Luke Butcher, Purnell's

The Staff Canteen

Luke Butcher discusses his role as head chef and pastry chef at Purnell's and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a chef.

Name: Luke Butcher

Place of work: Purnell's

Role: Head chef and pastry chef

Bio: Luke Butcher is head chef and pastry chef at Glynn Purnell's one Michelin starred, Purnell's in Birmingham. Luke has been working in Michelin kitchens since the age of 15 starting at Adlards in Norwich where he worked with Tom Kerridge before moving with him to open the Hand and Flowers. After leaving the industry for a year to take a break he returned and went on to do trials at Per Se and the Fat Duck before joining Glynn at Purnell's. 

Strawberry macaroon, wild berries, violet ice cream

Strawberry macaroon, wild berries,

violet ice cream

Chef Skills

Luke Butcher 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 did you get into cooking?

I fell into cooking, really. My mum is a very, very good cook. My Granddad was also a great cook who used to make everything from scratch. I remember he used to go down to Falmouth Market in Cornwall and get all the fish and make homemade chips to go with it. I used to love spending my summer holidays there with him, eating all the food he created with his own hands, deshelling prawns and eating them as we went along. That’s where I fell in love with cooking. I then got an opportunity through work experience at school to go and work in a restaurant called Adlard’s which had a Michelin star. At the time, I had no idea what that even was!

How long have you been in this role?

I’ve been at Purnell’s for seven and a half years. I was pastry chef for six of those years and sous chef for nearly three years. Now I’m head chef.

Why did you decide to join Purnell’s?

I had done just over five years with Tom Kerridge at the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, and I needed to move on to gain more knowledge and work somewhere else. I knew I couldn’t stay in one place for the rest of my career, even though Marlow was my second home and I was very happy. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) is from Birmingham, so I used to visit very regularly. As far as I was concerned, if I moved to Birmingham there was only one restaurant to work in and that was Purnell’s. I’d already had two fantastic dining experiences here and I knew that Glynn was the person I wanted to work for.

Do you feel that there was enough advice available when you were starting out?

No. I had very little advice when I was starting out compared to what you get hold of these days via colleges, universities, other chefs and social media. There was no advice really. I had spoken to a few lecturers at my college but they, probably the same as all catering colleges back then, were not up to scratch with the modern style of cooking, so what they were saying didn’t really interest me as what I was producing at work was on such a different level. I was also a bit naïve and young at sixteen years old, so I didn’t really think that they could tell me anything I didn’t already know!

Glynn Purnell and Luke Butcher
Glynn Purnell and Luke Butcher

What are you looking for on a CV or in an interview if someone is applying for a position with you?

I firstly look for what they say about themselves and what they say about the industry. Then I’ll look at where they’ve worked and how long they’ve worked in one place, and what position and level they were. Also important is where they’ve studied and how much experience they have. If someone flits around from job to job and does three months here and four months there, it doesn’t really bode well for themselves and their staying power and belief in the restaurant. In terms of experience, if someone hasn’t got any experience, but I’ve got a position for somebody, then I might get them in for a day’s trial and see what they’re like and what they can bring to the table. Sometimes it’s about the person rather than what’s written on the piece of paper.

If you could go back and tell yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would it be?

Try and learn as much as you possibly can, and listen to everybody who’s teaching you- all the different chefs you work under and with. Go out of your way to learn different things, don’t be so involved in working in just one place. Get a few experiences in different kitchens, even if that’s just a day here and a day there- just go out and absorb as much information as you can whilst you’re young.

What do you most like about your job?

Being a chef is not ‘a job’. Being a chef is a way of life. You spend most of your life in and around the kitchen, with the chefs and staff that you are working with. You spend more time with them than you do with your family. That family feeling and camaraderie that you have, and being able to trust your colleagues to do what is needed to make the business successful, is what I love. You don’t find the same level of togetherness in many other industries.

What does your job entail?

I man the kitchen from the pass with Glynn. If he’s away filming or working elsewhere I do the day to day running of the kitchen, making sure everyone is doing their jobs properly and up to the standard that Glynn sets. It helps that we have a good team in place. We’ve got two trusty sous chefs beneath me who will make sure that everything is running smoothly, but it’s about keeping them going, and keeping the whole kitchen running, and making sure that every plate of food that leaves the pass is 100% up to the standard that we serve at Purnell’s. I also contribute to the menu writing and the development of the pastry section overall.

Purnell's BLT
Purnell's BLT

What made you go into the pastry sector of your job?

I kind of fell into it, once again! When I left school at 16 and got my first job at Adlard’s, the pastry chef ran away two days before I started! I turned up on day one and was told that I would be on pastry, so I had to learn on the job, which wasn’t easy in a restaurant that had a Michelin star. I was just finding out what that all meant and learning about pastry, and about making everything from scratch. It was a very difficult first six months. I enjoyed it, though. Then I came off the section for a while as I wanted to learn the way the rest of the kitchen worked. I stayed there for about a year and a half before I went to the Hand and Flowers with Tom and Beth Kerridge. Tom asked if I would go back on pastry to run the section for him. He said that I was a better pastry chef than he was or ever would be, which was obviously very flattering! He gave me the inspiration to pursue the pastry route. He paid for Damien Allsop, a fantastic pastry chef, to tutor me for twelve weeks and design the new pastry menu, something I will never forget. I’m a very artistic person and it’s a very artistic part of the kitchen where everything is very precise and everything must be very easy on the eye!

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

Lots of experience! It’s useful to have worked in a good four or five different places to expand your knowledge and learn from many different chef’s ways of cooking. Before anyone can be able to work at the top level of the industry they have got to have a good ten or twelve years’ experience learning and to be able to progress to that top level and, more importantly, be able to maintain themselves at the top.

Who are your biggest culinary inspirations?

There are a few chefs that I admire and look up to. The first one is David Adlard who was the owner of the first restaurant I worked at. I probably didn’t appreciate at the time who he was and what he’d done for the industry. But now, I can really appreciate what he did and what he was doing at that time. He came into the industry at 31 years old and worked hard for five or six years at a very good hotel in London, and then moved back home and won himself a Michelin star. At that age that was an incredible achievement. He is a culinary genius. I then worked with Tom Kerridge from the age of 17 until I was 24. He was there for me for a lot of my years growing up and maturing as a person and a chef. Essentially, he and his wife Beth were a second mum and dad to me while I was living away from home. He’s a fantastic chef and he’s an inspiration to millions of chefs globally now, and he was a huge inspiration to me and gave me the kick I needed to pursue what I do now, and most importantly, we are family. And finally, Glynn Purnell. I wouldn’t be here if he didn’t inspire me. He’s taken me from what I was when I left Tom and developed me to being the chef I am today. Once again, on a professional and personal level, we believe in the same vision and goals for the restaurant and I try to support him in every way I possibly can. The family side of it is huge again. He welcomed me and my wife Gemma into the Purnell’s family and now he is godfather to my little boy Finley. Those three guys were my main teachers across my career and made me the chef I currently am. There are also lots of different pastry chefs around the world who inspire me, many of whom I haven’t met. There are too many to mention, but seeing the way the scene is constantly evolving and the ground-breaking techniques these guys are developing, is massively inspiring.

What would you advise for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Keep your head down, keep learning, constantly ask questions and keep improving yourself. But most of all, enjoy it. Because if you don’t enjoy being a chef, there is no point in doing it. Like I said, it’s not a job, it’s a way of life. And if you don’t enjoy it then it’s a waste of time, you should go and do something you enjoy and love. It’s not something you can half-heartedly do, especially at this level and every level above this. Look at people, learn, never think there’s a stupid question, and never think that you know it all, because even at 31 years old I do not know everything and I will continue to learn as much as I can until I retire!

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th November 2017

Luke Butcher, Purnell's