Aaron Mulliss, Hand & Flowers, Marlow

The Staff Canteen

Aaron Mulliss is head chef at Tom Kerridge’s The Hand & Flowers in Buckinghamshire. He has been an integral part of the kitchen staff since 2007 and quickly impressed Tom Kerridge. He was promoted to head chef of the Hand & Flowers in 2010 after experience in London and the West Country.

The Hand & Flowers is an extremely prestigious restaurant with a Michelin star and a 6/10 rating in the Good Food Guide so Aaron has done exceptionally well to move up the ladder so quickly. Without further ado, both Aaron Mulliss and Tom Kerridge were kind enough to speak to The Staff Canteen about Aaron’s promotion and the restaurants future.

Introduction by Tom Kerridge

Tom, give us an outline of Aaron's role and responsibilities here at the Hand & Flowers.

Aaron's role here at the Hand & Flowers is to basically: stand shoulder to shoulder with me and make sure that the food that we send out, is up to the standard that we want to achieve, the day to day running of the kitchen, pretty much making sure that most of the orders are organised, things are sorted. One of the key factors here is we try to run a real happy ship and that everyone has a good laugh and that everyone gets on. It's a big family thing here so Aaron's role is motivator as well.

You have obviously had great success but with success and being busy comes demands on your time, so you can't be here all the time. So how important is it to have someone like Aaron here running the business and that the wheels don't fall off when you're away?

Me and Aaron both work with very different management styles, Aaron's nearly ten years younger than me so he's learning the ropes of how to man-manage people.

He must be 15 then?

Yeah ((laughs)) you're very kind. No I think Aaron's 28, maybe 29 this year. He's learning the ropes of man-management as well but at the same time his cooking ability and his strength in leading that kitchen is invaluable to me. It allows me to be able to go and do other bits and bobs every now and again and do some promotional work. It's very much a structured environment where no one's left standing alone on their own looking around like a deserted ship. So yeah it's very important that Aaron is in control of what he does and is supported heavily.

How long has he been with you?

Aaron's been with me it must be nearly four years and recently been promoted to head chef. He came here as a chef de partie and was very soon promoted to sous chef when my old sous chef moved on. It was a natural replacement and to be honest we weren't really looking for a head chef I was quite happily working with it but Aaron over the last six months has forced himself into that role. He's driven himself and he's pushed himself and he's motivated himself to create that role that's given me no other option but to make sure he's head chef and he runs it.

But that's good isn't it?

Oh it's incredible it's a huge credit to himself for him making that position his. He's grasped the opportunity with both hands and he's really taken full throttle so fair play to him. Brilliant thank you for that Tom.

Aaron Mulliss, Head Chef at The Hand & Flowers

Okay Aaron let's start by you introducing yourself.  If you can give us an outline of your role, responsibilities, the sort of things you do on a day to day basis, let's start there.

I'm currently the head chef of the Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow. My day to day job is primarily to make sure that we keep the standard of the food as if Tom was here day in day out. We've got a Michelin star 6/10 in the GFG so to keep that standard is very important.

So you're doing something right?

Yeah absolutely. Every single dish, everything that's cooked has to be at a level and that primarily is my role. Also to keep the boys motivated because if we didn't have a great team then we wouldn't be where we are, I keep them driving on, I drive myself on and help keep the business going forwards. We're always pushing on and we always want to do better, day in day out and today we'll hopefully be better than we were yesterday and so on and so forth.

So where were you working before then? Had you worked in a Michelin environment?

This is the first Michelin starred restaurant I've worked in. Actually tell a lie I did three days at Royal Hospital Road. I got offered a job I took it and I lasted three days.

As long as that ((laughs)).

I did three days got my knives and legged it to Sloane Square tube station, but it was completely the wrong career move for me at the time. Basically I started cooking when I was 15, quit when I was 18, didn't want it any more, wanted to.

Why was that?

I wanted beer and women.

Most 18 year olds do.

Absolutely. I'd never experienced going out in a pub, socialising with my mates I was always in the kitchen, and I loved it but it came to a point where I just wanted something else. It's very hard for young chefs because their peer group is doing all these wonderful things that youngsters do and I don't mean that in a patronising way.

And yet chefs aren't. Do you think that's why there's not a thousand Toms, or a thousand Sat's (Bains) Claude's (Bosi) or Daniel's (Clifford) - it takes someone very special?

That's right  and that's why us boys are in the kitchen, that's why we're grafting, that's why John (Freeman) grafts for Sat, that's why Mark (Birchall) grafts for Simon because we want to be where they are. Emulate them.

So you've been here four years, Tom offers you a job, I love the, "Call yourself what you want."

Yeah that was exactly what he said. When I was chef de partie, I was running the garnish section, I was doing the chips, doing what a chef on the garnish section does.

I imagine Heston's got a lot to answer for chips cooked three times ?

He has and I've tried doing them the way he does in the vacuum packer and that, that is a step too far for us, we've only got a small sous vide machine and doing 500+ portions a week! So I did that as a chef de partie and then about eight weeks later the junior sous chef handed his notice in, and Tom offered me the promotion. So I was then junior sous and running sauce meat and fish.

You hadn't been here that long why you?

He must have seen something in me! And in the early days of the old kitchen, Tom's "one to ones" got me through the crap! Like with me the staff retention is massive here if we see something in someone they're not leaving as far as I'm concerned. With that belief came promotion to junior sous chef, I've grabbed the bull by the horns, kept my head down and then roughly eight months later the sous chef a guy called Chris Mackett who worked for Tom for six years, moved on and I was given the job as sous just before I was going on holiday to Ibiza in the summer.

As I said to Tom earlier he's got busier as the Hand & Flowers profile is raised, there's more demands on his time that takes him out of the business.

Absolutely the business has grown astronomically since when I first started, I mean it's just a completely different beast now. After Great British Menu we've just been slammed, we were busy but now it's full on and Tom needs that time away to be able to promote himself, promote the business and make it bigger and better. Tt's a massive honour for him too, we went to lunch Christmas Eve last year at the Sportsman, Liz Carter turned up actually and it was quite mad. Tom got a text saying  "I'm in the area," and she popped down. Just before she came Tom and Beth gave me the good news and I was completely knocked back, for them to give me the role as head chef of the Hand & Flowers is a massive, massive honour.

So how much have you changed? What's different about you now from three and a half years ago?

Three and a half years ago there's no way I could manage a kitchen, I mean looking at the way Tom runs it, I've got a little of Tom's management style in me but I also like to think I bring something else to the table, I don't think he would give me the job if he didn't think I could do it. So yeah I've changed, the whole thing of managing the kitchen, taking a step back.

What's been your biggest frustration?

It comes in waves but it would probably be staff.

What finding them or...

Finding good ones it's like finding a needle in a haystack. Tom leaves me to run the kitchen and also look at how the business works, GPs, etc When I first started off I had a profit-related bonus, so I had to hit the targets, but that shows me how important it is for a business like this to run properly. So getting my head around that, and the whole taking a step back, not being one of the boys and then taking on the more responsibility to make sure the business runs smoothly. Here its not just Tom and Beth Kerridge at the Hand & Flowers it's a whole family thing.

What's the best thing about working with Tom?

He's got the most infectious personality. He's an absolute legend. He's a beast of a man, and every single day he's just driving, driving, driving, pushing, pushing, every single person and it's just so infectious and the food that we're doing here is what I love. But we're all on the same wave-length and we all want exactly the same thing. Without sounding cocky or arrogant and it's been bred into me we want to be the best pub in the country.

What does the future hold for you, what do you want to get from this experience?

Ultimately yeah I do want my own restaurant, whether that's with Tom's backing and, you know, one day maybe it will be. I'm a firm believer that the Hand & Flowers brand can be massive and I want to be a part of that. I want to be the head chef of the best pub in the country. That is what I want and I'm not going to stop until we do it. Until then I'll keep driving on, keep driving the boys on, I support Tom 100% and I support the business 100% I live and breathe it and I'd die for this place because of the people who work here and the way Tom  drives people and that whole ethos is inbred in me. Primarily what I want is to be head chef of best pub in the country and then yeah in the future I would love my own pub. I love the whole informal dining. You can come here in shorts and t-shirts and a pair of flip flops and have amazing food  and a pint of Abbot ale.

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2011

Aaron Mulliss, Hand & Flowers, Marlow