John Walton, Paul Ainsworth at No 6 Restaurant, Padstow

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2011
John Walton is Paul Ainsworth’s head chef at his Padstow based Number 6 Restaurant. Having grown up in Padstow, John joined Number 6 Restaurant in June 2008. He started his career working for Rick Stein at The Seafood Restaurant before moving to London for three years where he worked at Petrus and met Paul Ainsworth. John returned to his hometown to work with Ainsworth at Number 6 Restaurant. He is now Paul’s head chef and won South West Chef of the Year in 2009. The Staff Canteen is now fortunate enough to talk to the man who Paul Ainsworth describes as being “like a brother”.  John thank you for inviting me in lovely to come down. It’s always wonderful to come and see a beautiful place like Padstow and Number 6 Padstow. Thank you. John give us an outline of your role here at Paul Ainsworth at No 6 Padstow please. I'm Paul’s head chef and on a day to day basis I run the kitchen here at No 6. What does running the kitchen mean for you? It’s the man management with the team, dealing with suppliers, menu development, making sure everything is off the set standard, those types of things make up the day to day. John who writes the menus, is it you and Paul? Paul? You? Both of us are involved. Paul will write the menu. I'll help develop the dishes with him. Sometimes I’ll go to Paul with dishes if I've got an idea, a dish needs changing then I'll work on an idea, I'll get something in to create an idea and vice versa, with Paul we've got a good relationship,we work together and we plan dishes together, will bring a dish to the pass and sometimes it’s not always right and I might say, “It might need this,” Paul might say, “It might need this.” We're always developing and that's how we work here. We're quite close and we work together on that. How long have you worked for Paul now? How long have you worked here at the restaurant? I've worked here since Paul took over basically, coming up for six years. Am I right in saying you were with Rick Stein before this? I started off my career at Rick Stein’s yes that right. I was reading it on the website. I knew there was a connection there somewhere. That's it I started my career with Rick at The Seafood Restaurant. I'm a Padstow lad. Yeah I thought you were. I’ve got family in Padstow. I worked at Rick Stein’s did an apprenticeship and then I met a guy, James Knappett, who’s just recently left Marcus Wareing and me and him moved to London to work at Petrus for Marcus Wareing at St James Street and then we worked there for three years and I moved back to Padstow and then No 6 evolved and I’ve never looked back. So in terms of your role here then you've been here six years you say? Coming up six years yeah. How have you developed in that time If you look back where you were six year ago and where you are now how do you feel you've changed? I'd say I've matured more as a person through working with Paul. I've learnt a lot more about the business, especially since Paul put his name above the door and it became his own restaurant almost two and half years ago now, obviously before that it was a partnership. In that time I've learnt a lot more to do with business, not just about cooking, I've learnt all about margins and costs and basically how to run a business through Paul. It’s important isn’t it? You can be doing the best food in the world but if you’re not making money. Yes of course. It’s not all about buying in caviar and turbot and foie gras and. We're in Padstow and not everyone can afford that and so you've got to understand that…and I've learnt that as well. And Paul’s changed hasn’t he? He's changed his food style? Yes of course. When Paul first opened it was like a partnership it was very fine dining and that there was turbot on the menu and there was expensive produce and stuff on the menu since Paul put his name above the door we went into recession and times got hard for everyone and basically we had to change our way and we come back in February, we always have holidays in January and we come back and Paul had done a lot of research and I'd been to America and New York and basically we had to change No 6 or Paul had to change and… How was the reaction in the kitchen to that because I've known chefs before who have been told they’re going to change the food style and they’re not going to be using the luxury items and they’ve gone, “Oh I'm not going to work here any more then,” because there's this perception that unless you’re using foie gras and turbot you can’t be doing good food? That's totally wrong. I disagree with that. I'm completely with you but I just wondered if there was a mindset in the kitchen that you had to change? No not at all. We're still coming to work with the same mentality, the same passion and drive, no matter if you've got a fillet of beef or an ox cheek you find it’s still… Absolutely I think you can be just as good a chef yes?. That's it yes it probably takes a lot more effort to make a humble ingredient stunning and that's what it’s all about here at number 6. Yes we use humble ingredients but we put a lot of work and effort and passion into using those ingredients and try and make something hopefully memorable for the customers. What’s been your biggest challenge then John, you've been here six years, what’s been your biggest challenge or what have you had to adapt to most? Well working in Padstow now it’s tough in that there's lots of big challenges like staffing at No 6 it’s hard to get staff and keep staff and enticing people to Padstow because as you can see today there's not many people around, there's no bright lights like there is in London in Padstow. I imagine it’s very expensive to live here as well isn’t it? It is yes. We do have staff accommodation, we've got two houses which you need. If you don’t have staff accommodation then you’re going to struggle to keep staff. It’s all holiday homes here in Padstow, it’s all ultra expensive and basically it’s hard work that way. We’ve worked hard at staffing and we're kind of in the right place at the moment, we've got a really good team, boys that are very passionate and I feel that we're really in our groove at the moment and I’m very happy with the way our team is developing. You mentioned staff there and it’s a challenge wherever you go and in your role as head chef then what do you do to encourage the staff, to motivate them but also to retain them? Because as you say there's no point getting them here and then four weeks down the line they go, “Well I'm going to leave chef.” Sharing our passion and I think they receive that from me and Paul. I'd say we're like most top chefs, very passionate about what we do. Change is important as well. That's a massive factor. If you come to work every day and you do the same jobs day in day out, then it becomes boring and chefs think, ‘Oh I've learnt everything there is to learn here,’ and basically you've got to keep on coming up with new ideas, showing new techniques and basically wowing your staff and your chefs, your boys. And that's what we try and do we try and come up with new techniques, always researching. We're always putting money into our kitchen and buying new equipment If you don’t then people think, ‘I'm pissed off using this old pan all the time,’ or ‘Why can’t we get a nice sous vide machine?’ or ‘Why can’t we get a water bath to try these new techniques?’ and that's what we try and do and that's what helps not being stale. So keeping things fresh, making sure the work environment’s good for the team, all of those type of things? Yeah always evolving and always trying to better yourself. I'd say that's what we try and do every day. What’s been your greatest satisfaction then in the time that you've been here? If you stop now and look back what do you think, ‘Yeah I'm really, really proud of that’ if you could pick one thing? Oh God, I don't know just basically becoming Paul’s head chef, yeah working up to that. Okay how long have you been head chef then? I've been head chef for about two and a half years. Since it become Paul Ainsworth and No 6. Before that you were what sous chef then? No I wasn't I was like the chef de partie, there was a sous chef and I was under him so I was chef de partie really. Yeah when I first got employed by the company I was the pastry chef and I worked in the pastry section for about a year and a half. Is that your background pastry or did you just happen to get into pastry? No, no not at all, well when I worked at Rick Stein’s I worked on pastry but then I did the whole kitchen, then when I worked for Marcus I didn’t work on pastry, it was the only section that I didn’t work on but I was always trying to get into there and learn and I do have a passion for pastry and so I think it’s best to have an all round kind of knowledge. These chefs that say, “Oh I hate pastry,” and well you know what if you run your own restaurant one day you’re going to need to learn how to make desserts. Absolutely. So yeah that's what it’s about and that's what I like to do. That's great and congratulations on the progression. Last question for you then where do you want to be in five years? You've done Rick Stein’s you’re head chef here and you've done Marcus Wareing where do you want to be in five, ten years time, what’s the goal? I want to work with Paul Ainsworth as much as I can I think he's not just my boss he's a good friend, like a best mate to me and that so I can see myself still working with Paul, whether it be at No 6, whether it be a new, a different restaurant. He's going to take over Padstow isn’t he? He's going to be the next Rick Stein isn’t he? Well who knows but you never know. But is there an ambition to do your own thing John, do you want your own name above the door? Yeah, yeah maybe, it might happen here you never know. Paul might find well I might open up somewhere else and he might say, “Here you go John let’s put your name above the door, and that's been talked about that could be something in the future but that's not now. But you’ve got an ambition to do your own restaurant… Of course yeah but I see myself staying close to Paul. I think he's a great guy and I've got so much to learn from him. I'm happy at the moment and it’s a tough question that one but I see myself sticking by Paul and basically trying to get to the very top with Paul and we’ll see where that takes us basically. Well look John thank you very much for your time. Thank you it’s been great to have you here. It’s a pleasure. Wonderful to come down and talk to you. I wish you every success here, Rojano’s and whatever Paul’s got up his sleeve. There's a couple of things up the sleeve but we’ll see.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2011

John Walton, Paul Ainsworth at No 6 Restaurant, Padstow