Sam Moody, Head Chef, Bath Priory Hotel

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th December 2010
Sam Moody is the current head chef of the Bath Priory, one of Bath’s finest hotels. Sam might well be known as the accidental chef after childhood dreams of becoming a professional carp fisherman. Nevertheless, he began a career as a chef at 16, working part-time at a fine dining restaurant while studying for catering qualifications at Central Sussex College in Crawley. Sam left home at 17 to work as a commis chef at Ockenden Manor Hotel before moving to two Michelin star restaurant Gidleigh Park in Devon. In early 2009, Michael Caines MBE who was executive head chef at Gidleigh Park, also took over the kitchens of the Bath Priory and appointed Sam as his sous chef. In September, Sam was promoted to head chef and seems to be going from strength to strength. We caught up with the young chef to see what’s next in his remarkable rise.  Introduction from Michael Caines MBE:Michael Caines 2 "Over the years I have watched Sam progress and develop with great interest but his rate of development in the past year has been simply quite amazing and a pleasure to witness. He has matured and is a fantastic, loyal, hard working young man with great talent. He is also intelligent and smart to realise his role as not only the Head Chef at The Bath Priory but also the opportunity to express himself whilst still encompassing, supporting and respecting the values of MC" Talk us through your daily role and your responsibilities at The Bath Priory? My role is that of the "checker". I ensure that everything we do is of the standard we set here, the order, the deliveries, the menu, and of course ensuring that the team are aware of that standard, which in turns ensures that it matches the standard that is set by Michael. I also ensure that Michael's signature dishes are retained on the menus, as we do in all of the properties, as these also attract a loyal clientèle. How many are there in the team? At the moment we have 16, which is a full team; we operate across seven days and three services a day. Where were you before you came to the Bath Priory? Before the Bath Priory I was at Gidleigh Park in Dartmoor for four years; had four great years, and really enjoyed it, it was amazing. Is that how this position was born? Yes, Michael took over, and he appointed me as the sous chef originally working under another head chef, who didn't work out. I was very much running the operation at the time, and Michael suggested that I take up the role of head chef, and I've never really looked back since. How have you developed and improved as a person; a manager and a chef whilst working under Michael Caines? Loads, Michael always challenges you to push yourself so much further, to work, quicker, work smarter, and he does it in a way that at the time you perhaps don't appreciate that you're progressing. It often appears that nothing is quite good enough, or that It could be done a bit better, which it can, it's only when you step back and look and you see how far you've come.  For me that's very important. Michael is extremely high profile, he will naturally be profiled in the press, perhaps more so than you. Does this affect you or how you do your role? It doesn't affect my role, in fact it actually helps what I do, in that through Michael he attracts customers which is what we are about; it keeps me and the team employed as we are able to attract good staff. As no one really knows me it's Michael's name that really helps me, in that I have a good team which means we are able to create the great food here at the Bath Priory. Is there an ambition for you to be on magazine covers and in articles? I don't really think like that I just focus on cooking really great food, and if that takes me onto the front cover of magazines, then it does, but the food is my focus. What has been your single biggest professional challenge whilst at your current operation and how did you overcome it? Taking over the position of head chef was a real nightmare. At that time the kitchen, sadly wasn't being properly run. It was being run very badly and was at a very low point. This is your predecessor? When we first took over the kitchens here at The Bath Priory, Michael was heavily involved, we worked really hard to set it up and to begin with things went well. I'm not sure what changed with the chef, whether it was the pressure and responsible, or perhaps simply the position and the authority, but it became a very difficult environment to be in, and to work in.The bath priory The then head chef, rather than looking to me for support, everything simply became a blame culture here; so that transition period where I took over and began to put it right was tough. Did that make you stronger? Oh yes hugely, I actually learnt so much from that process, I actually learnt from the mistakes that had been made. I was running the kitchen still as the sous chef, I was not prepared to lower the standards, we are an extremely busy restaurant and trying to maintain the standard Michael wanted was extremely difficult. I spoke to Michael, as we had to change, we couldn't go on as we were, I took over and that first three to six months was hugely difficult, at times it was a nightmare, getting the staff and the team back on board was tough. Then, of course, we lost the star and you begin to question your own ability, though Michael has never doubted me. It goes without saying that losing a star was disappointing but does it impact negatively on the business? It hasn't affected the business at all, in fact, we are actually busy than last year, but it did affect me - it was a knock. I know that Michael wanted to keep it. I'm less concerned by the guides, I'm only twenty-six so I've plenty of time in my career to gain a star. What would bother me far more is the loss of customers and negative comments from the guest, people not returning, that's my main concern. 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? It's essential. It would be a complete headache if I didn't train my staff properly. This was one of the biggest issues we'd had previously - people in the team simply didn't know what they were doing. Michael works in the same way, it allows him to be away from Gidleigh for the week, without anything suffering and have the confidence to do so. How often do you Michael liaise together on menu's, training, development and the business? There's a quarterly meeting with all of Michael Chefs, which is all very official, we look at the business and the figures. The directions, the trends, and action we need to take. I speak with Michael, perhaps twice a month, he's here once a month, we do tastings but I have Michael's confidence. So Michael is there to support? Yes, he's there to support, he challenges me for ideas, but as long as things are seasonal, amazingly full of flavour, there's nothing stopping me adding it to the menu. It's obviously very important for you to have strong people around you as Michael has you and Ian at Gidleigh that he can empower. Yes it's very much a shared vision, it's about us all wanting to work hard and us all wanting to produce great food; it becomes a collective value. When new people start it's about doing it together, it's not about them doing it for me or doing for Michael, it's about doing it for each other and the customers. What are you looking to gain from your operation next, in terms of personal development and then future career opportunities? At the moment I'm here to learn, I'm extremely fortunate, we have a busy restaurant, it's a luxury restaurant that allows me to work with some outstanding ingredients. I'm learning how to understand the business and how it works, perhaps ultimately my own place or a larger operation, with more outlets, but I'm very happy here at present. Where do you see yourself in five years? I'd really like to work in France. For me it's something different, I don't really fancy Paris, I recently ate at Michal Bras, the whole area was amazing and the importance of food is much greater in France, than it appears here, much more respect of food. I just love that whole culture that I still don't think we have in the UK.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th December 2010

Sam Moody, Head Chef, Bath Priory Hotel