The team, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st August 2013

In association with

  Tom Kerridge’s two-Michelin star pub, The Hand and Flowers, has become synonymous with an ethos of teamwork and a friendly, family atmosphere. The Staff Canteen decided to find out exactly what goes into forging such a strong unit by speaking to Head chef, Aaron Mulliss; senior sous chef Nick Beardshaw and research and development chef, Chris Mackett.

Aaron Mullis, head chef

“I’m one of the luckiest men on the planet. How many people can say they are the head chef of the only two-star pub in the world?” The answer, of course, is only one – the person asking this question with a smile of genuine delight on his face – Aaron Muliss, head chef of Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers, the world’s first and only two-Michelin-star pub. It is a position thirty-year-old Aaron could scarcely have dreamed of a decade ago when, as a 19-year-old chef working in a small hotel near his hometown of Bradford-on-Avon, he decided to give up cooking as a career. The young Aaron, disenchanted with the long hours and lack of social life – “I didn’t step foot in a pub until I was 19,” he says – hung up his whites and took a series of dead-end jobs while he caught up on all that missed partying. This led to a five year hiatus in his cheffing career until the age of 23 when he decided to do something with his life and get back in a kitchen. His first job back was at Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road  – a move he admits was too much too soon after a five-year break. He lasted a grand total of three days. “I legged it to Sloane Square tube station with whatever knives I had left,” he says. His next job was a bit more felicitous – working for a friend of Tom Kerridge’s, cooking good, simple food in a French bistro near Hampton Court. It was through this connection that he got his first taste of The Hand and Flowers magic. “We came on a staff party,” he says “when I first walked in, I knew this was the place for me. I can still remember that meal now. I had crab on toast to start, shin of beef for main and passion fruit parfait with dark chocolate sorbet for dessert. That meal made me want to work with Tom.” He promptly did so, joining the team on the garnish section in 2007. Within three months he had been promoted to junior sous, before bagging the head chef position in 2010. During his time at the pub, Aaron has seen it grow massively in business as well as in stature and of course the award of that second Michelin star in 2011. “It was the single most important point in my life,” says Aaron. I broke down in floods of tears for a good solid hour. I called all my family, crying; they thought somebody had died!”

Nick Beardshaw, senior sous chef

It was a moment that 30-year-old senior sous chef, Nick Beardshaw shared. “I was on the larder that day,” he says. “The champagne came out and there was crying and all sorts. When we came back into the kitchen I couldn’t remember how to pané mushrooms; I just didn’t know where I was.” Nick’s own Hand and Flowers journey started three years ago as a CDP. Before that he had done two years at the Castle Hotel in his home town of Taunton, followed by a year at Midsummer House under Daniel Clifford. As with Aaron, Tom kerridge saw something in the young chef and he was soon promoted to sous chef. Nick quickly noticed the difference between the working environment at The Hand and Flowers and other top kitchens. “They try to make the atmosphere in the kitchen as nice as possible,” he says. “We have the radio on in the morning; we have premier league football matches on the iPad; at the moment we have the Ashes on every day; there aren’t many two-star kitchens in the world that would do that.” Nick’s day is a long and busy one. He gets in at eight in the morning, checks all the orders have come in and that everyone is present and correct; next he oversees breakfast service for the customers staying in the pub’s four rooms; then it’s fish prep and the placing of more orders whilst at the same time checking that everyone’s getting their work done and are on schedule for lunch. Lunch service lasts until 4.30 or five o’clock, followed by a clean down, then it all starts again for dinner service which goes on until 11 or 11.30. Nick usually gets out by midnight but it can be as late 1.30 on a particularly busy day. “Every day’s a Saturday,” says Nick. “We’re one of the busiest kitchens in the country but everyone’s used to it; we’ve grown to be that way so we’ve evolved with it and we’ve adapted; it works.” Maybe it’s the busy nature of the kitchen that makes the team so tight: they have to be, to work in each other’s pockets so long without killing each other. As Aaron says: “There are 17 people in that kitchen and everybody gets on. I know those guys better than my friends and family because I work with them 16 hours a day, five days a week and I want to work with 16 people I like. It doesn’t matter how many Michelin stars you’ve got on your CV, if you come to work here and act like a d**k, you won’t last.”

Chris Mackett, research and development chef

Someone who has experienced that team ethic right from the beginning is 34-year-old research and development chef, Chris Mackett. The research and development role is a new one – just three months old – but Chris was with Tom right from the beginning, first working for him as his sous chef at Adlard’s in Norwich before making the move with him to the newly-opened Hand and Flowers as his senior sous in 2005. Chris was Tom’s right hand man for four-and-a-half years and saw the award of the first Michelin star before leaving to pursue a separate path. He ran his own pub and worked in contract catering before returning four years later as research and development chef. It’s a new role with new challenges for Chris who is used to working in high octane kitchens. “Patience is the bit I need to learn,” he says. “I’ve always been quite an intense chef, wanting to get things done as quickly as I can. This job is completely different; you have to stand back, read books, visit places and talk to people; you’re not necessarily going to get a result in a day.” One of the reasons Chris was brought in was to iron out certain difficulties that the rest of the kitchen don’t have time to look into. His first such task was to solve the issue of the pastry on the Essex lamb bun dish so that it had a consistently crispy texture but could be rolled easily and without cracking. First he looked at the temperature of the ovens, then he tried using a white bread dough followed by other kinds of dough, none of which fitted the bill. Finally, after a bit of head scratching and some conversations with other chefs, he came across the magic formula – a dough made with lamb fat, semolina and bicarbonate of soda. “The semolina gives it the crispy texture,” says Chris, “whilst the lamb fat makes it easy to roll and ensures it doesn’t crack.” The whole process took just six days. Going forward Chris is tasked, alongside pastry chef Jolyon d’Angibau, with coming up with the Hand and Flowers version of afternoon tea, a new venture which will coincide with the opening of the new bar extension. “We’ll be looking at classic things like gateau opera cake and of course sandwiches,” says Chris. “It might be something as simple as a corned beef sandwich but an amazing corned beef that we make ourselves.”  Chris is also tasked with creating a bar snacks menu for the new bar. He’s already got his eye on a delicious sausage roll with a homemade Toulouse sausage wrapped in his newly-created lamb fat and semolina pastry. The longer term future could see a brand new Hand and Flowers development kitchen in which Chris can conjure his magic – he currently has to commandeer a station in the main kitchen or in the small prep kitchen once the chips have been cut. “The role is a very new one,” he says, “and it needs to develop but we might be looking at around a year’s time for the development kitchen.”

The team’s future

With a new bar, new menus and possibly a new development kitchen in the pipeline, the next few years for the Hand and Flowers team looks as full of growth and evolution as the last few. This is something that senior sous, Nick, puts down to the philosophy that Tom has infused into the team and the very brickwork of the pub. “it’s a commitment to constant, never-ending improvement,” he says. “It just keeps growing and building and going forwards. It’s inspirational to see and be part of that.” “It’s an exciting time,” adds head chef, Aaron. “I’ve been here six years and in that time this place has gone off the scale. Where’s it going to be in the next six years? I have no idea but I want to be along for the ride.” View the recipe for baked potato risotto View the recipe for tonka bean panna cotta View the recipe for whole baby chicken with hops and ale

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st August 2013

The team, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow