Chris Denney, head chef, Four to Eight

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th August 2016

Chris Denney discusses his role as Head Chef at Four To Eight and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Chris Denney

chris denney

Place of work: Four To Eight

Role:  Head Chef

Twitter Handle: @FourToEightLDN

Bio: Chris realised his ambition to head up a London restaurant in 2014, after taking charge of Covent Garden’s Four to Eight. Slowly building up a team of native Italians in his kitchen, his modern Italian cuisine draws from this team’s expansive knowledge of different recipes from all over their homeland. Since injecting energy and a creative edge into the exciting innovative menu, the restaurant has greatly increased its number of new and former clients and booking is now the only way to guarantee a table.  

His cooking career has seen him working at Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide, including: Aaron Patterson’s Hambleton Hall; David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok; Nuno Mendes’ Viajante; Phil Howard’s The Square; John Campbell’s Coworth Park; Enrico Crippa’s triple Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo" in Alba and Eric Chavot’s Chavot.  This diverse selection of restaurants reflects Chris’s ability to adapt quickly to very different food cultures, mastering them. 

Chef Skills

Chris Denney takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been in this role?

1 year.

What first attracted you to cooking?

It goes back about 15 years when I was studying fine art and for money I was working as a pot washer - I had been from the age of 14 but put this to one side. Then while going through university, I ended up in some very unpleasant kitchens. Off the back of that I ended up in a great place called Hambleton Hall - they're a little one star country house hotel in Rutland and it was there where I was kicked into shape. That was it - that was the first kitchen I cut my teeth in. Aaron Patterson's the Head Chef there and has been for the last twenty years.

What are your biggest culinary inspirations?

With regard to the food I'm doing now, I lived out in Italy for a year. I was really lucky to go out there and be able to work with Enrico Crippa at his triple Michelin Star winning restaurant Piazza Duomo in Alba.

What experience and how many years would someone need in order to progress to the top level of the industry?

 They could be very lucky and do it in five as long as they're happy with what they're doing and getting as much out of the industry as possible. I  think it's quite difficult to put a time period on it. Ten years is a good time period to get your feet on the ground, become established and see what you need to see. I'm a firm believer in self-education and even though I'm  a Head Chef and getting on a bit now at 37, I try to stage as much as possible every year. I go and take a big chunk of a holiday out, travel and just cook in other people's kitchens. So you need to get as much experience as feasibly possible.

What are your ultimate top 5 tips for someone looking to start a career in the industry?

1) See as much as you possibly can at stage or work trials.

2) Go and see different kitchens for an hour.

3) Read as much as possible on the Chef.

4) Eat their food.

5) Talk to your peers and get as much online education as you can.

What are you looking out for on a CV or in an interview if someone was applying to work with you?

Prior to coming here, I was told that having a very varied and large CV, with nowhere longer than one year to two years that it can be frowned upon. In my opinion. I want to see as many different jobs as one person can do in whatever time - that's amazing. I'm not knocking it but a CV can show someone's worked in the same place for eight or ten years, though I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing if someone's worked in eight different places in eight years. As controversial as it is for me I've been lucky enough to work in quite a few different places.

What's it like being involved in consumer Chef demonstrations like S.Pellegrino's Live in Italian, Live in London?

It was the first time for me with a product like that - obviously, I've done pop-ups and things like that overseas and it never felt like a massive corporate product. I was lucky enough to work with the Italian Supper Club and, they were very down to earth. It was very much an organic experience, I was never told I had to smile or push the brand forward. I don't think I once spoke about S.Pellegrino other than using it in the tempura batter and that was really refreshing.

Do you think participating in events like that can boost your career?

Definitely. Not only that, I personally got more out of it than I envisaged I would. During the event, there were a lot of young Chefs coming through and I got to speak to a lot them who were asking my advice. There were also meal reservation requests on the back of it so yeah it was great.

How did the outdoor setting influence your menu choice?

It didn't really. The Italian Supper Club came to my restaurant and I gave them a 12-course taster menu and put it all in their hands. They do the big numbers, they know the logistics and they were really pleased with what I did for them and I just gave them carte blanche to choose. From the 12 they chose one for each of the three courses.

You cooked with the S.Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year 2015 Mark Moriarty - what was that like?

Lovely bloke - he's an old head on young shoulders. He's incredibly confident and with regards to his and other people's food he's extremely articulate. He's very open-minded and focused when it comes to where he's going to go in the next year and also where he's been. We caught up about Ireland because I used to work over there and he's just a really, really nice guy. He just dove straight in - the first thing he did was put his whites on and just got in the section. He's a really great bloke and we intend to keep in contact.

Restaurant Four to Eight

How did you feel about cooking food in this situation, to diners who walked past and hadn't come planning to eat like the diners at Four To Eight?

 It's lovely to cook for people whoever they are. We have a huge footfall where we are at Four To Eight so there was not too much difference except for the fact that we were outside. The feedback was very good except for one person who was saying it was too considered, too immaculate and too clean to be considered Italian food. Even that feedback was fine it didn't get my hackles up, I was quite polite, wasn't at all rude in regard to it. It was a little polished but for that amount of people, it has to be - everything has to be bang-on. There wasn't a comparable event.

What do you enjoy about cooking Italian food?

I enjoy everything about it but mainly the people also, how light and simple it is in its overall ethic. The produce obviously speaks for itself. I'm lucky enough to be able to use English and Italian produce. The spectrum of ingredients is huge, vast. From what one person could regard as the mundane task of making gnocchi twice a day can be to me quite cathartic. Yeah, pretty much everything.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th August 2016

Chris Denney, head chef, Four to Eight