you ever really know?"


Answering the question of what the restaurant industry can do to attract and retain more talent, Mark revealed his approach to attracting and retaining staff.

Explaining how COVID changed this, Mark revealed: "After COVID we went to 46 hours a week, we went service included, we went living wage registered, we pay overtime, and we very much pitched it at the chef who wants to be a chef without giving up the rest of their life.”

Despite bringing in these processes, measures which were replicated by a lot of establishments, Mark feels a lot of the emphasis on work life balance during the pandemic has disappeared.

"Whilst there was a moment post-COVID where that seemed deeply attractive to people; I think we've kind of gone slightly further back to the way it used to be," he explained.

Talking about how prospective employees talent view Mark and his restaurant’s approach, Mark said: "I find more and more that when people come to apply for a job for me, they generally say it's because they haven't heard a bad word about us. You'll always end up with horror stories floating around about things that go on in kitchens, and whilst that is becoming less and less, there is still that element of it. I like to think we're a very kind, and passionate environment to work in, Mental Health First Aid training things like that, and it does make a difference. I do think there is a generation of chefs who are scarred by the industry."


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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 3rd May 2023

"It's nice to have a Green star but it's not like anyone from Michelin came rooting around our bins"