Elliott Lidstone, Head Chef of L'ortolan Restaurant, Berkshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th January 2011
Elliot Lidstone is head chef of Alan Murchison’s L’Ortolan Restaurant in Berkshire. He has now worked there for six years and also devotes a lot of his time to instructional culinary videos on Youtube. Elliot was inspired by Marco Pierre White’s seminal work ‘White Heat’ while at college and has been hooked on the fine dining industry ever since. Elliot has thrived in his time at L’Ortolan and enjoyed the trust of Scottish chef Alan Murchison. Elliot is clearly a vital part of the day-to-day working of the restaurant so we were delighted when he was able to spare a few minutes of his time to talk to The Staff Canteen.   Introduction by Alan Murchison:Alan Murchison Biography Elliott has been with me for over six years and is an integral part of the team, he is responsible for the day to day running of the kitchen. Having a consistent and safe pair of hands in the kitchen at L'ortolan allows me to develop the business and product whilst knowing my back is being covered at home base. The importance of a good man behind you is underestimated and we all need a 'Elliott' in our team. If we could start by you introducing yourself - your current role and day to day responsibilities. Ok, I'm Elliott Lidstone, the head chef of L'ortolan restaurant. I've been here for five and a half years now. My main role is running the day to day kitchen, delivering the quality and consistency that is expected, I manage the team, check order, I also do one to two demos a month up in our demo kitchen for guests. I should imagine that's good fun? Yes, brilliant. A totally different skill, which I had to learn; to teach people or guests, not just chefs, it's very interesting. I host Chef's Tables Friday and Saturday's, it's interesting being part of that and meeting the guests and being very interactive. We also do a chef's experience, so guests come into the kitchen and spend all day with us ad there is a lot of interaction there. I also take care of any daily problems that may arise. Lunch and dinner service, as well, I am on the pass. How many guys in your team here at L'ortolan? There are seven of us. From the menuAnd within your role, do you get involved in menu writing? Recipes? Yes, absolutely. Literally yesterday, I sat down with Alan (Murchison) for a meeting about the new a la carte menu. I have worked with Alan for the new du Jour as well. using previous dishes from the repertoire as well as bringing a few of my influences in as well. You say have been here five years - did you join as head chef? No, I came here as junior dous chef . So there has been some strong career progression for you? Yes, really good progression actually. I came in running a section and moved round all the sections.  Also when Le Becasse opened up in Ludlow I went up there to help cover with Will (Holland). I have been around the kitchen a couple of times now so I have a very good understanding of the kitchen, from the basics up, and then progressed. And, obviously, the more I have progressed the more interaction I've got with guests; that's what makes it a very, very interesting role. And what has been your biggest challenge since you took on the role of head chef? Staff, I think. Not in a negative way, just looking after staff. So the man-management side of things? Yes, definitely. And more interaction with guests on a daily basis. Did you find that quite daunting at first? I think, when I started five/ five and a half years ago, I think that if I saw myself now I would be quite intimidated by how much interaction I've got with guests and how much that has developed. Chefs in general used to be quite, well very much a stay in the kitchen role but I think it is a real eye opener for me. I find it really enjoyable. It's very interesting. How have you developed to manage your team? It must have been challenging to go from junior sous chef, so almost one of the boys then to be moved away from that role?  Yes, it's a fine balance, to be honest. I think you have to be grounded enough to still be able to have a laugh and a joke with the boys, at the appropriate time but they know where the line is. That is the important part being a head chef, going from a sous chef or junior sous chef is letting the boys know where the line is without being too arrogant. You need a balance, I think. And how much importance do you in role as head chef, and the team at L'ortolan, place on training? A huge amount. That's the key thing, whether you do fifty covers or ten covers your team is critical and if you haven't trained the boys, and they don't know what they are doing. If there is a kink in the chain then it's vital to iron it out. So I do go through things again and again. I check, and check and check again. Do you have a structured training programme? It's very much on the job training, to be honest. For the more senior boys to go on things like food handlers courses, but day to day I will move the boys around each section in the morning. The night before I will check their mis-en-place list and if we have got a new menu change, for example, if there is any chef who is not sure about anything they come and see me. Everything is tasted before we serve. Again just always check, check and check again. What has been the biggest development in you? How have you changed in that five years? Skills-wise, I think my skills have been homed a little bit more and more refined. Butchery, we do all our own butchery.  All our fish prep is done here, as well. So important key skills like that - I have homed those sorts of skills. From a non-kitchen perspective, or a management side of things I think, like I was saying before - I think it's speaking to guests interacting with the guest and having a public image has been a real development. Does Alan tell you off if your GP is out? Umm, yes we work to quite a tight budget - 30% food cost. That's quite low for a stared restaurant, isn't it? Yes, definitely. Very low but we never skimp if we have something on the menu that  is a little bit more. We'll do our best to work around it.  We'll try and save it in other areas. The most important thing is the food. But have you learnt the financial aspects? It's great to be doing food but it wouldn't be the first Michelin restaurant that hasn't made any money. Definitely. There is no point us being here and not making money because everyone has got to live, at the end of the day. All the invoices, at the end of the week, I check all of them; tot up all the food costs and that all gets sent to our finance guy. In terms of future development, where do you see yourself in five years time? Opening another restaurant within the group? Or do you see yourself staying here? Five years time? To be honest things are developing within the company and a great speed and they are very exciting. Not at a frightening speed but at a manageable speed. So five years time - I really don't know, to be honest. I'd like to be pushing for a star myself. I have spent ten/twelve years in Michelin starred restaurants. So when you say "A star for yourself" do you mean a star under Alan Murchison Restaurants, like Will? I think I like the idea within the ten and eight, I think the concept; the structure is just as interesting. Not just the restaurant but the whole...everything to do with it. I guess there is less risk attached to it too? Yes, absolutely. And you have support from Alan as well, almost like having a mentor as well. Yes, but you also have a formula to look at too. Definitely and it's interesting having been here from the start - seeing everything develop and the way it's expanding and how its working - it's all very interesting. What is the most rewarding thing working with Alan? He's a good guy, the most rewarding thing is his sense of humour and energy, you have got to move at the pace he moves at. And if you don't he wants to know why!
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th January 2011

Elliott Lidstone, Head Chef of L'ortolan Restaurant, Berkshire