'It's reignited my love of cooking'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 18th September 2020

 

Unlike a good proportion of us, Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw had a very productive spring. 

"For the first couple of weeks," he said, "we were like everybody, we were locked down big time, so there was no going into work."

But then, "we had to start thinking about how we were going to save the business."

With their whole team on furlough, he and his wife Rachel began planning the restaurant's relaunch - considering everything from takeaway to a whole new concept. 

Drawing positives from the pandemic isn't always easy, but for Nathan, it was a chance to reevaluate his priorities.

Putting things in order

"I think before lockdown I was so wrapped up in so many things that I didn't really think straight.

"Now I'm in a zone where I think I know what I want to do and where I want to go - says me, who's 42 and been cooking for ages," he laughed.

"When you're in the midst of having a hectic life, sometimes you forget to focus on what you should be focusing on, or not paying attention to the people who you should be paying attention to." 

"A lot of good things have come out of it - for me, personally, probably more good things than bad." 

As for what Michelin might do given his change of direction, the chef isn't clear.

"Am I excited about Michelin? Yeah, of course. Any chef who says they're not, they're lying, but you've got to put priority on things that are important in your business right now and looking for accolades and trying to aim for things in all the guides is just not on the top of the agenda right now." 

The crux of it for him is that "at the moment, judging restaurants could be a little bit unfair, because every restaurant, hotel and pub has a different circumstance - and it's survival at the moment."

"I'd like to think that over the years what we've done as an Outlaw's collective of people," many of which have been in the group for more than a decade, "I'd like to think we're stronger than any accolades."

"Hopefully that will be enough to bring the business in. There's no reason why we would lose any of the accolades. The standard of what we've doing and what we're putting out is still top drawer in my eyes."

And maybe "it doesn't tick the boxes of the mystical Michelin Guide that no-one actually knows about," "but I believe that because we've had freedom in the kitchen to cook with anything we want to, I think the food's better." 

"Everything is that much fresher and that much quicker because we're not tied to getting a certain amount of fish," whereas "now whatever comes in the door we change the menu. So the menu changes every service."

"You couldn't do that under the constraints of a stereotypical two Michelin star restaurant."

Less is more

Retracing career to date, Nathan explained that launching his New Road was by far not the hardest decision he's had to make. 

Bringing his Dubai venture to an end, he said, was "out of his hands." 

"The restaurant group just wanted us out."

On the other hand, the decision to close Siren at the Goring was "purely down to Covid."

Having been there for nine months, he said, "it's unfortunate," because "when you open a restaurant you get to a certain point where you know it's going to be a good'un or it's going to be a bad'un, and we'd got to that point - it was at the right level, it had consistent business and it was doing really well."

"That was really gutting."

As for The Mariners, the chef was happy to work with Sharps on the project for five years, but ultimately he turned away as he "just didn't fancy doing a pub anymore." 

"Now it's just a very straight focus of Outlaw's New Road and Fish Kitchen. I'm back in the kitchen cooking and where I think I should be."

While financially, he conceded, "it's not a great thing, let's be honest," he added that "for myself and my mental wellbeing and for my family, it's actually a good thing."

The current circumstances have enabled him to do what he's wanted to do for a long time - and the shift from five venues to two was a form of relief.

"When all that was going, I'll be completely honest, I wasn't happy with life.

"It was too much for me. I'm not one of those chefs that can juggle all those different things. I take it too personally."

"The situation has allowed me to have the confidence to go 'actually, I wasn't happy.' 

In it for the long haul

Not to undermine how hard his team worked to build Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, he added, "never truly in my heart did I think it had the longevity that I want from my own business.

"I want to still be doing this when I'm an old man. I don't have any plan of retiring and selling everything and flying away to the sun.

"For me it's about cooking at a level or putting out food that I would like to sit and eat in myself every single day of the week.

At Outlaw's New Road, "standards are no different than they were at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Everything that we buy is the same, we've not lost a single member of staff, we've kept everybody on," he said, and that minus the expectations and pressure that come with fine dining. 

Turbots, scallops, lobsters have ceded their place on the menu to less luxurious catches like hake and mackerel, which, he said "has given me much more scope and much more of a spectrum to cook from."

"That has longevity, in so many different ways, from sustainability, the ethics of it all and the price tag."

"You don't have to sign up for the four hour marathon of dishes - so it's different."

No going back

And should a vaccine be invented tomorrow, the chef said, "I would definitely not change back. What we're doing now is the right path."

"Outlaw's New Road - what I've seen of it in the last twelve weeks, it's reignited my love of cooking and refreshed everyone." 

"There would be no reason to bring that restaurant back." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 18th September 2020

'It's reignited my love of cooking'