Gary Jones, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Oxfordshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st June 2008

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Gary Jones has been executive head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for eight and a half years, leading one of the most revered kitchen brigades in the country.

He is known for paying careful attention to the sourcing of his ingredients, working closely with suppliers to ensure the best possible produce and the quality of the dishes served in the Le Manoir restaurant certainly reflect that dedication. Working at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin starred Oxfordshire restaurant follows an impressive list of notable restaurants for Gary. He previously worked under Michel Roux at the Waterside Inn, went on to become resident chef at Richard Branson’s Necker Island before earning a Michelin star of his own at Homewood Park, Bath. All of this reflects the rare talent of Gary, whose menus make clear why Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons continues to prosper with Gary at the helm.

Gary, how long have you have now been at Le Manoir?

"As Head Chef - eight and a half years."

OK, this is obviously a unique operation - what are you looking for in an applicant? If I applied to you now as a young Commis, what are you looking for?

"I look for enthusiasm, open mindedness, people who are not stuck in their ways, we've been here twenty one years we are still evolving." "We know that what we do here is good. Can it be better? Yes, of course and we are looking for people who will move forward with us people, who will create a total dining experience for the guest, not just a good meal, but the best meal."

In terms of your own background, Gary, what form of training did you undertake was it college? Part day release?

"I started on a general catering course at Carlett Park on the Wirral, Merseyside."

Are you from that part of the world?

"Yes, I'm from Merseyside and I did my two-years general catering course, though in the evening and weekends worked in various small restaurants."

If you were eighteen again, would you follow the same course of training or would you like all industry based? How would you do it now?

"I think now I would look at something that is more industry based, over the current college system. Somewhere like the Le Manoir that is structured, we offer a three year apprenticeship, one of our apprentices is currently on tour in the USA with Charlie Trotter - Thomas Keller."

"I would look for the very best place that I could find, somewhere with structure and with quality behind it, somewhere with ethics and that's not always easy to find.

No, its not.

"It has to be someone, also that has a proven track record and somewhere that offers mutual respect, first for the guest, and for each other - that's important."

Where was the first place that you worked?

"The first place I worked was a small restaurant in Rickmansworth, there were two, no sorry, three of us in the kitchen, which I enjoyed immensely - we did everything, you had to peel the potatoes, prep the fish, make the jus, the casserole, the brasses and it gave me a good overall knowledge and solid skill base."

Do you feel that today there is a big move away from the so called classical training to the so called modern cookery; do you feel that the classical base is a good foundation?

"I think the classics are classic for that reason and once you learn to cook, then you can learn to play. If you only know how to use a thermo circulators. . Which I saw for the first time today.

"Fantastic, we are the first operation in the UK to have one installed into the work surface. Our private dining kitchen cost us £110,000 but if that's the only thing that you know how to use you are going to be somewhat limited."

Gary, after Rickmansworth where did you go next?

"I went to another restaurant within the group - slightly larger scale. I then took three months and went to Greece with a rucksack and £100 in my pocket, with my then girlfriend who was a hairdresser."

"After that I thought to myself, what do you want to do in your life? I knew that I wanted to cook and I wanted to be a good cook and I thought, right, I have to go to London I have got to find a good place to work."

Do you still think that that is the case?

"I don't think that it is so much the case these days. But I took a look at the Mountbatten Hotel in Covent Garden, the chef was really classical."

"Whilst I was there, on my days off I worked at The Waterside Inn."

Really?

"Yes, on my day off - every day off."

Who was the Head Chef there at that time? Was it Mark (Dodson)?

"Yes, it was Mark - great guy. I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time but, also, I was making my own luck and that is important."

Of Course.

"They offered me a Chef-de-Partie position and I was absolutely delighted it was brilliant. I waited until I had done eighteen months in London, out of respect which is important.

Absolutely.

"It was tough at the Waterside - I was getting my ass kicked, I was twenty one years old filleting fish, working on the garnish, then on the fish but my aim was to be Chef-de-Partie on the sauce, which is the position that everyone wanted, of course, it's the position to have in the kitchen and I made it onto the sauce."

So did you work with Donavon Cook, who I think is in Australia at the moment?

"Yes, Donavon was my Commis - he was my back up. I planned to do one year on the sauce. I wrote RB (Raymond Blanc) at Le Manoir and he had a position lined for me to join there."

You wrote to Le Manoir to forward plan your next move?

"Yes, after eight months on the sauce I started to get Donavon more and more involved training him to takeover after me and a year to the day of starting on the sauce I started at Le Manoir as Chef-de-Partie." "After three months I was offered a position as Sous Chef which I turned down."

Why?

"Because I had not covered all of the sections here and how could I be a Sous Chef if I did not know every last detail of each section."

So you weren't one of these twenty-two year old Sous Chefs that we seem to get today?

"No, I had to have more knowledge first."

There just doesn't seem to be enough of that any more. Why is that, do you think? Is it that the industry is short staffed and therefore if someone does a good job, in order, to hold onto them they are fast tracked?

"I think the industry has changed, when I was first here (Le Manoir) there were thirteen chefs in the main kitchen now there are thirty eight, which is a good thing but things do get diluted."

"We can't get away from the fact that the industry is lacking strength, but what we try to do here is structure and build people across sections of the kitchen and give them a balanced training that is progressive."

When did you take the position of Sous Chef?

"After a year, we had guys like Michael Caines, Aaron Patterson and Clive Fretwell was my head chef here, and for me to take the Sous Chef with those sort of guys I needed the depth of knowledge."

Where did you go next?

"Looking around the kitchen here, Clive was not going anywhere as he had been RB's chef for 12 years, and at the time we were part owned by Richard Branson. I had done a lot of work with one of his nieces - setting training plans for here and through that an opportunity came up on Necker Island."

Richard Branson's private exclusive island?

"Yeah, I went there on training programmes - to teach and train the local guys, it is a much different approach there, more relaxed and therefore you need to adapt to that life style."

I very much did the same sort of thing in Barbados, and you're right you have to approach things in a different manor.

"We still have a very good connection to this day with Necker, our Senior Sous is very shortly going over there to takeover as Head Chef."

"From Necca, I had a short trip into the Maldives in opening a property finding, the Chef and getting him set up and ready for the role."

"After my time in the sun it was important to come back to the UK, I asked myself what I wanted and it was still a Michelin Star. Everyone was telling me that Michelin had had its day and that gastro pubs where the now. Basically I knew what I wanted and set out to find it."

"I got a position at Homewood Park - got the Michelin star and four rosettes and from that point the phone began to ring again which is when Waldo's at the Cliveden came up."

"A restaurant that sits twenty four covers, is closed Sunday and Monday, has no breakfast or lunch to think about, I felt represented one of the best opportunities to gain two-stars (Michelin)."

"We started every day from scratch, first the meat prep and so on, everything in the draws. Then at the end of the day we emptied everything out and started fresh again the next morning."

"I was there about eight or nine months and RB (Raymond Blanc) came to dinner and that was that. He didn't even get to his main course and he was up out of his seat talking to me about the quality and from there he kept tempting me back, which didn't take much persuasion."

I can imagine.

"And once I came back down the drive I felt like I was back at home. I gained the Michelin at Waldo's and again four rosettes, and to be back at Le Manoir was a dream come true."

Gary, finally, one thing that I have noticed through talking with you today is that you had a mission - you had a career plan. You were writing to Raymond Blanc whilst at the Waterside. You're married now, you have a family; you have two-Michelin stars within what must be one of the world's most famous operations, what gets you out of bed each day?

"A ten out ten in the good food guide. We currently have nine, and although for me, there is no such thing as a perfect ten, it exists in the guide and therefore it's something to aim at." "Three stars, of course, and that is something that we are working towards, but also I have a great deal of respect for RB (Raymond Blanc) and everything that he has done for me and everything that he wants to achieve."

And how lucky you are to have a chef as an owner, you have surely one of the best kitchens I have seen.

"We are very lucky and we keep moving forward."

Gary, thank you very much for your time today. It has been a privilege to see the operation and to talk with you. The best of luck for the future.

"Pleasure, thank you."

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st June 2008

Gary Jones, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Oxfordshire

IN ASSOCIATION WITH