Joe Taggart, Head Chef, Restaurant Martin Wishart, Leith

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st July 2011
Joe Taggart is the head chef of Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leigh. He has been with Martin from the start and is part of the fundamental framework that has made Martin’s restaurants such a success. However, as usual, it is Martin who has seemingly taken all the plaudits. For his part, Martin knows only too well that the success of his business is largely built on the commitment and hard-work of his chefs who work very long hours under intense pressure. The Staff Canteen has had the privilege of talking to the unsung hero of Martin’s eponymous restaurant in Leigh.  Joe if we can start by you giving us an outline of your role, your responsibilities and what you do on a day-to-day basis. I guess I'm Martin's ears and eyes in the kitchen and I run the day-to-day business in the morning the mis en place. The chef is always here for services obviously. Martin's got three businesses and he's got a fourth one due to open. He needs to give those a lot of time he spends in the office so I'm always in the morning. So you're the one that does all the work? ((laughs)) I oversee everything obviously. I've worked with chef for a long time so I know what he's wanting. I'm just basically in the kitchen with the guys making sure the team is doing the job properly and that everything tastes good and they are working well; the place is kept tidy chasing up the suppliers and making sure the product, we receive is what we want, what we need and then during service when the customers are here chef is in the kitchen tasting everything and we work the pass together. So how long have you worked with Martin? Well I started a couple of months after he first opened the restaurant in 1999 I came here and I have been away a couple of times during that period spent some time in England Where did you go in England? I went to the Vineyard. With John Campbell? Just before him. Billy Reid? Billy Reid, yeah., there was a crossover and unfortunately I had already handed in my notice, I was going back to Scotland, my wife kinda wanted to come back to Scotland. So I had given my notice, so unfortunately I only got a couple of weeks, perhaps three weeks with John Campbell which it would have been really interesting to stay there longer but circumstances. And Billy had gained the star at The Vineyard didn't he? Yeah, yeah and I went just after; they got the star in January and I went on that August. But it was excellent, it was very good, a beautiful location, stunning restaurant, beautiful hotel and I really liked it at the Vineyard So in the period of time that you've been here at Restaurant Martin Wishart, how do you feel you've developed and improved as a person and as a manager? Well I mean when I first started here I was just a chef and just newly trained and really just starting out ... So what position did you join Restaurant Martin Wishart? A commis. Way back then when I joined there was only three of us in the kitchen. So you could call yourself any position you wanted to really? ((laughs)) Yes, there was chef and then two young lads, and then Paul Tamburrini came not long after that. So for about a year, a year and a half there was four of us. But we did everything, you know... Hard work I would imagine? Very, very hard work. but looking back I'm really glad I was there at that time. Had you formed a bond with Martin at that stage? Absolutely and he was very hard, you know, as a head chef is but he was also very loyal., if you do good by him he'll always look after you and nothing was ever carried over, you know, soon as soon as service was over tomorrow's a new day and ... Yeah, clean sheet of paper ...and it was a great thing to work with, I learnt loads "¦although it was less covers the standard was just as high and there was only four of us and it was pretty, pretty hard core but it was very, very good. Do you feel you've developed much more now as a manager? Yeah, I have absolutely. Going away, going to the Vineyard, kind of cleared my head. When I came back I got a job back here at Restaurant Martin Wishart and I could see that I had improved and I wasn't so introverted, you know, I could see the bigger picture. I think, that's quite important as you go through the ranks you"¦ Yes, yeah, you see more than just your chopping block. You can't just concentrate on your section you've got to see the whole thing; just as how the customers are going to view it; but also the front of house, , and just try bringing everything together I think that's what you learn as you go through the ranks and I think that's where I am now Joe what do you think has been your biggest challenge then in your career so far? I think keeping the standards pushing forwards, it's why we all do what we do, you know, it's, there's never two days the same, there's always a new challenge. Nothing ever stands still, there's always perhaps a function booked in that we're gearing towards, new businesses are opening up and we'll get a new chef new suppliers, new products that we want to try, it just never stays the same. And it's making sure that you are consistent day in and day out? The most important thing is this, the customers, and chef has drummed that into us you know, the biggest challenge every day is whether customers come back and enjoy, their time and want to come back over and over again. As you've got bigger then obviously the team has needed to get bigger; how much importance do you therefore place on training and development of those teams? Because you know you are only one person and you need other people to support you... Of course, and you tend to find you go through cycles for some things everything just clicks, and you have three or four guys that are just right at that time, you know, they're on top of their section and everything is going just great... So how many do you employ at Restaurant Martin Wishart now? So there's, at the moment there's two on the pastry and including myself, six in the main kitchen. But that can change, So you've basically doubled the team. You've gone from four to, eight in the team now? Yeah, generally you will be looking at ten or eleven chefs at any time working here. We go through cycles. It's rewarding when you get young chefs and you can see where they start and they've not peeled an onion before and you bring them up and they leave here and they've run their section and they've done really well and they go on to better things. You know it's great to see that, you know. To watch that progression? Yeah, yeah. And the type of industry it is obviously there's a lot of movement you know that's just the way it is. If you get a year and a half, two years out of somebody then you're doing pretty well. Yeah, no, absolutely. The team is constantly changing, and you're just trying to hold the rabbit so it's not going to run off so that can be difficult. Joe, what's the, what's the most rewarding thing about working with Martin? ((laughs)) He's a very, he's a very good boss, you know. He's very loyal, he looks after you. But I do just enjoy him coming up with new dishes and me being able to implement it and just seeing the way the restaurant has gone over the last sort of ten years. Do you both work together on menu ideas menu collaboration? I mean obviously it's his ideas but we'll talk always before we do anything we'll sit down and we'll chat about it and if there are new dishes we'll both talk about them There's always an on-going, , discussion in the kitchen maybe working on a dish, not just from myself but from anyone who's got an idea even if it's just one little thing, you know, to go with his dish then he's very open to it and I think it works well. What's the most frustrating thing about working with Martin? Frustrating? Well I sometimes try to speak to him and he's so busy. Getting a moment of his time. Yeah, you know, he's always on the phone or, you know, and that's just the way it is, you know, sometimes you can't just getting five minutes to discuss... Chef, chef, chef, chef... ((laughs)) Yeah, just because everybody wants a bit of his time, you know, and you just kind of barge your way, fight your way that's just the way it is you know and I think we've all learnt to just live with it. Joe Restaurant Martin Wishart, it's developed hugely over ten years. But what are you looking to gain from this? you've been here a number of years now, where are you going to be in five years' time? Well you know at the moment I'm still loving it. I love coming to work every day I never wake up thinking, "˜oh, you know,... I've got to go in, it's always, like I say, it's always progressing, it's never stood still, so... And that keeps you on your toes does it? Yeah, at the moment I'm not thinking about you know for example something myself. But would you say that you know if there's another business that Martin opens maybe that could be your baby? Well, you know, never say never but I do enjoy running this place. You like the fine dining side of things do you? I like this kitchen and I like the food we do, and I'm really happy here at the moment Well look Joe, thank you very much for your time and I really appreciate your time. The very best of luck with the success of the restaurant and I hope it goes really well for all of you. Thank you. Thank you very much indeed.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st July 2011

Joe Taggart, Head Chef, Restaurant Martin Wishart, Leith