Nathan Outlaw, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st September 2010

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef ...

Nathan Outlaw

We welcome back Nathan Outlaw, one of the best Chefs in the UK, fresh from his success in the 2011 Good Food Guide.

Nathan, thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us. It's great to come down and see you again "¦ it seems like a lifetime ago that we were sat in Fowey - that must have been a couple of years ago. A lot has changed. Here we are in Rock, what was your rational behind moving? I think Rock was calling me really. I had already opened one restaurant here - the Seafood and Grill, a more casual dining and I had to weigh up my options. I talked to the people in Fowey about buying The Marina (Hotel) and I tried my hardest to make it happen because it is quite a magical place, but at the end of the day I wasn't happy and comfortable with the amount of borrowing I would need to make it work and in the end Rock presented itself as a much better option for me. Financially it didn't stack up? No, Rock, when you look at it, has got a lot of things going for it. We have off street parking, which is VERY rare in a place like Cornwall. Yes, I remember that when we came to Fowey - parking was a nightmare. Yes. And what you want is customers to come in and be relaxed, you don't want them all to be stressed. St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, where both my restaurants are, has 20 bedrooms. This helps to promote my business and the surrounding area is such a wealthy area it provides us with a good local market. I just weighed it all up; I sat down - one list for Fowey and one for Rock"¦ and Rock was the much better one for me. I did risk all my accolades but I sat down with all the guys that had been working at Fowey with me and I said "I am going to move over; I'm going to transfer Restaurant Nathan Outlaw from Fowey to Rock; there will be jobs available" and luckily for me they all turned round and said "We're coming". It must have been quite a big decision. You had a star; a rising two. You know that by relocating the restaurant it is likely that you loose all that - that must have made it quite a hard decision? Yes, and I am a very big fan of the Good Food Guide - we had 8 out of 10 in that; in the top ten in the country. We'd built that up and that was something I was very proud of. It is a risk and you do worry about it but I wouldn't have moved here if I didn't believe that we could come in and do better than previously. We're now open five dinners a week and we don't open for lunch "¦ so if you come here then I will be cooking for you. We've 20 covers; two Tasting Menus. When I was on The Great British Menu I actually closed the restaurant for a week, the Bank Manager thought I was mad, but I couldn't be in two places at once and I felt uncomfortable about that - It's not fair people paying that sort of money and me not being here. We have ten tables and I want everyone to come here and know I have cooked for them. They can come and say "Hello" and "Thanks for the meal" - I'm not going to go into the restaurant and smoosh them but it's nice that they feel able to do that. Nathan, how many are in your team? We have three front of house and three in the kitchen, including myself. However, the hotel staff contribute to the high standard of hospitality provided. You have been very fortunate with the guides. I think you were 23 or 24 when you got a Star at the Black Pig; you got a Star at Fowey; Rising Two. There'll be a lot of Chefs out there saying "My foods as good as that"¦" What is it that sets you apart? What is it that attracts Michelin to you? I was very young when I first got a Star, but it's not something that I set out to achieve. Michelin turned up on our doorstep at the Black Pig and it was within 3 or 4 weeks of us first opening. All I did was I spoke to a few magazines and a few of the guides and said that I was opening a restaurant and from there on in it snowballed. I suppose you only have a couple of chances, maybe only one chance to prove yourself on that first visit. When I first opened there, it was just me and a washer upper in the kitchen. I think that gave me confidence - that was nearly ten years ago, and I know that everything we were doing there we have improved on. That's how I measure things - everything has to be better than before. Whether it's a drink, food, cutlery or crockery - it all has to be better than before. We are just trying to improve all the time. The guides are there for the customers; they are looking for consistency; they don't explain themselves. The Good Food Guide is a nice one for me because it is made up of customers. Customer reports - that's great feedback.cod Do you see longevity for the likes of The AA and Michelin? Because you've got sites such as of Tripadvisor now, which are instant; they driven by the consumer "¦ Do you see The AA continuing in the format that it's in? I think Michelin will always be there because of the history, but they do make some decisions, in my opinion, that have been a bit wild, but The AA, I think have lost the plot. Ever since I have had my own restaurants I have felt that they have not really got the point; I have felt that the inspectors, I have spoken to, have been under qualified to tell me (and many other chefs) what we should be doing. Do you think they are over stretched? I think they are probably over stretched and under qualified. Little things like - they book for a two and one turns up. They don't seem to understand that that is money to me! I just think it's a bit rude. I have never had Michelin do that to me and I have never spoken to an inspector from the Good Food Guide. The AA do these consultations with Restaurants - I'm not interested in all that; you should be confident with what you are putting on the plate; no one is going to tell me how many Petit Fours to put on a plate! I decide things like that - and I make that decision because I know what I want and my customers know what they want. If I have to give 5 canapés to get 5 stars - forget it!! The whole point of having you own business or even as a Head Chef is to be able to express yourself. You know, if you are a Chef who likes to give all these extra frills then there is nothing wrong with that, but it's got to make business sense. I think guide books have got to move with the times; become more active with the likes of The Staff Canteen, for example, who are on the ground and know what's going on. A lot of Chefs will have seen you on Great British Menu, how important is it to you, and your business, to get your face out there? How do you go about that? My perception now is that just having good food and a good restaurant is not enough. You need something else to get you noticed. Yes, I think I agree with you there. We can all stand in our kitchens and cook good food for our customers"¦ fishThere are a lot of great chefs out there that don't get noticed. Yes, but there are a lot that don't want the attention. I worked for Eric Chavot - he wasn't interested in the publicity. And you could probably say the same of David Everitt Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage - a phenomenal cook. Yes and I am sure he could have a number of TV shows if he wanted because of how good he is but it depends what you are comfortable with. My business is in the sticks; out of season I will sit in this restaurant, and it doesn't matter how good my food is, I'll only do 2 or 4 covers. That is the reality of where I am, so therefore, to keep in business; to keep all my staff salaried and I now employ between the two restaurants (which are a 70 cover family restaurant and a 20 cover fine dining) - we have a total of 10 chefs and 15 front of house staff"¦ it's easy in the summer because you know you are going to be busy but to keep it going in the winter months is the challenge. It's also like, you know, you're going to loose money so you have got to loose it sensibly - I am not going to make money in November, January and February, I know that. So if I get the chance to go on national TV for a week to promote the food that I do, I am not being asked to cook out of a bag with a red pepper on it!!! I am cooking food that is mine - I am promoting my restaurant and I don't see that as a bad thing. I am not gallivanting all over the country and leaving my restaurants open - I close the fine dining when I am not here. It can get out of control, I have been offered a number of things already that I have turned down because there is no integrity in it. Is that important to you? Yes, definitely. I have certain goals that I want to achieve with the restaurant, from a personal point of view as well as a business point of view. Accolades, then, what are you aiming for? Well, I have eaten at a lot of two and three Star restaurants and everybody starts somewhere - Gordon (Ramsay), Heston (Blumenthal), everyone started out with the same tools but you can't just stand in your kitchen and cook. There is so much more to it than that. My team have been with me a long time; Pete has been with me on and off for 8 years and the reason he has is because he wants to do well, and is in it with me. I think we are cooking at a level that should be at least 2 Stars; we are certainly cooking at a level of 8 out of 10 because we have already achieved that "¦ Rosettes? God knows what they think! The accolades used to be VERY important to me (and us) but now it's almost more about what we are cooking for ourselves and our customers because that is why we are so busy, because in the area that we are in (Cornwall) if we alienated our customers they just wouldn't come because we are in an area that is very clicky; it's locals that come out of season. But this is now Nathan Outlaw the businessman, isn't it? Yes. "¦because, maybe, 10 years ago you didn't see what your local market wanted. But that is just evolution on your part, isn't it? Yes. And maturity. Yes, definitely. When I opened the Black Pig I was far, far under qualified to do it but what could I do? I could have stayed at The Vineyard and I could have earned very good money working as the Head Chef for John (Campbell) and I was doing very well, could have been very happy, had a nice house by now "¦ but for me the challenge wasn't there. I don't want to walk around a kitchen with lots of Chefs and have a clipboard and sit in the office. I want to be cooking. What I have created here is around what I do. I cook everyday and that's why I became a Chef. Do you think there will come a point when this will not be enough for you? Another Restaurant Nathan Outlaw?creme caramel No, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - there could never be two of. OK. In 10 years time maybe you can pull me on that, but it is something that I have never considered. OK, can we see an expansion on the Seafood and Grill then? Yes, with my business head on, yes the Seafood and Grill is an area that we will expand on, if it is the right thing to do. It makes sense. Yes, I have not cooked one service in that Seafood Grill and it has been open a year now and I have never said in any interviews or implied that I cook there. I don't need to; Pete runs it in there and he is backed up with 2 Sous Chefs and 2 Chefs. They all know exactly what they are doing and they know what standards I want, so it leaves me the freedom to do what I want to do. I want to evolve my business for those guys - they are more than welcome to go else where to progress their careers but if I can help them and develop them in anyway then I will. I think it should be like a big family. It just speaks for itself when you have got people that have worked for you for a long time and some have moved away to work for someone else and then come back again. I am not a stereotypical chef who shouts or is aggressive, we are all very relaxed and there is no real hierarchy, as such, people have their responsibilities but generally we all muck in and if you don't muck in then you're not around for long. Lastly, can we expect to see a more high profile Nathan Outlaw? A more PR'd Nathan Outlaw? The reason I ask that question is that you are now running your own business; you have already identified that November, January and February are difficult times in an area like Cornwall, where traditionally it is very seasonal. I have got someone now that looks at the media side of things - they know exactly what I will and won't do. It's all about integrity. If you turned round to me and said I've got you a six part series and you start on the 1st August, then I'd say "No" - that is when my business needs me. I don't want my staff thinking "Oh no he's off again!" I want them to know I am here to cook with them; to teach them; I want them to be proud that we work as a team. For me, at the moment, I am only 32 and I want to create a business for the next 20 years that stands the test of time"¦ maybe at 52 I will endorse anything for money but at the moment I want to create a business that is going to look after my staff; myself and my family for many years. Fantastic. Once again thank you for your hospitality. Your bacon butties and your cheese on toast were 2 star standard!!! Legendary. I, genuinely, wish you and all the team great success here. I am sure, come January, we will see your name in that little red book with at least one macaroon next to it because you deserve it. No worries. Thank you.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st September 2010

Nathan Outlaw, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock

IN ASSOCIATION WITH