James Knappett: Only strive for Michelin stars if you love working at that level - there are plenty of other ways to be happy and successful if you don't

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

As a chef, Chasing accolades can make for a miserable existence

"If you naturally don't want to do it, I think it's very tough," chef patron of two Michelin-starred Kitchen Table James Knapett said, joining TSC editor Cara Houchen and her co-host, Benedicts chef owner Richard Bainbridge, on the latest episode of the Grilled podcast

After multiple lockdowns and a £900,000 refurbishment of the restaurant, James and his team reopened with the same passion as the first day they opened back in October 2012- with a sincere desire to do better each day than the last. 

"And there's still a long way to go," he said. "Five years from now, if Kitchen Table is as good as it is today, we've failed: it needs to be five years better."

Winning two stars was a very special day for him, his wife and business partner Sandia Chang, and for the whole team, "but the biggest thing behind it is that we won that by running the restaurant that we want to run, cooking the food that we want to cook."

Working at that level is far from always rosy; there are specific hardships to endure on a daily basis, which is why you have to really believe in what you're doing to keep at it.

"Any chef is crazy going through the hours and the gruel that we go through if deep down in your heart you don't want to do it."

You do you

Thankfully, to the chef's mind, the industry's richness derives from the fact that there are many things to aspire to within it, none outweighing the other.

"If every chef and every restaurant had the same focus, eating out would be boring, we would all be doing the same thing," he said.

"Not every chef is bothered about Michelin, not every chef is bothered about awards. Some chefs are bothered about competitions, some chefs are bothered about things like Bocuse d'Or - I think things like that are extraordinary, but it's not in my bones to go and do a competition like that." 

Even more niche still, some chefs are obsessed with things like getting the best pizza crust in the world, where, as a chef from a two Michelin-starred restaurant, "you go to their pizza restaurant and it blows your mind."

"They're working out the pH in their water. You're like, 'what?'" 

Ultimately, it takes all sorts to make a world. "We all have to have an interest in something, otherwise the industry would be very mundane and very one-roaded. So it's great that we all think differently." 


That said, the chef would be lying if he said that he and his team don't get excited every time Michelin comes around. 

"It's like a Premier League footballer that doesn't really care whether he wins the Premier League one day," he said. 

"You want to win games - I think in everything you have to have something to drive you, whether it's a successful, fully-booked restaurant, making people happy." The biggest thing has to be loving what you do, otherwise the whole operation becomes meaningless.

Guests often talk to James about getting a third star, and it would be all too easy for him to torture himself about it. He chooses not to.

"One day if it's meant to be, it will be, and one day if it's not, it's not." 

"We just have to make sure that meal we're delivering pleases everyone - my friends, my family, Michelin, strangers. That's the only goal. The only goal at the end of the day is a fully booked restaurant where everyone leaves with a fantastic meal. That's what a restaurant is." 

"You never go to your wife and friends, 'shall we go out for a s**t meal? D'you fancy a s**t meal somewhere? I'm hoping we can find some real s**t food somewhere. Guys, let's pop in here, it looks s**t.'" 

"That's the only objective - and little bonuses come along the way." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 27th April 2022

James Knappett: Only strive for Michelin stars if you love working at that level - there are plenty of other ways to be happy and successful if you don't