Michael Wignall, Latymer Restaurant, Pennyhill Park Hotel, Surrey

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 12th April 2009

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef...

Michael Wignall

Head Chef, Latymer Restaurant

This month the Staff Canteen are delighted to welcome Michelin starred Chef, Michael Wignall (exsponsored BMX rider!!!). Michael is Head Chef from the Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park. Michael has already achieved a Michelin star at the Latymer and has previously held Michelin stars at Devonshire Arms and Michael's Nook. Michael has had a distinguished career in operations at the Cliveden and Paul Heathcotes. Michael kindly shares his thoughts and views on gaining a Michelin star and his advise and tips to young chefs. Michael, first of all congratulations on the star to you and your team. A fantastic achievement. What does that mean to you and the guys here? It's nice that I've only been here a year - obviously we've had this star and 4 rosettes and the New Comer of the Year in the Good Food Guide; it's a bit of a surprise but it's good for all the people in the kitchen; a good reward for all their hard work and it's a good building base for better things to come. Was that the goal to get the star? Oh, yes definitely. It's not the first one you've had? No. So does that mean there is more expectations because you've already had a star? Does that put more pressure on you? I don't know. I think if you've had one for so long, you know what it takes but you go to a different place, especially a big monster like this and it's difficult. They might be reluctant to give it to you in the first year. Yes, fair comment. Now what I liked about your CV was that you haven't done the traditional London thing. . . No. . . . and, you know I'm a lot older than you, but when I left college you had to go to London. Yes. michael-wignallDo you still think that is the case now? I mean, obviously your CV proves that you don't have to do that, but if you were embarking on your career now would going to London be an option for you? Yes, there was a phase where I did want to go to London but there was plenty of other good places around on the outskirts that I worked at with chefs that had been in London who got fed up of it and moved out. You never know, I might end up doing things in reverse and ending up in London. Yes, but you don't think it's a "you must go to London" to succeed? No, I don't think so. There are plenty of good places every where in England now and abroad. Yes, did you do an apprenticeship? or, go to college? I did three years - 706/1, 2 and 3 which probably if I had my time over again I probably wouldn't have done it. OK, why? I think it gives you a bit of false sense of security and I think when you do leave college and go to somewhere decent it's a bit of a shock. I think you can get far more out of it if you go somewhere decent and get an apprenticeship. Until the colleges sort themselves out a bit "¦ Yes, I think NVQ means less than the 706. Yes, I think that was the downfall of the colleges, really. It's not their fault that the NVQ's were put into place but that was their downfall. So, if you had your career again you would now look for something that offered you a good structured working environment; good progression; good training; good development, that maybe did one day a week at college to cover the health and hygiene stuff that you have to do? Yes, I would but most places now do all that in-house anyway. So really the last thing you want to do is 72 hours a week and then on one of your two days off go to college - you have got to have a life somewhere. Very true. You ask a lot of your staff anyway, and then to ask them to go to college on one of their days off, really I think is a bit out of order. True. OK, Michael, what made you want to be a chef? Umm, I fell into it really. I left school. Did relatively well at school, particularly in arts. Used to be sponsored in biking. Push biking? Yes, and really that's all I wanted to do when I left school. Mountain bike? No, BMX. You're older than you look!! (laughter) Yeah, I know. So that's all I wanted to do. Then my parents"¦ So you were quite a good level bike rider, then? Yeah "¦so my mother said "you can't do that for a career and you can't do art or drawing for a career - you won't get any job" so I went to college for three years. The artistic side, has that helped in what you do now? Umm, yes I think so to some extent. But you develop your own style and you keep evolving it. OK, so you went to college, did your three years there, then when you left college what was your ambition then? Umm, to get a job in a decent kitchen and then start working through. Did you have ambitions for a star from an early age? Did you know much about stars and Michelin? Not really, to be honest I have never really chased accolades as such, especially at an early age. But what ever I do I like to do my best at it and you have got to enjoy what you're doing to be good at it. I started to enjoy what I did as soon as I left school. Yes, and you started with some good names "¦ Paul Heathcote? Yes. michael-wignallWas that an inspiration for you? Yes, he was. He was a really good manager, a nice bloke. Obviously from the North, like I was, so at the time he was the best in the area. I left college and went to Broughton Park for a while because Heathcote was there, he'd been there for two/three years and I was there for a couple of months and then he took myself and his Sous Chef to set up Heathcotes, so it was a pretty good move for me because I was only there for three months and I went to Heathcotes in his early days when he first set up. It was good. You travelled around a bit? L'Ortolan. Yes. Old Beams in Staffordshire. Cardiff. Yeap. I guess that's one of the advantages of being a chef "Have knives will travel" so to speak. Yes, it's a bit different in this day and age because jobs are few and far between; good ones are hard to come by but when it gets good again you can choose where you want to go. If you are good at what you do and you are passionate people will take you on. What made you decide to leave the North and come South? I think this sort of Southern/London pull that you've got. You've got to go down South if you want to do good things. That was a while ago now and it was different then, there were very few places in the North that were decent. There are some good chefs from the North West, isn't there? Yes. Some very good chefs, Gary Jones is from there; yourself; Marc Wilkinson - he's from that part of the world and he's just got a star. Marcus Waring. Marcus Waring, yes of course. Obviously, Paul Heathcote as well. Yes. Yes, it has been a very productive area for chefs. OK, so the biggest name really in the early part of your career was the Cliveden? Yes. How did you find working there? Obviously you were in "Waldos", but it's part of a very, very big hotel - how did you find that? It wasn't too bad there. It is completely separate. We basically shut the door of the kitchen and no one was allowed in unless they knocked so it was a confined space that didn't really have anything to do with the main kitchen. michael-wignallWho was in the main kitchen when you were there? Ron Maxfield. It was a busy old place and it was a stunning property. At the time it was one of the best hotels, I think it was in the top 3 in the world. I think you can only be impressed when you turn up that drive and see Cliveden - that house is stunning. It is. And then you went to work for Reg Gifford? Yes. At Michael's Nook. So you would have taken over from "¦ Billy (William) Drabble now at the Aubergine. Yes "¦ and you were there for a long time - 4 years. 3 ½ years, yes. Good part of your career? Yes, definitely. And Reg is at the Wordsworth now, isn't he? Yes. OK, so what then took you to the Devonshire Arms, how did that come about? I was looking for the last year I was at Michael's Nook to move. I said that I would never do a Country House Hotel again and I thought I would probably get a job London way, or something. Then I was approached by the Managing Director the Devonshire Arms"¦ michael-wignallWho was that, Jeremy Rata? Lovely guy. Yes, and I hit it off with him; really got on well and saw eye to eye. Realised that we both had the same goals. And when I went there, there was a lot to achieve; a lot to change but he'd been there a good few years before I got there so a lot of things were in place. Front of House and the wine was in place: fantastic winelist. There was a few other things that needed patching up and we did it in quite a short space of time really. And I had a good five years there. Do you think that's where you began to make your name? As much as you can do up there. We had quite a few journalists but it's hard to get them up there. You know, it's 4 ½ hours by train - it's a long way for anyone. Yes. OK, so you were at the Devonshire Arms what was the thinking behind coming to Pennyhill? A massive challenge for you, here. Yes, it was. I think I had done everything I could do and taken Dev as far as I could and I just needed a new challenge. And Jeremy had moved on as well? Yes, Jeremy had moved and there was quite a few changes there. Basically, it was time to change. Yes. I think you can get stagnant if you stay somewhere too long, it's no good moving all the time but you just need a kick up the ass sometimes. Yes, it's good to recharge your own batteries and re-vitalise yourself and re-energise yourself. And for my own career I needed to be closer to London, as well. OK, just so that the journalists and that could come and see what you do? Yes. And get some more profile exposure? Yes, and I just needed a change, to be honest. You have achieved such a huge amount here in such a short period of time - star; 4 rosettes - what's the goal now? Obviously to maintain everything. To keep pushing forward. Two stars would be fantastic but I'm not a great believer in chasing them and shouting that you're going to go for two stars. If it comes it comes, if it doesn't well you just carry on. If it's important you just stay true to yourself and not chase the accolades too much. I am a great believer that it will come and here I have got a better opportunity than anywhere else I have worked. Yes, it's a very high profile operation, isn't it? Yes, it's slightly smaller; it's got fantastic backing and obviously, it's closer to London. We've got a great PR company behind us. Who's that? Sauce? Yes. I think it's a good move for me and it's a good move for Pennyhill because they have wanted a star for about 15 years. Yes, and who do you take inspiration from, Michael? Umm, I am always looking for new ideas. Obviously the web now is a fantastic tool and you can look all around the world in an instant but I am a great believer "¦ There is great website called THE STAFF CANTEEN, have a look! Yeah (laughter), in dining out a lot and travelling. So where have you eaten recently? Oh, God "¦ umm "¦in the last 6 months Alan Duccase, Hélène Darroze, The Fat Duck. We're celebrating our accolades at L' Atelier du Robuchon. Very nice. Yes, all 20 of us are going there. Fantastic. I've been there a few times. Anywhere - 2 stars; 1 star I am a great believer that you can go anywhere and slate it if you want and nit pick but just go and take what you can from it and basically enjoy it rather than looking for fault all the time. I just can't see the point of that at all. No. It all gets a bit much really - the back stabbing. That's probably why I like to keep myself to myself. I don't network that much, not as much as what I should do anyway. Yes, I think you are like a lot of chefs, you are very focused on your food and that is really your marketing tool. Yes. What you put on the plate is your voice, so to speak. Yes. And there are a lot of chefs like that. Yes, you have got to enjoy what you do. You can't be super obsessive with it. You hear about these chefs that have notepads by their beds and they dream about this and dream about that "¦ Jesus, get a bloody life! michael-wignall-11Yes, you have got to be passionate about it but you have to have a break from it as well. You can't do it 24 7. What do you look for now in CV's that come to you, Michael? We always do work trials for the day. Anything over a Chef de Partie and above we give them a basket of ingredients and they cook something, but we don't tell them that until they come. It doesn't matter if they have had star experience or not; for more junior staff I just say to them "You have got to give 100%" and we'll give 110% back. That's all I ask for, but you have got to be willing and as dedicated as the rest of the team. Otherwise you just don't get results. If you want to go out on the p*** the night before and come in a mess it's not going to work. It just can't be like that. You know, it's your reputation and they are letting the whole team down. It's like a family, really. Yes, absolutely. Are you influenced by CV's or are you more interested in the person in front of you? What's important to you? I mean, obviously a CV gets them in through the door. Yes, but there are so many false CV's that you have got to be careful. Yes, anyone can type a CV these days. Yeap. The proof is in the pudding when they come for an interview. Normally you can tell within the first 10 minutes whether they are going to fit in or not. Yes. And the key to it is that working trial? Yes and how they put themselves across. You know if they have only been there a few hours and they are saying "The trains at 4 O'clock and they have got to get off" or "They are going out with their girlfriend tonight, what time am I finishing?" then they won't be back. No matter how short staffed you are it's just not worth it, they would just be wasting everybody's time and they would be gone within a few weeks anyway. Yes. And how long is an average day for you guys, here? About 15 hours. Yes, so it is still a long, tough environment and industry but I think that if you want to achieve the level of food that you guys are at you can't just rack up at 9 and go home at 3 in the afternoon. No. I mean all my lot we've got something like a 78% retention over the last 14 months which is great. They normally do 80 hours plus. You know, if you say to them "Why don't you go for a break?" they say they've got too much to do and they decide whether they come in at 7 O'clock in the morning because they know how much work they have got to do or they know we've got a busy lunch today. I don't need to say anything they are all in early. michael-wignallDoes the star bring people to you, staff wise? Yes, definitely. You get a lot of wannabe's that get to their late 20's and have never done it before. Have done Brasseries or what ever and they want to take a couple of steps down and start in a starred place. Great if they want to do that, but 9 times out of 10 it's a romantic notion and reality is harder than they imagined it would be. You get the odd one that sticks it out, but really it's too late to change your mindset. Absolutely. I think you have got to start it from a very early age and almost be baptised in it. Yes. I don't think you can suddenly be a car mechanic for 10 years and then come and work in a starred place. Michael, thank you. Fantastic to meet you. Super lunch, really, really nice and thank you very much for your time today. Your welcome.

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 12th April 2009

Michael Wignall, Latymer Restaurant, Pennyhill Park Hotel, Surrey

IN ASSOCIATION WITH