Cary Docherty, Head Chef, Little Social

The Staff Canteen

Cary Docherty is head chef at Jason Atherton’s Little Social. Starting his career as front of house and initially wanting to own a restaurant himself, Cary travelled from his hometown in Vancouver to New York in order to pursue his dream by enrolling at culinary school. He decided to make the switch to being a chef during his degree, and hasn’t looked back.

Ten years ago, Cary made London his home and has since worked at Jason Atherton’s Maze, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay under Clare Smyth and Zuma under Colin Clague and Ross Shonhan.

Finding himself in need of career advice, Cary contacted Jason who offered him the opportunity to head a new bistro, Little Social.

We spoke to Cary about his role at Little Social, how the bistro differs from working in a Michelin starred kitchen, his opinion on the chef shortage and how he thinks that working long hours helps chefs to learn.

8V7A4759 low resWhen did you move over from Vancouver? Did you ever imagine working in London?

That was the plan! I moved here specifically to work at restaurant Gordon Ramsay. I did the initial 3 months and that was a massive shock to my system coming from Canada walking into that environment!

I left after that time and worked in Maze and Zuma but I felt like there was unfinished business. I had moved here to work at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and I hadn’t really achieved my goal.

So, I went to eat at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and it was just the most amazing meal I had ever eaten. I knew I had to go back and learn how to do that! I remember walking into the kitchen, and Clare Smyth just looked at me and said, ‘so are you ready to come back?’

>>> Read more on Jason Atherton here 

How did you start working for Jason Atherton at Maze?

It was on Clare’s recommendation she told me about an amazingly talented chef opening up a new restaurant and told me to get into contact with Mark Askew to get a job there, so I did!

How did Jason approach you to become head chef at Little Social?

I was working at another bistro in London, I actually approached him. I had always maintained contact with Jason after I left Maze. He’s like a mentor to me. So I sought advice from him, as I was at a point where I was unhappy, and it just so happened that he had taken on the site for Little Social! I’m grateful to this day.

What is Jason like as a boss?Steak Tartare - low res

He’s great to work with, he’s super switched on and doesn’t miss a thing. He’s fair, generous, he’s always available to offer advice. I love working for Jason, it’s fantastic.

Does Jason have a lot of input at Little Social?

He helps as much as he would like to on a day to day basis. But for the most part he lets us just get on with it, but if he does happen to pop in and something is not right then of course he will let us know. On the other hand if he is fond of something he will say ‘well done, that’s amazing’ but basically we are left to run our own business.

Is the menu down to you or does Jason help you to decide?

The opening menu was Jason’s, and since then everything that has gone on the menu has been mine. Whenever he is around he always likes to put something new on and have a taste, but with regards to the menu I am left to do that.

Right now my favourite dish on the menu is probably toasted brioche with a fried egg, black truffles, and parmesan sauce.

Info bar 

Dream restaurant

I’m not kidding, I know this is going to sound so contrived but Little Social is what I dreamed of.

Even dining back in New York, I had always wanted a bistro like Blue Ribbon, it was my favourite little place.

Even when I was at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay I wanted a bistro, and Little Social is the realisation of that. This is it! I’m very fortunate and very lucky.

Dream brigade

When we went to help open New York we had Jason, Paul Walsh, Paul Hood, Phil Carmichael, Dominique, and Able from Little Social here.

There was just a bunch of people from The Social Company and we were all in there cooking on different sections and that was lovely.

Do you have an ingredient that you like working with?

Spring is probably my favourite time when you get morels, wild garlic and asparagus. But I don’t think you can place an importance on one ingredient, they are all important!

Sourcing seasonally and keeping in contact with your suppliers, is that something you are passionate about?

Oh yes, I talk to them on a day to day basis. I spend probably half the morning on the phone talking to suppliers about what is best and what is available, while of course trying to get the best price, too.

What have you learnt from Jason Atherton?

Loads! Even going back to Maze, standing across from the pass as a senior chef de partie, learning to cook meat and fish. And now he’s taught me how to run a successful little bistro. He’s been probably the most influential person in terms of my career, him and Clare.

You’ve worked in Michelin kitchens, how do they compare to where you are now?

We run Little Social the same way that we worked in Maze, we try to work with military precision, we place high importance on the quality of produce, we work with a lot of dedication and passion, and there’s a ton of discipline in the kitchen. We just push to provide the best food every single day that we can, so that people are happy when they are walking out the door! It’s the same with regards to service, we just want every single guest leaving this restaurant to be satisfied.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome when working for Clare?Cary quote

The most challenging thing would have been the hours. It was madness back then, we were in at 5:30/6am and worked until midnight five days a week. Also there was constant stress working under 30 second time limits. Every 30 seconds something else was happening.

Working with Clare was amazing, I learnt so much with regards to flavour, discipline and standards. She was relentless!

She had just taken over from Simone Zanoni, and she was on a mission, everything had to be beyond perfect. I was very fortunate to learn directly from her. I loved and hated it, there wasn’t one day where I didn’t think about leaving, but it was also the most personally fulfilling job. Just to make it to the end of the week was very rewarding. I always felt like I was accomplishing something by working there, it was outstanding.

Working long hours in a Michelin kitchen, did that effect you at all?

For me personally, working those hours was fantastic because the more you work, the more you learn. Obviously now, times have changed. People don’t work like that anymore. Everybody here gets three days off, four days on.

8V7A4269 low resI felt that I was quite fortunate and glad to work those hours, because it gets you where you need to go, faster. Even when I was at Zuma, it was 7 shifts per week, three and a half days off, but I always asked for extra shifts, and ended up working 5 doubles a week because I felt if I was out of the kitchen I would be wasting my time, I wouldn’t be learning.

So for me it was a very rewarding experience, it was very draining and very difficult, but it made me stronger and it got me where I needed to go.

Has the chef shortage affected you at Little Social? Do you think the attitudes of chefs coming straight out of college has changed?

As with anything, there’s some people that come in and want to push themselves, but like I said we try to provide a very good balance between work and life here. So at the end of the day we try our best to make sure everybody has three days off, sometimes if we are understaffed, certain individuals will ask to work. I think it comes down to the individual if they want to work or have the time off.

Moving back and forth from Japanese cuisine to French cuisine, was that an odd shift?

It didn’t seem odd to me at all. I think there are enough similarities that run through all cuisines so they are not like an entirely foreign language. Especially Japanese and French, both are very disciplined and place a massive amount of importance on the quality of produce, and respect for ingredients.8V7A4339 low res

Both have had a very big influence on my style here at Little Social, and I think that is reflected on the menu. You can see a lot of Asian influences running throughout.

What are your plans for the future?

We are very happy at Little Social right now, hopefully we will have some more projects with Jason, and London is my home now so I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. Just try to improve it every single day!

If you are thinking about becoming a head chef like Cary then head over to our jobs board where you will find a whole host of head chef jobs on offer.


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The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th January 2016

Cary Docherty, Head Chef, Little Social