Shane Osborn, Pied a Terre, London

The  Staff Canteen

This month's Featured Chef...

Shane Osborn

Head chef and co-owner of the famous Pied a Terre, situated in central London, Shane Osborn has achieved and maintained two Michelin stars since 2003. The fine dining experience provided at the Pied a Terre has seen eager customers flock from all over the world, keen to taste Shane’s impressive array of dishes. The Australian chef can lay claim to being the head chef responsible for the Pied a Terre’s addition of a rooftop garden, from which the chefs became able to source the freshest of ingredients to further improve the quality of food being served there. With continued support from the Michelin star guide – one star for Shane’s entire duration, since he took over from Tom Aikens in 2000 and a second star given in 2003 – Shane has led the popular restaurant to thrive. He gained experience working under Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing at L’Oranger and at twice Michelin-starred The Square.  First of all, Shane thank you very much for meeting us today. It's my first time at Pied-a-Terre and it's a great privilege to come here. Let's start with the reputation of Pied-a-Terre. It has a fantastic reputation. . . you have followed in the footsteps of two very high profile chefs - Richard Neat; Tom Aikens. How difficult was it for you, coming from Sous Chef to Head Chef? It was very difficult, especially like you said Pied-a-Terre had a massive name. When I came over to England in 1991 I remember hearing about Richard Neat and seeing a picture of him. I think Tom, in his book, described him as a "nut ball". Yes. He was a ferocious man - an amazing cook but he was going 100 miles an hour and not taking any prisoners. So Pied-a-Terre always had a very harsh reputation, in those days Marco in Harvey's was called the SAS of the kitchen, well it was pretty damn close to that here, from what I had heard. Is that what attracted you, then? No, I don't believe in violence. I mean no way was there physical violence here, but kitchens are very harsh places and it's a very macho environment and I am not scared of that but I don't agree with bullyboy tactics, personally. So I came here in 1998. I was working at The Square, with Phil Howard. Really enjoyed working for Phil, he's a really nice guy. That was your first job in the UK? No, I came here in 1991 and worked out in Essex, in a place called The Shoes. OK. It was a really good start for me.

Did you own a Ford Escort?? (Laughter). I thought that was the law in Essex. No, but I did have a girlfriend called Tracy. . . and she had a lovely shell-suit. (Laughter). I came to the UK from Perth in Western Australia when in 1989 Iceberg Lettuce was all the rage and Tomato Roses were something to be inspired by.

They are not on the menu now? I think they are, still, in Perth, but here? No. So it was a culture shock for me to come over here and be involved in a kitchen. Paul, the chef, from The Shoes in Essex, had worked at Harvey's for seven months with Marco Pierre White and I didn't even know who Marco was at that time. So I came into this kitchen where pasta was made fresh; petit fours were made in house "¦ everything was made in house, in fact . A really small kitchen - only four guys doing 45/50 covers. For me it was a real eye-opener. I saw produce that I had never seen before. Fish that was completely different, so it was a very good start. A good grounding, especially coming from a culinary desert like Perth. I loved it and worked there for two years. Then met a Swedish woman and went off and lived in Sweden for a couple of years.

Then I came back here to London, with her, in 1996 to work with Marcus Waring at L'Oranger. They were opening up with Marcus; so I came over and had an interview for that - a friend of mine was working there. I worked there for 9/10 months and then after that I went to The Square, with Phil Howard. Phil's restaurant had just moved to the site it is in now in Bruton Street, in Mayfair. I absolutely loved Phil's food - honest; fresh; seasonally lead - it had such a grown up look about it; it was beautiful and very, very tasty. Had two fantastic years working for Phil; they got the second star while I was there, which was a great thing to be part of and something I'm very proud of. Absolutely. The amount of GOOD COOKS in the kitchen at that time was phenomenal; really high quality staff. After my two years at The Square, I started to get itchy feet to go out and do something a little bit different. So I went around and did some Stagés and then came here to Pied-a-Terre. I turned up here and just gave my CV in and Tom (Aikens) was too bloody busy to speak to me because he was running 100 miles an hour downstairs so David Moore, who is now my business partner, interviewed me. I was only going to come in for a Chef de Partie but they were looking for a Sous Chef. I was Junior Sous at The Square. So I came in and saw them and they offered me Sous Chef. I came in to do a trial in the kitchens. The first day I was here it was complete and utter chaos. I think 3 people didn't show up after I turned up, and I just thought "What is going on!!!" But the food and the pace just excited me it was such a buzz. And what Tom (Aikens) was doing - I hadn't seen anything like it before and I thought "I want to be a part of this". So I joined Tom and worked with him for nearly two years. And the famous incident happened - alleged incident, and Tom left and then the Board of Directors and David approached me and said "Right, the jobs yours if you want it." I was like "No thank you. I'm not interested." I had my goals of doing my traipic1ning in London, then moving out of London. I wanted to move out, a little bit towards the country; not back to Perth but still in the UK. At the time I wanted something small and to build up from there. And that was my aspirations. Yes, is there also perhaps the fear that the reputation of Pied-a-Terre will aline themselves to you? Yes, absolutely. The restaurants are built on the Chefs cooking at the end of the day. There were no Australians with Michelin stars in 2000. Yes. And it was very difficult because the staff were looking at me as the Sous Chef, knowing that I was Australian, thinking "Hang on a second, this isn't going to work." So for two years I struggled with a brigade of normally having 11/12 to having 5. Right, which makes it even tougher. Yes, it's a vicious circle. It was very frustrating. Because we had been doing fantastic food from day one; but we were only one star and I really was a nobody, I couldn't attract anybody of the skill set we needed to work for us. The only people I was getting through the door had really low skills. People that were working at Nandos and KFC "¦ it was just f**king awful. I couldn't take anyone like that - it wasn't fair on either of us, so we just struggled though it. I worked my ass off. And then became allergic to fish at that time because I was just pushing myself so hard.Pic2 I noticed that when you were in the kitchen. I can imagine that that it's quite difficult for a Chef to be allergic to fish because it features quite highly on your menu? Yes. But what do you think set that off? Umm, just pushing myself so hard. The stress; the lack of sleep. Was that stress, that you were putting yourself under? Yes and the first couple of years were not really that enjoyable because of how hard it was. I was here from 6/6.30 in the morning to 12.30/1 the following morning; 6 days a week. There was no down time and it was very difficult to enjoy it. I had always enjoyed my cooking, so that was a really hard time. And, I expect all Chefs will tell you, that making that jump from Sous Chef to Head Chef is a massive step. Yes, and there is no buffer in between, is there? The buck stops with you? No. That's right. And there is no physical training. When you are a Sous Chef and you are looking at your Head Chef and he is screaming his f**king head off and calling everyone a twat, you just think "Chill out." But when you are in that position, yourself, you understand the pressure behind the action. Yes, the pressure is different. Yes, and you have got pressure from above, and below and the side. You've got the customers putting pressure on you because they want a certain standard of food; you have got your staff looking at you - wanting to be impressed by you; you've got the media. It comes from all sides. And then you have got the business side of it. Yes. You have to be profitable; you have to be keeping an eye on your overheads; your staff costs; food costs and so on. It's a massive job that takes a year or two until you have developed and matured enough to handle that. Do you think that is one of the most difficult things for Chefs? I mean, Chefs tend to progress and get to a level in the kitchen because they are a good cooks and then suddenly they are asked to become a manager. Yes and a businessman. And often they have no training at all. They have got to where they are because they are a good cook. Then you suddenly have P & L's; GP's to worry about. How can Chefs change that? I think it is just about a bit more training. That's why David (Moore) and I have talked about it and we think there should be some sort of course before you open a restaurant with a very talented Chef, and we opened L'Autre Pied with Marcus (Eaves). And maybe, we didn't give him as much training as we should have, but we talked to him and he is slowly but surely getting there and learning how to be that businessman and have so many different hats. He's got to be a boss; he has got to be a friend to the staff; he has got to motivate them; to pick people up and run a business at the same time. It is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you are in your late 20's early 30's and there is a certain level of expectation. Then once you start winning awards, like stars and high scores in the guides that expectation just builds and builds and you need some form of release to be able to handle that. Did you and David set out to get the second star? I didn't, no. David did.Pic3 Obviously, he has worked at Le Manior and with Richard Neat, here. But for me, I feel fortunate because I grew up in Australia I didn't even know what Michelin was. I arrived here and the guys were saying "Oh, it's a two star Michelin" and I said to the guys "Don't Michelin make tyres!" (Laughter) "What the f**k do they know about restaurants!" I just couldn't get my head around it. The stars for me are very nice to have but for me the be all and end all is to have a full restaurant and happy staff. Did you look at what you were doing, Shane? Did you make a conscious decision within your food to change? No. You just became more consistent? I just love my job so much. I love the seasonality of the produce. I love working with young chefs. I get the biggest kick out of my job seeing these young guys coming in day in day out; tired but they love their job and I am very open in the kitchen about recipes and ideas. There is a good buzz in the kitchen. Yes, there is. There is a lot of respect here. We all shake hands. A supplier walks in the door - we all shake hands. Anyone comes through the door we offer them a coffee. We are all on a level playing field here. There is no hierarchy. No bullshit whatsoever. I will scrub the floors; I will get in the pot-wash and help the Kitchen Porter. Yes, I noticed that when the KP came in everyone said "Good morning" to him and there was a nice friendly feel. He's one of the boys. Yes. You make everyone feel important; They are contributing something to the success of the restaurant. Yes, they are taking ownership. Exactly. I want people to get up in the morning at 6.30 after getting home at 1 and think "I am looking forward to work today." The guys smile. They actually enjoy their cooking. And when we are in the shit or when we are really busy they will put in that extra mile. It's not rocket science. If you look after your staff they will give you so much back. You will get so many rewards out of it. Do you think you have learnt from what happened here before? Yes, it was a transitional period. My first couple of years I was a f**king beast sometimes in the kitchen. I was really hard. Because that was what you were used to. Yes. It's almost like battered child syndrome. It's passed on through the families. Absolutely. I wasn't happy screaming and shouting at people and I didn't want to be like that. And when we had the fire I said it was the best thing that ever happened because we had 11 months to re-group; re-build and also for me to think about how I wanted the business to run. Pic4 But equally a very worrying time. Your wife was pregnant. You didn't know if you had a business. Yes. The fire happened on November 13th and for 6 weeks the insurance company didn't accept liability. They accepted liability on 23rd December - which was the greatest Christmas present we ever had. So a very, very worrying time and you have already said you were under stress from working very hard anyway. How has your food style changed, Shane? You have been here over ten years now, how have you evolved as a Chef? I think it has taken me a long time to build up the right supplier network. Which is important, isn't it? Yes, massively important. I went out to Rungis last year with Oakleaf, and for me that set a real spark in me. The produce "¦ and working with people that are really passionate about what they do. And that know their produce. They ring me up and say "Look I have got this and this "¦" Fantastic, and that is what you need - someone that gives you that sort of information. You feed off them and they feed off you. Yes. I mean, we all have so many suppliers. I have got 3 or 4 fish suppliers; meat suppliers so there is a lot of different people to talk to; so we need people to give us a little bit more inspiration and to be out there seeing what's on the market. So our food is very seasonally lead now. We change the menu a lot - lunchtime, especially, upto about 3 or 4 times a week sometimes; depending on what is out there. I like that because I want the guys to see different things; I want the customers to have new dishes. To show the guys that cooking should be from the heart; it should be how you feel and seasonally lead. The a la carte will change seasonally - every three months, but within that season we will make changes; tweaks here and there. But for me it is really important to teach my staff as much as I can; little different techniques about seasonality. So when the season is in; let's get a case and put it on the menu - when it's gone its gone! Yes. For me, that's what I enjoy about cooking. OK, Shane, so now you are co-owner. Yes. You've got L'Autre Pied with Marcus, who is doing incredible well, is there a plan for expansion? Can we expect to see another restaurant? Umm, we are looking at other places. But we don't want to do another Pied-a-Terre or L'Autre Pied. What I would like to do is something really simple. Just really simple - 23 quid for 3 courses. Places that I like to go and eat at, in Bordeaux. A few years ago we went out to a wine tasting and we found this old truckers café. This 350 year old truckers café had been in the same family all that time and they just whack a baguette on the table. I had a plate of Remoulade - that's all it was on the plate. Fantastic. And that was 2 Euros, then Boudin blanc with lentils. And I just sat there and thought "F**k this is great food." Simple, no pretence, it's not over stylised. You haven't got great big pictures on the wall. I love these places that are family orientated, you can just take your kids. You know, I have got two young kids and it's had to find places to go with kids. Pic5 Yes, I think that is the difficultly with the UK, although we have come on a massive culinary journey, if you look at the UK as an island we don't have a great culinary heritage. No and that is the problem. As families we eat very badly; we don't tend to eat together and I, personally, think there is a great opportunity for places like that. I mean, don't get me wrong fine dining is fantastic but every day, family dining you are not going to come to Pierre de Terre. I think that is a great opportunity. Last question, Shane, when I did some research on you it said that you were the only Australian chef to have two Michelin stars "¦ Up until a few months ago! Now obviously a good friend of yours, Mr Brett Graham has taken that away. Yes. That must be quite a BBQ these days?!? (Laughter) Brett's a great mate. I heard, someone said to me, I think it was Elaine actually, she said in "Chef's meetings the two of you turn up in flip flops and everyone else is there in boots." Everyone else is very jealous. Brett's Misses and my Misses get very jealous, we speak to each other a lot more than we speak to our partners. Brett's a great mate and he's got a good sense of humour. He is a f**king fantastic young Chef. What is it about Australian Chefs, then? Well, I think the thing is that Brett has is openness and willing to question. He has no blinkers on him, if he doesn't understand something or doesn't know something he'll ask the question. Some people just don't like asking the question. His thirst for knowledge; his enthusiasm and his passion for cooking is second to none. Australia must be very proud of the two of you? Yes, I think they are pretty proud. But Australians also get a bit pissed off that you leave Australia. Australians are very proud about Australia and, yes, Brett and I are both very proud to have grown up in Australia but, I think, we both love living here. London is a very exciting place to be. We have both, obviously, done very well and we are really happy here. And like you said earlier, I am sure that when Team Great Britain get more gold medals or we beat you in the Ashes your phone is quite busy. Yes, it is quite busy. (Laughter) I try to keep a healthy balance in the kitchen - I have only got one Australian in the kitchen, at the moment. I think we have about 6 Pomps at the moment "¦ I tend to get rid of the Pomps just before the Ashes start!! Just in case! Yes. Shane, that's fantastic. Thank you very much for today. Now, what are you going to cook for us? Beurre noisette poached skate with suckling pig and sweetcorn That sounds fantastic, let's go to the kitchen. Pic6 Pic7Pic8Pic9Pic10Pic11
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st June 2010

Shane Osborn, Pied a Terre, London