Paul Welburn says there's more stress in retaining Michelin stars than trying to earn one

The  Staff Canteen

When The Oxford Kitchen's executive chef Paul Welburn received an invitation to the Michelin awards last year, he said he withheld hope.

"I actually didn't know we had won it until it was announced on stage at the Star Revelations event," he said. 

"I had the email to be invited on the Friday before but it did not say anything about winning, so as much as you wanted to be excited I prefer not to get my hopes up too much. I was just over the moon to be invited and hoping for the best, I was not expecting it at all."

It's not like they hadn't put in the work, he explained: "We had pushed hard to make the changes to the food offer and the response was amazing, but to win the star in my first year here was incredible and I am so proud of the whole team.

"To say I was emotional is an understatement." 

 Fulfilling a lifelong dream

The chef said he isn't one for accolade-chasing. However, he said he "would be lying" if he said he'd never dreamt of winning national awards. 

"We work so hard and to get recognition for this fills you with such pride and a feeling you are going in the right direction.

"The moment on stage, being handed the jacket by Gordon and looking out at all the chefs I had looked up to all my career will live with me forever." 

 The changes brought by a star

With accolades, Michelin or otherwise, with the increase in business, customer expectations are bound to go up too. 

This wasn't too much of an issue for the team at The Oxford Kitchen, the chef explained: "The good thing for us is we pushed last year to make the changes to make sure our customers had their expectations surpassed , now we still have that mentality so maintaining it comes a lot easier , plus we want the oxford kitchen to evolve all the time." 

And though, he said, it hasn't affected the way the team works,  it has allowed them to take on more people, giving them a different dynamic. 

"The change has come from the teams’ mentality," he said.

"They are proud of the achievements so it’s good to see them embrace the mentality of pushing, discipline and pride for their work.  We had made our changes prior to any awards so now it’s about keeping the level and improving again. Why stand still eh?"

Is a star enough? 

Seeking perfection is a trait shared by many chefs, and it's easy to wonder whether once you get a Michelin star, you find yourself dreaming of getting another. 

For the chef, it's not quite about the accolades, or putting pressure on him or on his team to win, "but healthy ambition is what drives us on in this tough industry."

"It’s not up to me if we can win more, you just have to believe in yourself and your team , your food and do the best you can. After that you wait and see if it’s enough to warrant it. What will be will be."

Waiting for your invite? Be patient

 

Asked what his advice would be to anyone hoping for their own invitation to the awards this year, the chef said that keeping your expectations at bay is key.

"I think expecting or stressing is never healthy. The guides have a tough job to do, so many restaurants, so many styles and offers, all you can do is keep pushing, make sure you're visible and on the radar. And keep calm."

"I think there is more stress in retaining than if you may win or not, you have way more to lose. It’s an old cliché but if it’s meant to be it will happen."

Michelin, a positive force 

Though it may have its critics, for the chef, the guide is great for the restaurant industry.

"They have such a following and just the mention of Michelin gives huge confidence to customers and a level of expectation then it is then our job as chefs and restaurateurs to maintain.

"Come on...Michelin is Huge for this industry, I can only speak for myself but I’m proud and honoured to represent the Michelin Guide." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th September 2019

Paul Welburn says there's more stress in retaining Michelin stars than trying to earn one