“The biggest thing that I learnt from Heston was the relentless inquisitiveness to work out how can we make things better”

Alex South

Alex South


Three Michelin-starred chef Ashley Palmer-Watts speaks exclusively to The Staff Canteen about being an integral part of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Group, his new Artisan Coffee Co. venture and his predictions for the 2023 Michelin guide.

Born and bred in Maiden Newton, a small village in Dorset, Ashley entered hospitality at 18 where he started off washing pots at the village’s Le Petit Canard restaurant.

After spending a couple of years at the restaurant learning the ropes, Ashley travelled extensively with the Le Petit Carnard to France, Sweden and the US before the restaurant was sold with the owners returning to Canada.

Looking for a new job, Ashley joined The Fat Duck in 1998 as part of a stage before quickly rising the ranks becoming a head chef in 2003 at the age of twenty-five.

Talking about joining the restaurant, Ashley described: "It was five in the kitchen, seven out front. I think when I went there the first time it didn't even have a star, it just been awarded a star by the time I'd started in 1999 and it was very much an untold story and unheard-of restaurant and chef, i.e., Heston. We went on this most incredible journey for the next 20 years."

Shortly after Ashley became head chef of The Fat Duck the restaurant’s reputation exploded, gaining a third Michelin star in 2004, before being named The World's 50 Best Restaurants’ best restaurant in the world in 2005.

"Our main focus was on the guest experience in the dining room and what happened at the table," explained Ashley.

Following The Fat Duck’s rapid rise, The Fat Duck Group went on to The Hinds Head, The Crown, and The Perfectionist cafe at Heathrow terminal two, before opening Dinner by Heston in London, Melbourne and more recently Dubai.

In 2019, Ashley parted was as Chef Director of the group to embark his ventures.

Discussing his responsibility as chef director, Ashley: "My role was really to mobilise those concepts into something. I was lucky enough to work on all parts of projects from the concept with Heston, through to design, the architects, all the mechanical workings of a restaurant to make sure that it not only looks great, but it actually functioned with real efficiency. It was an incredible 20 years."


Discussing his time The Fat Duck Group, Ashley talked about his twenty year relationship with the group and how it changed him as a chef and as a person.

“The biggest thing that I learnt from Heston was the relentless inquisitiveness to work out how can we make things better,” he revealed.

Describing his first for innovating and discovering new techniques, Ashley explained: "I think that innovation I really value that now in terms of I don't just want to do what other people are doing. It doesn't satisfy my mind, my head and my heart. I was looking for different ways of doing things; how can we make things better, how can we innovate around and bring in other aspects from other walks of life to benefit what's in front of you that you're working on today.”


After more than twenty years leading Michelin-starred teams, Ashley now brings a chef’s view to the world of speciality coffee.  Ashley helped direct the team to conceptualise coffee in a revolutionary way, championing the use of blends and harmonising flavour notes to create the ultimate cup of coffee.

Describing Artisan Coffee Co’s unique premise, Ashley explained: “I thought if we could talk about relatable taste and flavour and bring it through the aperture of a chef by describing how they're going to feel as an experience in coffee by creating five different blends and a decaf being the sixth to then make it approachable so that everybody can read it.”

Ashley has brought a new perspective to the brand, drawing on his culinary past. He was passionate to help develop a range of unique blends and characterful coffees, balanced with clarity of flavour, but accessible to many.

“We're really aiming at that really big market of people that love better things, better food, better wine, they make informed choices, but you don't have to be an expert to understand,” he added.

Recently Artisan Coffee has teamed up with an artist known as Autistic Ian, a partnership that felt symbiotic with Ashley and the brand. Autistic Ian is an incredibly talented artist but also a severe stammer and high-functioning autism.

He defied all odds and worked his way from art-director to Executive Creative Director of Europe at one of the world’s leading advertising agencies. Unfortunately, in 2012, Ian suffered a mental breakdown and as a result lost his home.

After 10 turbulent years of homelessness, Ian inadvertently created a sketch which he reckoned resembled the Michelin starred chef, Tom Kerridge. With nothing to lose, Ian sent a picture of the sketch to Tom's wife Beth - a prolific sculptor with a large social media following. Beth shared the image with her followers and very quickly Beth's audience became Ian's audience.

Ian’s incredible artworks caught the eye of many with the artist commission to create artworks to for the walls of some of the best restaurants in the world including the likes of Core by Clare Smyth, and Claude Bosi at Bibendum.

“I really wanted to show this guy's talent because he thinks in a completely different way, which I think is everyone has their sort of superpower, and this is a prime example about creativity,” explained Ashley.

He added: "You just want to be part of that journey, bringing it back to helping someone back on their journey on their road. He's loved the project, we chat quite often and I send him cool stuff, he sends me cool stuff and it's just really lovely."


With the Michelin Guide UK 2023 due to launch on 27th March, chefs up and down the country await to see who’s gained a star, who’s lost a star and who’s gained additional stars.

It is a time that brings a lot of anxiety, intrigue and excitement and across UK hospitality operators.

Summing up chefs emotions during this period Ashley explained that it was particularly unnerving for starred restaurants who were concerned about losing the precious accolade.

“I would have been absolutely gutted, mortified if we had lost the star or lost both stars, especially in London. When I was at The Fat Duck and when we were awarded the third star it came out of the blue, when we got two stars at dinner for me personally, I had to leave the restaurant and just get it right in my head,” revealed Ashley.

Celebrating the UK’s brilliant level of gastronomy, Ashley announced that he would like to see more three Michelin-starred restaurants across the country.

“I'd love to see another couple of three stars. The cooking in this country now, and it has been for a long time, has been at a proper world class level for a long time. There's some people out there that are talking some extraordinary food consistently unique as well,” he predicted.

When asked how important the guide is to the next generation of chef, and is it as relevant big following on Instagram, Ashley said: “I think that level of restaurant is not what everyone's trying to achieve. There are a lot of people that that aren't striving to create that Michelin star level in Michelin's eyes. They just want a great restaurant, and it might not achieve a Michelin star, and that's absolutely fine. I think there's always going to be room for every type of the diversity we have here. It doesn't have to be everything put in a box. Diversity is brilliant.”

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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 26th January 2023

“The biggest thing that I learnt from Heston was the relentless inquisitiveness to work out how can we make things better”