Allister Barsby, head chef at Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th September 2014

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Essentialcuisinefeaturedimage     AllisterAllister Barsby started his career as a pot washer at Wheelers Oyster Bar in Kent before moving on to Michelin-starred Read’s. After a good grounding in the trade he found his way to Michael Caines’ two-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park where he worked his way up the ranks from commis to head chef, with a brief stint in the middle as sous chef at Bath Priory helping Sam Moody win a Michelin star. Last year he made the step up to head chef at Gidleigh Park. The staff Canteen caught up with him to see how he’s doing.   Was cheffing something you knew you wanted to do from an early age? It was during my secondary school years really. My granddad was a chef. He worked for a big estate near Bury St Edmunds and cooked for Lord Bristol so I’d go up and visit him. My first job was at a little restaurant called Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable where I grew up. I started as pot wash and then the chef, Mark Stubbs, got me cooking a few simple desserts and quiches and stuff. Then I finished my A-Levels and decided I wanted to be a chef and I went to work for Read’s in Faversham where I’d previously done some work experience. They had a Michelin star at the time. What did you learn from your time at Read’s?Dartmoor beef fillet and cheek, celeriac puree, shallot and horseradish confit and a red wine jus I was there for nearly three years and went from commis to chef de partie. I never went to college so it was pretty much like a full time apprenticeship. I knew how to make a hollandaise and a few desserts before I went there. They gave me five days to get to grips with the garnish/veg section and then for the weekend I was on my own. So that was float or sink time and luckily I floated. David Pitchford is the owner but the head chef was called Ricky Martin (yes, seriously!) and he taught me all the basics like how to turn vegetables, basic blanching and generally to respect the ingredients you are working with.  It also had a walled garden which was great picking the vegetables fresh for that day’s service. How did you make the move to Gidleigh Park? Gidleigh Park HotelWhile I was at Read’s Michael [Caines] opened the fine dining restaurant at Abode in Canterbury and I went to eat there with some guys from Read’s and the food was great. I asked David if I could come down to Gidleigh for three days’ experience and he said, yeah go for it, so I did. There was a smaller team then; I think they had about 12 chefs altogether. They offered me a job which of course I couldn’t say no to. I returned to Read’s and told David, and he gave me his blessing. So at 19 I moved down to Devon. After your first stint at Gidleigh you went to the Bath Priory Hotel to be Sam Moody’s sous chef where you won a Michelin star; how was that experience? I was at Gidleigh for nearly three years and spent some time on every section so I had a pretty good understanding of Michael’s food. So I was asked to be Sam’s sous chef. We all sat down (me, Sam and Michael), had a look through the menus and made some changes. We built up a great team and within the second year we got the star. That was a fantastic moment for us and Sam’s doing a great job at retaining it. Bath Priory was where I learnt how to manage a kitchen and its staff, and deal the day to day problems of a 24/7 kitchen. When you went back to Gidleigh you then got the promotion to head chef. How has your first experience of being a head chef been? Did your experience at Bath Priory prepare you?Quail egg tartlet, button onion confit, summer truffle, Devon quail and a light quail jus Yes but it was still a big step up, I had a great time working at Gidleigh before The Priory so I pretty much slotted straight back in. The main thing for me was the responsibility. You can be a good sous chef and do most of the things a head chef does but the responsibility isn’t on your shoulders. Me and my sous chef run the kitchen together and we’re a team really, but ultimately the responsibility is on my shoulders. Being head chef isn’t just coming into work, doing some mise en place and two services a day. There’s a lot more to it, keeping on top of the paperwork, health and safety and training the boys in the kitchen to become great chefs. Of course some don’t make it, but others do and that’s what I love about it. Seeing individuals grow from strength to strength. “Seeing them turn into men” as MC says.
Curriculum Vitae Head Chef - Gidleigh Park Hotel January 2013 – Present (1 year 8 months) Seniour sous chef - The Bath Priory Hotel February 2011 – January 2013 (2 years) Chef de Partie - Gidleigh Park Hotel May 2008 – February 2011 (2 years 10 months) Chef de Partie - Reads Restaurant February 2006 – May 2008 (2 years 4 months) Most influential chefs Mark Stubbs (head chef at Wheelers Oyster Bar; he inspired me to become a chef) Michael Caines Philip Howard (I ate at The Square six or seven years ago and it’s still one of the best meals I’ve ever had)  
How often is Michael in the kitchen and how closely do you work with him? We work very closely and we have a really good relationship. He generally reserves Thursday, Friday and Saturday for Gidleigh. We’ll run the pass together. He’ll start off on the starters, get the service rolling and off to a good pace and I’ll be on the main courses. There’s always a great vibe in the kitchen when MC’s here. We are all still learning; Michael still holds little master classes in the kitchen for the chefs,whether it’s de-veining foie gras or making a sauce, or even butchery. He really gets into it too, so the guys really enjoy that. How does new dish creation work there? We all have an input but obviously the final say is with Michael. I or my sous chef, Mike Tweedie, might come up with an idea and we’ll do it up and have a little trial. Michael generally likes it but he might tweak it a little bit. It’ll go on the lunch menu or we might revisit it in a couple of months’ time with a fresh look. Michael reserves the á la carte for his signature dishes, which change seasonally. Obviously he has a vast repertoire of dishes from the past 20 years which we’ve all got on the computer. We might have a scroll through it and bring one out and rework it, bring it back up to date and then that’ll go on the á la carte. We let the chef de parties have an input too, whether it’s a canapé or appetiser. I’ll ask them to come up with an idea and we’ll have a look and tweak it if needs be and that’ll be a canapé or appetiser for that evening. Lobster raviolo, savoy cabbage and girolle a la grecque Any new projects coming up in the near future at Gidleigh Park? [laughs] I’m under oath! There’s a lot of very interesting things coming up. I can’t say much, but 2015 is going to be quite an exciting year for Michael Caines limited and Gidleigh Park.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th September 2014

Allister Barsby, head chef at Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park