‘I’ve actually got a career instead of a table’ chef Lee Skeet to open a permanent restaurant in Cardiff

The  Staff Canteen

After the success of his 40 Days, 40 Nights pop-up in the Welsh capital, former head chef of Hedone Lee Skeet is opening his first bricks and mortar site: Cora.

Having been away from cooking and the culinary world for a long time, Lee Skeet has, in the last year, come from cooking for a supper club in his living room to a pop-up restaurant, and is now set to open a permanent site.

Cora

The restaurant, Cora, named after his daughter, will be located in the upstairs area of Café Milkwood, in the Pontcanna area of Cardiff – where the chef hosted the sell-out 40 Days, 40 Nights pop-up.

Lee said: “To get into the restaurant upstairs you still have to go through Milkwood downstairs. It’s a bit of a unique setup; it’s like a semi-secret entrance and then upstairs it’s a completely separate dining room and kitchen.”

The restaurant only 12 seats and, despite its physical connection to Milkwood, Lee described it as “completely [the] opposite from downstairs.”

Whereas the neighbourhood restaurant only serves brunch and lunch in what Lee describes as “a really lively laid-back bustling restaurant,” upstairs is decidedly more relaxed.

Now that Lee has secured a permanent location, he plans on further refining his food, service, and wine selection.

“I’m looking forward to being in one place, really putting everything I possibly can into it and seeing if I can do a good job of it.”

Not your run of the mill fine-dining restaurant

Along with the name, Lee is setting out his priorities by defying the traditional restaurant norms and only having Cora open from Monday through Friday, and even then not doing a dinner service on Friday.

This leaves 5 lunch services and 4 dinner services which, if it stays viable, allows him to spend time with his family at the weekend and also avoids the anti-social hours typical of the industry.

Lee said, “I don’t want to be like everyone else. I haven’t worked in a restaurant for 7 years and I was done with cooking. It just wasn’t for me, and I’ve had a family in that time. I’ve got two kids, a great partner and that’s the most important thing for me.”

With a little help from his friends

Brought back into cooking by difficulties caused by the lockdown and lack of government support, Lee described how “it’s quite a big thing for me to have turned it around in that time and gone from literally cooking in my house to a restaurant,” all thanks to the support of his supper-club guests.

“It was fully booked for six months and everyone that came to that is now coming to the pop-up, and it’s all booked for the restaurant. It’s nice to see those same people coming back in different surroundings. I’ve actually got a career instead of a table.”

In keeping with the pop-up, Lee will cook unaided, as, he explained, “I don’t want food ever to be served in my restaurant that I didn’t cook. I just want to be responsible for it, if it’s good or bad.”

Lee is grateful for the support that the Café Milkwood team have given him, firstly with the pop-up and now with the permanent location. In a previous interview with Wales Online, he said, “they've just made it so easy for me to be comfortable and do my own thing.”

not aiming for the stars

While Lee’s goal in the restaurant is not to get a Michelin star, it is a dream for him as there has never been a Michelin-starred restaurant in Cardiff. However, he also said he wouldn’t “be stupid enough” to make getting a star the only goal in opening a restaurant – and that if he did, he would likely fail.

“The only reason I’m cooking is because I want to be the best cook I can, it’s not to pay my bills,” he said.

“I want to be better at cooking and part of that is getting awards if I can, but that’s not my main focus.”

The decision to name the restaurant after his four-year-old daughter, Cora, was to provide him with as much motivation as possible.

"If I'm doing something in her name then I'm going to put everything into it. I'd probably let myself down if I was doing it for me. But if I'm putting it out there that I'm doing it to represent my kids then I’m not going to let them down."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd December 2021

‘I’ve actually got a career instead of a table’ chef Lee Skeet to open a permanent restaurant in Cardiff