Sam Ashton-Booth, head chef, Stem

The Staff Canteen

Sam Ashton-Booth is head chef at Stem, the new Mayfair restaurant from Mark Jarvis.

Sam Ashton-Booth, like most chefs, started in the industry at his local pub when he was 15. He moved on to catering college and then at 18 he headed to London to work at Orrery. He staged at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing at The Ledbury and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester before being offered a role at Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines. He has since worked at Restaurant Story and Anglo, before becoming head chef at Stem.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Sam about the pressure of opening a new restaurant in London, working with Mark Jarvis and his food style.

Sam Ashton-Booth, head chef at Stem - Cooking   Credit Jade Nina Sarkhel 13

Sam Ashton-Booth

Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhel

Where did your interest in food start?

As a kid, I just ate food to give me the energy to play football. My parents weren’t massive cooks, but I do remember going around my uncle’s on a Sunday and doing a bit of prep for him!

I didn’t really take an interest in food until I was about 15, and I went to work at a local pub for pocket money. I saw the buzz of the kitchen and I really liked the energy and the atmosphere.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I didn’t really like school because I didn’t like teachers telling me what to do. When the option came up to leave at 16, I took it and went to Worcester Technical College to do NVQ Level 2 and 3 in catering, which was free of charge at the time.

My dad pushed me a little bit towards that and as soon as I was in the kitchen, I knew that that was where I needed to be. I liked the responsibility and the authority, and the respect that you give people.

Where was your first kitchen job and where have you worked to date?

I worked in a couple of places in Worcester but the first major role was when I came to London aged 18. I worked at Orrery as a commis chef during my last year at college. Every Friday, when I finished, I’d go straight there to work for the weekend and stay with my brother, crashing on his sofa! Then I would come back to college on the Monday morning. It was obviously tiring but if you love doing it, it’s not a sacrifice. It was an amazing place. I worked on every section during my time there, under head chef Igor Tymchyshyn - who is still there. He’s a really good guy and he taught me a lot over the three years.

Strawberry, tomato and rosemary by Sam Ashton-Booth, Stem. Credit Jade Nina Sarkhel 19

Strawberry, tomato and rosemary

Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhel

I also did a couple of stages during my weeks off at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing at The Ledbury and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. I wanted to see how the top-end kitchens are run, and what the differences were between them. Then I was ready for my next challenge so I went to Gidleigh Park for a trial.

I got the job and was working under Michael Caines for nearly three years. That was a very high standard and it was a really good experience. Then I wanted to go and work in America, so I staged at Eleven Madison Park for a couple of days and I was offered a job. I had my mind set on moving to New York but my visa got rejected twice so that scuppered that one!

What was it like working at Restaurant Story?

I went back to London in early 2014 and read about chef Tom (Sellers) in a magazine, and thought ‘that’s where I need to be!’. They already had their Michelin star but they were just shy of a year old. It was a different kitchen but it was great. I worked my way up to be the head chef in the last year and a half. The standard was really high and so I had to work hard to achieve that. I learnt more modern techniques to the ones in my previous roles. It was a different way of working and it’s really helped with the direction that my cooking is going in.

How did you get the job at Anglo?

Chef Mark (Jarvis) came in to eat at Restaurant Story towards the end of my role and he wanted to meet up. It fell into place as I was looking to leave anyway, because I was ready to do my own thing and cook my own food. I was only going to stay there for a couple of months as Mark was opening Stem and I was going to go there, but we had a few issues with opening so I stayed a bit longer than planned.

Info bar

Dream restaurant -
It would be fine dining with a couple of tables. Just me and a couple of chefs in the kitchen cooking amazing food - lots of small plates and a tasting menu. I’m not quite sure where it would be. Probably somewhere in England, maybe towards the countryside.

Dream brigade -
Me on the pass, obviously! I’d do meat and sauce as well, because I like that. Angelo Sato on the fish, my old head chef at Story. I’d have Robbie Jenks from The Vineyard on larder – he’s an amazing cook and used to be my sous chef at Gidleigh Park. Also on larder, a young lad called Michael Smith who’s working in Hong Kong. I’d have Andy King, head pastry chef at Gidleigh Park on pastry. He was there for sixteen years – he’s a G! Dream team right there.

Tell us about the new restaurant, Stem?

Our first official dinner service will be on Monday, May 1 but the week before we’re doing a few days of soft openings. It’s in Mayfair, so it’s quite a high-end location but it will be affordable.

Creedy carver duck leg with charred leek and gooseberry by Sam Ashton Booth, head chef at Stem  copy 1

Creedy carver duck leg with

charred leek and gooseberry 

Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhel

The idea is just to excite people with good food cooked well and serve some different things that they might not have eaten before. We don’t mess around with food too much.

We want them to come and have a good time. They’ll recieve a high level of service, formal but relaxed so that they enjoy themselves and want to come back! It’s going to be A La Carte with a small tasting menu at the start, but we’ll see how it goes from there - see what people think about the menu and the format.

What are your daily roles and responsibilities at Stem?

I’ll be doing everything! I have a team but I’ll be there every day, cooking the food and making the kitchen run at the highest standard possible. It’s a brand-new restaurant so I’m not going to give responsibilities like ordering to someone else at the start. Obviously, they can learn and grow into that role but I’ll be doing everything to begin with. I can’t wait!

Smoked Chicken Tortellini leek hearts cooked in truffle butter by Sam Ashton-Booth, head chef at Stem Restaurant Credit Jade Nina Sarkhel 18

Smoked Chicken Tortellini, leek hearts

cooked in truffle butter

Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhel

What is Mark like to work for?

He’s strict but fair like most people. It’s his business and he’s put a lot of effort into building it and that’s paid off. Mark’s a good guy and he cares a lot about the food, which is huge. You see a lot of chefs nowadays who don’t care, who are after the money and leave their responsibility to other people and he’s not like that. He comes in every day and he’ll be on the pass, plating, tasting everything, which is great. I’ve been helping him to develop the menus since I got here, and we work on stuff together which is great.

How would you describe your food style?

To be honest, I don’t really have a food style at the moment. I take influences from everywhere I’ve worked in the past, but the food that I’ll be serving at Stem will be modern, clean and cooked well. I’ll try and do a few things that people haven’t eaten before but I think I’ll find my style over the next couple of months.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu?

Not yet, but I have a dish that means the most to me. It’s a dessert of black olive, almonds and brioche. My girlfriend is from Sicily and the first time I went there, that’s what they have for breakfast – almond brioche granita. So it’s my take on it, and that’s probably my favourite. It’s a bit of an example of what I was talking about earlier – trying to break classics down and build them back up to something different that excites people.

What are your plans for the future?

To get Stem up and running – get the food going, get the guests coming back and get people talking about it. My dream has come true I guess!

More images from Stem:

Hand dived raw scallop, celeriac and white chocolate by Sam Ashton-Booth, head chef at Stem Restaurant Credit Jade Nina Sarkhel 26

Hand dived raw scallop, celeriac and white chocolate

Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhel

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th May 2018

Sam Ashton-Booth, head chef, Stem