Fabrice Uhryn, The Waterside Inn, Bray

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th February 2013

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Fabrice has worked his way up from chef tournant to head chef during his ten years at The Waterside Inn. Louise Thomas speaks to Fabrice to understand what place The Inn has in our industry today and if traditional French cooking is still relevant to today’s chefs. Talk us through your daily role and your responsibilities at The Waterside Inn. I’m fully active in the kitchen. I prepare the special things like terrines and foie gras. I take care of 90% of the ordering; we work with 20 suppliers at the moment, which gives us a good opportunity to find the best products and good availability. We work really closely with the suppliers to get the right product and the right quantity. Service is more management for me: guiding the guys in the kitchen at the pass. It’s about finishing dishes and guiding the team. When Alain Roux is on the pass, I assist in the kitchen and float around to check everything meets our standard. Tasting everything: canapés to petit fours, new dishes, wines, is a daily routine. I am constantly checking, checking, checking that everything is done the way we want it to be and in accordance with health and safety regulations. Why did you want to come to The Waterside Inn? When did you start?  I come from Belgium and I was looking to work abroad in an English speaking country. I came here with my partner; we wanted to work in the best restaurant in the UK. We came for a trial and decided it was the place for us. I was impressed by the quality and the business when I came for the trial and decided to take the offer. I hadn’t heard of The Waterside Inn before I came here: you have to remember it was ten years ago and the Internet was just starting, so there was less access to information. Today, everything is two clicks and a Google away. At the time, if you were a young chef in France or Belgium, you wouldn’t have known about a restaurant in the UK. When you think about it now, it’s amazing. When I came in 2001, I was offered the head pastry chef position, which I refused, I didn’t feel competent enough at the time, so they offered me the position of chef tournant, which allowed me to see the whole kitchen in a short space of time – moving from section to section. After one year, I was offered the sous chef position, which I held for six years, before I was offered the position of head chef Your passion is for chocolate and patisserie, what made you undertake the role as head chef over head pastry chef? Even at culinary school my interest was always divided between the pastry section and the main kitchen; one never dominated the other. I was passionate about pastry, chocolate, dessert, but also about cooking. Pastry is more about production, service; if I was in the pastry section full time I might get a bit bored, but I love pastry and chocolate. The kitchen side is more interesting for me, with regards to progressing, being more active, a little hectic. The busyness of the main kitchen suits me.  What has been your single biggest professional challenge whilst at your current operation and how did you overcome this? Taking on the head chef position. It came at a time when I was looking to leave The Waterside Inn as I wanted to progress in my career, but at the same time the head chef gave his notice in and the opportunity came up. It was a great opportunity to progress, but also quite a scary one. It was about hard work, constantly reassessing myself and pushing myself to become a better manager. Alain is always here, so when I lost control sometimes he was there to put me back on track; tell me what’s good, what’s not good. As you know, we lose control in the kitchen sometimes, especially when you’re young and you have a great weight on your shoulders, but he was always there to push me forward to progress and become a better manager. Managing is the hardest but most important part of being a team, so you can get the most from your chefs. How much free reign do you have in the kitchen, with regards to creating dishes and concepts, and how much are you guided by Alain? What is the process involved in creating a new dish at The Waterside? Alain is always in the kitchen with me, but I do have the opportunity to put the ideas of new dishes to him. I understand what we’re trying to do at The Waterside Inn, the style of cooking here, so when I’m creating dishes it’s inherently reflecting our philosophy, it’s what I like now, it’s my style of cooking too now. It’s not much effort for me to create dishes that fit the style of The Waterside: it’s what I like to do. When we make new dishes I really try to get the whole team involved, to progress, to better what we are cooking. Alain has stepped back over the past years from the main kitchen, but he’s still very much involved with what we do and he looks after pastry. Anything I make we taste together, we asses it together, we do it together. It’s always good to have him taste something, because he may have a different view, a different take on things sometimes, which can make you think; I listen to what Alain says and I take it on board. It’s about making it as close to perfect as we can and creating something to the customers’ liking. How much importance do you place on training and the development of yourself and your team and how important is this to the operation as a whole? Training is a vital part of our daily work. We work with a lot of young people; they not only need to learn the basics of cooking, but also how to cook for our customers. We have a lot of regular customers, who can be demanding, there is a level of quality we have to maintain. We are often asked to do a lot of special things for our customers. We like our team to understand the customers, to know what they want and be able to deliver that. The legacy of The Waterside means a lot of special things happen here, which perhaps wouldn’t happen in another kitchen.  How have you developed and improved as a person, a manager and a Chef whilst working at The Waterside Inn? The ethos at The Waterside Inn is about pleasing our customers, both our regulars and our new guests. Some customers have been coming here for twenty years or longer, so they know The Waterside better than I do and what we do in the kitchen. In the beginning, you don’t understand this – you think about your ego, how you can progress. When you’re young, you do a lot of things for yourself. Today it’s about the customer; it’s about understanding the details, even if you have to do things that you feel you don’t want to do, but it’s about keeping that customer happy. That’s all we want: happy customers. Classic, French cooking and its boundaries are being challenge by the industry; do you feel The Waterside is still relevant to the industry today and do you feel classical, traditional techniques are still relevant to chefs in other kitchens? Yes, what we do is classical but we always try to give a modern twist on things. A dish can be made with a very special technique, but if the flavour isn’t there then the technique is irrelevant. The Waterside Inn is still very relevant to the industry. To do any type of cooking, if you don’t have the basics in classical cooking then you can’t understand what you’re doing and you can’t carry other techniques out properly. Young chefs really need to have a solid foundation in learning the basic classics to be able to move on. Modern cooking isn’t relevant without classic cooking. You have been at The Waterside for over 10 years now; how do you keep what you’re doing fresh? I am constantly trying to improve things – not just the cooking but also the conditions of work. Working conditions today are much better than they were before, throughout the industry. Staff are more demanding today about hours, money, the environment we work in, the way we work in the kitchen, so we have to reassess ourselves to meet their demands. Without our staff we are nothing. Ten years ago there were also fewer places to work; today there is a lot of good quality, high-end restaurants where you can go and work. There’s plenty of choice out there, so we have to be competitive with what we’re offering to prospective chefs to attract them to come and work at The Waterside.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th February 2013

Fabrice Uhryn, The Waterside Inn, Bray