Robert Potter, head chef, Hwyel Jones' Lucknam Park

The  Staff Canteen
Lucknam ParkRobert Potter is head chef in The Park Restaurant at Lucknam Park Hotel in Wiltshire under the guidance of executive chef Hywel Jones. Having left as sous chef to work for Dominic Chapman at The Royal Oak Paley Street, Robert has been back for a second time at Lucknam, where he has been leading a team as head chef. We speak to him about his influences, his mentors and what it’s like working in a Michelin-starred establishment like Lucknam Park. What's your background? Is being a chef always something you wanted to do? It’s something I was very interested in doing at school. I did food technology at secondary school and went to Walsall College in the West Midlands afterwards. I was there for three years and completed my NVQ level 3. When I left college I went to work for a chef called Andy Waters at The Bay Tree restaurant in Birmingham. Andy had previously gained a Michelin star for Simpsons and later on achieved a Michelin star at Edmunds. Was there added pressure going to work in a Michelin establishment? It was a big change for me going straight from college into a kitchen serving good, fresh food. I was fortunate enough to start working for someone like Andy who was such a great teacher and mentor. You mentioned that it was a challenge running a section what section what was that? ‘Caraibe' chocolate bar, salted caramel ice cream, honey roast peanuts and glazed bananas I started off on the garnish section and progressed onto larder and pastry. Did you see a role you wanted and set that as a goal, or was it more a case of getting experience in all sections? It was more about getting my head down and learning as much as possible. I never particularly had a favourite section; it was more about taking as much as I could from each section and learning as much as I could from Andy. Would you say that Andy (Waters) has been one of your biggest influences in your career? He was a big influence in the fact that he was the first chef I worked under, but I’ve had other chefs since then that have been some great mentors.
Who in your opinion are the rising stars? Hrishikesh Desai: Who runs our cookery school, he’s been at Lucknam Park for ten years now and worked throughout all three kitchens. Richard Edwards: Who I took over as head chef. I worked under him as sous chef here and he went on to The Lords of the Manor and achieved a Michelin star within his first year and retained it this year. Mark Stinchcombe: He went on from Lucknam Park to spend 2 1/2 years at Le Champignon Sauvage as Sous Chef. Michael Tweedie: Who I worked with here, he went on to Gidleigh Park and is now a senior sous chef. If you set up your own restaurant, what kind of food would you serve? My restaurant would be dictated by what the customer wants. I’ve always wanted a restaurant that cooks great, fresh food that customers want to eat, so I don’t particularly have a certain style of food in mind. If it was my own money being put into it then that would be my objective. What are your top five comfort foods?
  1. Mashed potato
  2. Braised oxtail,
  3. Lamb shoulder and really flavoursome food
  4. Pizza
  5. Thai curry
Who have been your biggest influences, then? My biggest mentor has been Hywel here. This is my second stint at working at Lucknam Park under Hywel. So to come back again and work under Hywel I’ve learned a lot from him from managing a team to the actual style and technicality of his food. When was your first stint at Lucknam? I joined Lucknam Park in 2008 as junior sous chef. I progressed to sous chef in the fine dining restaurant The Park. I left to further my career and went on to work at The Royal Oak Paley Street under Dominic Chapman as head chef. Did you enjoy your time there at The Royal Oak? Yes. It was a big change in style of food from Lucknam Park, very different properties so it was a big learning curve for me. Its a great restaurant with a great reputation that gave me my first real chance to run a kitchen in the absence of Dom. Was that daunting to begin with and something that was a challenge? I wouldn't say it was daunting but it was a challenge to take charge of a kitchen for the first time which a lot of young chefs don't appreciate. Did you then go back to Lucknam Park after this? Yes, while working at The Royal Oak the position of head chef of The Park Restaurant became available. I was asked if I’d be interested in moving back and taking that role and I felt with the size of the property at Lucknam there was more scope to progress, learn more management skills and further my career. What year was that? Last year, March 2013, so I’ve been back for over a year and a half. Do you work particularly at The Park or the hotels other restaurants [The Brasserie, The Cookery School]? I am solely at The Park, fine dining restaurant and run it in the absence of Hywel. Are you interested in the Cookery School? Do you help out there? No, I don’t get involved with it. We have a head chef in each kitchen, we are encouraged to work closely with each other as a team but my responsibilities are The Park restaurant. Do you all have creative input into the menus or is it mainly Hywel? It’s mainly Hywel, it’s his food, his menu, his star but I work on dishes and present them to Hywel. We’ll look at and tweak things with each other. We do specials on a Saturday evening that I have the freedom to work on. Also Sunday lunch menus, that’s where I have my creative side and I have the Line caught Sea Bass, potato risotto, charred leek, girolles and wiltshire trufflefreedom to change canapes and appetisers but main dishes are something I have to work on and present to Hywel. I’m fortunate here to run a great kitchen which has good accolades; we’ve retained a Michelin star for the 10th year running now and I’m very fortunate to have the support of Hywel behind me, but I wouldn’t say I’m established enough myself yet as head chef to have my own signature dish. As a team, are you working towards a second Michelin star? As a team we are always looking for ways to improve.  Everyone at Lucknam Park is encouraged to put the guests first and foremost and any accolades that come as a result of this are obviously appreciated. Whats the main thing youve learnt from Hywel? At the start it was learning his style of food, how he wanted to cook and what he was looking for. As time has progressed, it’s been management. He’s been a very good mentor to me on a personal level and from a work point of view. Do you see yourself there for just a few more years or are you happy with where you are at the moment? The Park At the moment I’m completely content but at some point in the future, the time will come where I will need to progress and I would want to move on and do something for myself. Do you want to work in an establishment like Lucknam Park again in the future or do you want to do something different? My style of food at the moment is suited to a property like Lucknam Park, of that ilk. I see myself and my food sitting in well at a country house hotel but in the future I would love my own restaurant something similar to The Royal Oak. Whats your advice for those looking to start out in the industry? I think it’s all about being dedicated to the job, working hard and getting your head down. It can be a very difficult industry to work in. Stay positive, be enthusiastic and the industry is very rewarding. Let us know if you have been to Lucknam Park and have eaten at The Park Restaurant over on @canteentweets.

Lucknam Park are also recruiting - head over to our jobs page here where you will find positions in this Michelin-starred establishment.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th November 2014

Robert Potter, head chef, Hwyel Jones' Lucknam Park