Steve Drake, Drakes Restaurant, Ripley, Surrey

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 1st November 2009

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef...

Steve Drake

Drakes Restaurant at the Clock House Ripley

This month the chefs favourite website, The Staff Canteen brings you Steven Drake from Drakes at Clock House Ripley In Surrey.Steven, a Roux Scholarship winner in 2001, began his career under Keith Stanley at the Ritz Hotel London, his career progressed under, Tom Aikens , Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre White and William Drabble. Steven was awarded his first Michelin Star in 2003 at Drakes on the Pond Surrey.  After four years Steven and his wife, Serina, fulfilled their lifelong ambition and opened their own restaurant,  Drakes in Ripley, which in 2004 gaining both a Star, and 3-AA rosettes in the first year and was voted Newcomer of the year in the good food guide. Enjoy! Steve, first and foremost thank you very much for seeing us today. Pleasure. Let's start with talking about Drakes - your own restaurant; you've been here since 2004? A big gamble on your part? Yes, it was a huge gamble. I came from just down the road, about 10 miles away. It all happened quite quickly. We spent a lot of money actually purchasing the place, so we didn't have a lot of money to do anything to the place at the time. We (my wife and I) just opened up really quickly. In the first year we were so nervous about spending any money. We worked really hard; took a lot of criticisms for our interior and our carpets. We got through all that and then started a period of building and improving and I like to think we are doing quite well now. Obviously, you had success at Drakes on the Pond in Abinger Hammer and you had a star there. Yes. So I guess you had proof that you could deliver at a very high level, but it's still a big deal to go knocking on the door of the bank and saying I want a large sum of cash please? Yes, the overheads here are horrendous; it's a big building and the maintenance costs are high and you have to be constantly fixing things. People want to come in and see the place clean, tidy and well kept. In the four years that you have been here, Steve, how do you think your food style has evolved? I think it has evolved a lot. I have worked for a lot of high profile chefs in the 90's and in a way you almost end up copying those that you have worked for. Which is natural? Yes, but I think in the last two years I have actually started to develop my own style now, which is quite different. I concentrate a lot on technique and flavour and I try and balance things well on the plate; I try not to complicate the food too much but then I do want to show-off a little bit. I like to offer something different. I don't want to put fillet steak on the menu - every restaurant in the country has that. We have slow poached blade of beef on our menu, which traditionally is quite a tough piece of meat but we poach at quite a low temperate for a long time and it works. Do you use a water bath for that? We do, yes. We experiment with the temperatures: between 58 and 60 for two/three hours. Steve DrakeOK. Now you have a star - and that is a fantastic achievement but it is your own business as well, so do you have one eye on the Michelin guide and one eye on your customers? What comes first? Making the customer happy or the guide? That's a very interesting question. I realised a few years ago, that in the nicest possible way I don't really care about Michelin any more. That's not to say I don't care about the food, I mean when we first opened and the Michelin inspector came in I would be all over the place - in a blind panic! And now I don't tell anyone else; they get exactly the same as everyone else. I want everyone to have the same experience and I care less and less about the guides. I think I cook for myself and what I want. OK, Steve, you started out at the Ritz? Yes. Now, obviously that is a very big operation. You must have been there in the early 90's? Yes, 1990. So who was there then? Nicholls; Dave Nicholls? No, he was after that. It was Keith Stanley. Keith Stanley - Wow! Blimey, you are older than you look!! (Laughter) I saw him when I won the Roux Scholarship - I think that was 2001 and I hadn't seen him since then and it was so nice to see him again because I was only 17 when I was at the Ritz. He was one of my first mentors. I remember the first time I saw him - he had his big long apron on and right at the bottom corner it had "K Stanley" and there he was chopping his green beans "¦ it was just a nice memory of him. Yes, a very traditional Executive Chef. Yes, it was an interesting place to work with over 50 chefs, but it was quite interesting because it was at the start of the Gulf War (I think) and recession was kicking in. So when I first started there were 50 or 60 chefs and when I left there a year later there was about 30. Do you think that was a good grounding? A traditional party system? Very structured? Is that the route you would choose if you were 17 again? I think so. I, personally, don't think it's a great idea for any young chef to go into a high pressured kitchen that has 2, 3 or even 1 star because in a hotel you have a much broader range of issues and operations. At 17 you are not really learning how to cook, you are learning to do as you are told. Where did you go after the Ritz? Well I was living at the PM club and there was a guy there called Andrew MacLeish he was a Commis (I think) at Nico's in Great Portman Street. So I went for an interview and did a trial and started work there. And I stayed there for a year. That was amazing.steve-drake-6 I read somewhere that you spent time with Marco (Pierre White), how did that come about? That was a few years later. I worked for Tom Aikens at Pied à Terre. Didn't really get on very well there - I was only there two or three months. It was great food and Tom was under huge pressure because he had retained the two stars from Richard Neat; and the food was amazing. I really take my hat off to Tom because he was able to maintain that and kept it for a few years as well. So anyway, I thought what shall I do? And one of the biggest names at that time was Marco, so I thought I have got to do it. So I went to work for Marco at The Oak Room. It was an amazing structure there. There was a Head Chef on every section, or that's what it seemed like! I went in there and we had four on the larder; I had the job of doing the tomatoes for the crab (this was on the first day) and then the second day the guy on the fish walked out and Marco knew that I had done a year on the fish at Nico's so I moved over to the fish to help the Sous Chef and I ended up running the fish and he didn't take me off there. You went on to the Aubergine? How did that come about? Well, there was obviously the old "hoo haa" with Ramsay walking out; or leaving; or resigning - what ever! And then William Drabbel spoke to me about it and I had worked with him at Nico's - he was a Chef de Partie. He offered me the Sous Chef position there. So you were there a couple of years? Yes, that was a huge learning curve and it was a new opening - whole new brigade and front of house team. Did it take time to win back the business? Obviously Gordon had quite an established trade there, when he went did the customers go as well? Yes, although we were full from the word go for every dinner the lunches weren't and from what I heard Ramsay was full for lunch and dinner every day. But, no, I don't think it was hard to get the business back. It was a tough first six months; we had a lot of critics in; it was a high profile opening because of what had gone on in the past. After that I went on and did my own thing - looking back, maybe that was a bit premature but that's what I did. How old were you when you went to Abinger Hammer? I was 27, I think. I wanted to be myself and it was great. I was working on my own in the kitchen most of the time and we got a star. steve-drake-4How many have you got in your team here? We have 4/5 others and we need to look at employing another one. I used to be quite proud that I did the kitchen by myself, now I look back and think "What an idiot!" (Laughter). I am learning to be a better leader, I realise that I am getting older and the chefs coming in are getting younger and are looking for someone to inspire them so I am learning a new role. We are having a new kitchen put in, hopefully this year and that has brought with it a lot of planning issues etc. The second star - is that a goal? Yes, it is. It's something that we are working towards. I think the food is good enough. Who inspires you, Steve? That is a tricky one. I used to be inspired by the people I worked for; then when I won the Roux Scholarship, obviously, it was Michel Roux but now I like to see what the European guys are doing. I try and get as many books as I can. So what was the last book you bought? Or were given? I can't think what it was called but it is the Pastry Chef of Vong New York. We all pinch ideas from here, there and everywhere and put our own style on them. I tend not to look towards France as mush anymore I try and look elsewhere - even in our own country. I would love to be able to champion British produce more. Let's face it, it's not all amazing and it's quite hard to compare the quality to some of the European products but it's my goal to be individual and I am quite inspired by Nomo restaurant in Copenhagen. I have never been there but just from what they say and do - it's serve traditional Danish food in a modern way. They don't serve Foie Gras and Truffles, and I for one, am sick to death of Foie Gras and Truffles. I went to Alain Ducasse recently; had a fantastic meal there; really a beautiful meal there - he's got a lot of Truffles and Foie Gras but that's great because he's French and that is his style. He did this chicken and lobster dish, I came away inspired - not to copy him but to make my own chicken and lobster dish. OK, Steve you talked a little bit about the Roux Scholarship. Obviously a very high profile award.steve-drake-12 Yes. And it is almost, in the nicest possible way, like a little gang of chefs, isn't it? Yes. We all meet up and we get on so well. It always seems to be good for people's careers? Yes, I think winning a Roux Scholarship did help me. At the time I was at Drakes on the Pond and we were nobodies over there and it raised the profile over there. And even when we opened up over here it helped us. It is something that I am immensely proud of. Steve, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate you talking to The Staff Canteen.
http://www.caterersearchwebawards.com/caterersearchwebawards09/p/3823

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 1st November 2009

Steve Drake, Drakes Restaurant, Ripley, Surrey

IN ASSOCIATION WITH