Steve Titman, Summer Lodge Hotel, Dorset

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 12th May 2009

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef...

Steve Titman

Executive Chef, Summer Lodge Hotel

The Staff Canteen is delighted to feature Steve Titman from Summer Lodge Hotel, where since joining the hotel has regained it's 4 red stars and has achieved 3 AA Rosette status. Steve shares his tips, advise and career progression with the Staff Canteen. Steve, in your own words what made you decide to become a chef? "It was something I always wanted to do. I never thought of becoming a mechanic or something like that, it was from an early age, I made my career choice. Home economics had to be there." Did anyone advise you to be a chef? "No, my home economics teacher advised me not to. Well, we used to make quiche, sad pastry at the bottom; every week it was lasagne or quiche, and that was what GCSE home economics was. There was me, and one other lad in the class and the rest were girls, we stuck it out and we passed." Where did you go to college? "Sheffield College as it had a very good reputation." What did you do at Sheffield? "Two years general catering 706 1 & 2. Third year was the year NVQ's came in so the college ran a professional chef's diploma which was endorsed by some of the London chefs, and we ran NVQ 3 beside it." Knowing what you know now and you were coming out of school at 16 years old. Would you still choose to go to college? Would it be NVQ based or would you have looked for something which was more industry focused? "Knowing what I know now, I should probably have looked for something which was more industry based, as I don't think that NVQ is very good." I think that's what everyone is telling me. "I went down to Bournemouth College a while a go to meet the students. These were third year students doing day release, doing NVQ3. It wasn't awe inspiring. They were feeling restricted in what they could do, as were the lecturers. It was not a very satisfactory learning environment. So knowing what I know now, I should probably have looked for an industry-based sponsor." And then use college to do hygiene and all that sort of stuff? "Yes, we did everything including a work placement, which they put me on." Where did you go for your work placement? "The first year I went to a hotel in South Devon. The second year there was no work placement but I went back there to work for the summer, and the third year I went over to Longueville Manor in Jersey, finished my work placement and then went back to take my exams, and then went back to Jersey and took a job there." Who was the chef when you were there? "Andrew Baird (he's still there). I went there as Commis, progressed through to Chef de Partie and then the company opened up their new bistro at the other end of the island, the sister restaurant, and I went there as Sous Chef. I did that for 18 months." Where did you decide to go after Jersey? "I moved over to Germany to a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Dortmund." Why Germany? "My girlfriend had a place at Dortmund school and she had waited 4 or 5 years for her slot to come up, and we decided to go for it. I went to Germany without a job, had a few interviews lined up and the chef at La Table said he couldn't match my salary but would take me on, and I took it right away." Right. "That was in September and in January we got the 2nd star." That's fantastic! "So I was there when they got the 2 stars and they still hold them now." How long were you there? "Two years." Wow! How difficult was the language barrier? "At first in the kitchen they were having a bit of fun with me, and got me to say these stupid things and then I quickly picked up the language." steve-titmanIt's sort of a question of sink or swim, isn't it? "It's around you all the time, you've got no choice, deal with it or become a loner, and I'm not like that. I like to have a laugh with the guys in the kitchen. Going home you've got to go to the supermarket, you've got to watch TV. You can't just sit and do nothing, not if you want to enjoy life. In 6 months I could understand all that was going on around me, and within 8 months I could confidently hold a conversation with a customer." I remember when I was in France, you are surrounded by it, and you pick the language up so much more quickly. I did french at school and learnt more in France in 4 months, it somehow clicks. "I can still come out here and talk to the guests about the menu in German, not perfect but able to be understood." OK, so you did 2 years there in a Michelin star restaurant, you'd gone from Commis - Sous Chef at Longueville Manor. What was next? "The next thing was decided by my girlfriend and I, we wanted to try something different and started looking for a job in the States." How old were you at that stage? "26. Started writing emails, awaiting answers." You did it off your own back then? "Yes, got a few answers, 3 or 4 offered us a job if we sorted out our own visas which is expensive for the States. We weren't rich and a couple of grand each was going to stretch us. Plus if you fail on that application the money is not refunded." Really? "Yes, it's a fee and that was a big risk for us take and I was not prepared to take it. Then we found The White Barn in Maine, they helped with the visa's; did the paperwork, you sign the contract for 18 months and if you run away in the night you owe them the money!! The Chef happened to come from Sheffield, so we hit it off right away. His girlfriend was working in Germany so we were able to chat with her. Finished in Dortmund, had a couple of weeks in Berlin. The visas were then through, we booked a flight and went." There are a lot of exciting things happening in America. French Laundry, WD50. It seems to be an up and coming place. Was that the reason behind America or did you just want to go to the country? "At the time we just wanted something different, we were happy travelling a round, I knew little about America, I knew French Laundry but little of any others. We took a chance. They offered us the best package; I had the connection with the chef from Sheffield. To this day we talk 3 or 4 times every 6 months. The first month was tough - a different method. I was more aggressive then than I am now. After that I adjusted to the way of life and it was fine. After a year they asked us if we wanted to get another visa and stay for another 2 years. The Company applied and paid for a 2nd visa on more of a "?management trainee system'. They opened up a 2nd or 3rd restaurant which specialised in fish. It was on stilts on the water. They put me in as Chef." OK. How big was the White Barn? "18 bedrooms, very similar to Summer Lodge. The only difference is that we knocked out 150 on a Saturday night with 2 sittings 5.30 - 6 and then 8.30 - 9. Very good standard of food. "I've just returned from Whitebarn Inn where I appeared as a guest Chef." Ok Tell us about that. "I was there for a week as guest chef. We added 4 dishes from Summer Lodge to the Whitebarn menu and it went down really well. We also added 3 dishes into the tasting menu and carried out a cookery demonstration, which was real fun. It was great to go and I want to thank all the team at Summer Lodge and Whitebarn for making it a great success." How would you compare the food? "Of the 14 or 18 of us in the kitchen, most were European - English/ Swiss/ German. There were a couple of American guys. Very modern, European food with "?New England' influence. We only used what we could get locally, all the crisp cool waters around Maine were full of Halibut, Scallops, Lobster and that's what we based the menu around. New England cheese, so European style using local ingredients." steve-titmanWhat about the working in America? Are there restrictions about the hours you can do? If you take Australia for example, it's quite unionised. Is America the same? "I don't think so, I think maybe it could be if you found yourself in the wrong job, depends on which way you look at it. I think in the catering industry they are a rule unto themselves. If you want to be successful, you have to put in the hours. If you want to do 35 hours and flip burgers in MacDonald's, that's what they will give you. We used to do 11 in the morning till 11 at night, guaranteed one dinner break. If you did breakfast you did a 7 - 1 and then came back around 5, so you had a nice 4 hour sleep in the afternoon. We didn't have many suppliers who delivered to the door, we had a purchaser work for us and a refrigerated van and he used to drive to Boston, which was 70 miles, five days a week and go to the veg market and buy direct from the meat market/ fish market." Why? Because it was cheaper? "It was quite remote but even paying a driver was more economical, we trained up the purchaser to know what good quality was. If he picked up a case of fine beans and they were all brown, then he wouldn't buy them. Whereas if they delivered them to your door, that was it. We'd call the order in for fish at 3 or 4 am when he was setting off, and it would be packed up and ready for him to pick up." Did you go from there to Summer Lodge? How did that come about? "I knew the previous owners daughter (of Summer Lodge), in America - Tara, she was in the Human Resources department. She knew that my visa was coming to an end, she also knew that her Mum & Dad were selling and she said 'if you fancy something new I know they are going to be looking for a chef, stick your CV in and I'll put in a good word'. I came over and met the owners, went back to America to finish my contract in May 2004 and returned." And in the 5 years of being here at Summer Lodge, you have achieved an awful lot - 3 rosettes, the hotel is back to 4 red stars. What are you aiming for now for the future? "Well I think that we have achieved the main thing and everything was worked around that." Because you've been inconsistent before? "I've been out of the country for 6 years, 4 years in Jersey you are pretty isolated. I think the big thing was to get some consistency back in here, when Red Carnation Hotels came here and started ripping the place apart and completely refurbishing from top to bottom, they spent a lot of money, did a great job. We lost a percentage of our old customers who were true to Mr Corbet. They liked the way he did things. We started to build up our new client base, possibly aiming at a slightly younger generation and building up from there." Things are going well here now. "Yes, we've added on a conservatory, landscaping in the garden with a new pond and water feature. The restaurant is full, especially at weekends. I fully expect by the time we hit July and August that we will be doing 40 covers every night of the week, and 50 on weekends people are always going to be a little bit seasonal." Of course. "We've got to work and gauge our strengths, to the way the business is now." steve-titmanAre you aiming for a Michelin star? "We'd love to. I think in the food department I'd like to see 4 rosettes and a star. It's going to take a lot of time and hard work. I don't think they throw them around willy nilly. We know that we are going to have to work hard to get it. We are in the process of tweaking the menus a little bit. To be more consistent, we change too much at the moment, we change the table d'hôte menu main courses every day of the week. People don't want to see the same food for two or three nights.So it's quite a balance of ordering and preparing meals on the plate and garnishes. On Saturday night I think we sold 50 TDH menu and 35 a la carte.We want to get it down to just a la carte and maybe extending it to 8 or 9 choices. I don't think we let ourselves down on the food but sometimes on the canapés and pre deserts. When time gets tight, we might rush something that may be different at the end of the day. Canapés are still very important." As I said to you earlier in the position you are in - a country house hotel which has got 4 red stars you can't just have a Michelin chef who just focuses on dinner because everyone comes down for breakfast. They might not eat with you at night, some people may stay "?room & breakfast only'. When people apply to you with a CV what are you looking for? "Depending on the position, if I'm looking for a Chef de Partie then I have to look and see what they have done before; their experience; background and ideally 3 rosettes and a star. Then I know I'm not wasting my time. We are all pretty young in the kitchen and the menus are written by everybody. I"?m looking for someone who can bring something more to the table. I'm certain that if they've worked at a 3 star hotel then they can cook bacon, I want imagination in their ideas. We have a laugh in there, and I want a good atmosphere in there." What are you looking for when someone comes to you for an interview? "Enthusiasm, some degree of technical ability, if they are prepared to learn, at the end of the day some of our team may be younger than them. If I"?ve got a 20 year old Chef de Partie in that kitchen who is great, and a 25 year old who can't handle being told what to do by a 20 year old, then there is no place for him. They have to be open minded on things like that." steve-titmanWhat motivates you every day? "I enjoy cooking; I don't have to sit in the office every day. I like doing the work, being hands on, being in with the boys and having a laugh with them. The reason I get out of bed every morning is that I am working here, I'm my own boss. The owners come in and give us feed back sometimes, which is important. But they will let us cook what we want to cook, but we know from our own experience of working round the world of what people want to eat, maybe in 20 years I will have had enough but right now I'm still fresh". Exactly and that's really important, you give the young guys a bit of encouragement; give them a little bit of responsibility. Finally you said you were at Bournemouth College recently, what happened there? "I was invited to meet the students and join in the kitchen working alongside and hearing what they thought. They are starting off a new apprenticeship scheme with work placements." A lot of people I talk to go back to their own college, Adam Gray goes back to Northampton. The Manoir are trying to do something with Bournemouth College. "I'd go to Sheffield if it weren't 250 miles away! It's important to give students encouragement". I was asked recently to help tutor a candidate from one of the local schools (Thomas Hardy School) Part of the Rotary Club Young Chef of the Year sponsored by Filippo Berio. A young lady called Hailey Vickers, this has proved really rewarding and something that I really proud to be a part of. The competition is over two heats with the final on May 2nd" Please keep us posted on the outcome. "I will." Thank you for your time.

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 12th May 2009

Steve Titman, Summer Lodge Hotel, Dorset

IN ASSOCIATION WITH