Clive Dixon, Chef/Patron, The White Oak, Berkshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th May 2012
Clive Dixon is the Chef Patron of The White Oak, a country pub restaurant in Cookham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. Clive’s menu changes daily according to the markets and seasons and Clive concentrates on producing dishes to match what’s best at the time. Few chefs can say that they were in a Head Chef position at age 23 and were working in a Michelin star restaurant before 30, but Clive can. Clive started his career in 1985 as a Commis Chef at The Stanneylands Hotel. By 1991 he was Head Chef at The Old Swan and Minster Mill in The Cotswolds. He was awarded his Michelin star during his time as Head Chef at the Lords Of The Manor Hotel from 1993-1997 and moved between a variety of Head Chef jobs before joining Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head pub in 2008. He has also been Head Chef at Koffman’s, Pierre Koffman’s restaurant located in The Berkeley Hotel, London and worked with David Everitt-Matthias at his two-star restaurant Le Champignon Sauvage. Clive also runs his own consulting business, travelling worldwide to advise five star hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria in Utah.   Clive first and foremost thanks for inviting me in. Absolute pleasure. Please give us an overview of your current role here at the White Oak, number of covers, food style, how long you've been here, that type of thing? I've been here officially since January, unofficially since November. That was mainly because we were going to launch the fact that I was here but then Christmas was looming of course. Menu style is I always like to say it’s led by the market I'm really into my produce and we use great suppliers and they’re my kind of eyes and ears of the market. I use the word a lot, the mercy of the market. So I'm at the mercy of the market. Obviously then seasonality falls into place naturally without me bragging about what is seasonal, produce is the main thing. It’s not me and me being clever with the food, it’s about the produce standing out and me trying to get it to be the best it can be. So number of covers you can do? Up to 100, 100 plus, yeah. Seven days a week? Seven days…well it’s seven days a week, we do Sunday lunch an extended lunch service, we’ll go to 2:30, we’ll go 3:30 and that's our night off, our time to deep clean the kitchen. How many boys in the team? Between five and six, I’m comfortable with six. We're happy to run on five. Currently I’m working six days a week, sometimes volume of bodies doesn’t compare to the quality of guys so it’s often getting that balance right. So you've talked about seasonally led menus and very much driven by produce, give us a dish that's on the menu at the moment that typifies that. We've got a cottage pie on which isn’t led sole seasonally of course, but it’s made up of oxtail, it takes several days in the preparation, ox cheek, ox tongue all cooked separately and then brought together. Perhaps that doesn’t really typify what I'm all about other than getting excited about the great things which are coming through the door such as the great fish, soles lemon soles I’m more driven by the products. Clive as someone that has done both sides of the kitchen, pastry and main kitchen would you advocate that for chefs today that they must do both sides or they should just specialise in one area? It depends on how far you want to go. I saw a lot of chefs and they knew they had pastry cooks and when you looked at their food it was like a world apart. That was quite apparent to me at a young age and I didn’t want to become a head chef that wasn't involved in all areas of the kitchen. I was at Tylney Hall I actually went in cooking in the main kitchen and then the opportunity came up and I was hoping for a little promotion, it was a fairly small brigade and the first opportunity that did come up was head pastry chef. So stupidly at my age I jumped in and took it and paid the price, did the training with John Huber at Slough, I wanted to know how to do the pastry and I probably took it a bit further than I probably needed to. I think everyone needs to spend time on the pastry, I think it’s very important that a chef if he's going to be the head chef then he knows that section and he knows how to make nice pastry, nice tarts and the simple things. That's what I drill into my guys so that they’re working with eggs in the right way, with flours, with breads etc. etc.  Clive you've worked, with some very big names Heston (Blumenthal) (Pierre) Koffmann and  (David) Everitt-Matthias, has there been one person that's influenced you more than the other or have you taken a little bit of influence from a lot of people?  I've taken influence from all, probably the person, David Everitt-Matthias is probably the biggest and has been, and still is. Why David? What was special about David? What was special about David? It was about the food, it was about the taste. It was the whole package with David and probably because it was a small restaurant and it was me and David in the team at the time and that's it, we did everything together and just simple things. It gave me the opportunity to cook myself, and create things myself, I probably jumped to head chef too soon, but everyone from Ian Donald, David Chivers at the Lensbury Club, Stephen Hine at Tylney Hall, David Everitt-Matthias, Ron Maxfield, that's pretty brilliant chefs all had their own massive strengths and massive characters in their own right and they all taught me a lot. Clive you have a very diverse CV, again would you say that's a good career path? We tend to see now either restaurant chefs or hotel chefs. To run a massive multi-unit hotel like those in London I think you’d need to spend your career doing that and probably spend time in places like Dubai that will really give you the grounding and the whole science and logistics of being the manager of a multi-unit place, I tend to handle that situation differently, I'd rather be in the kitchen which is a slight downfall of an executive chef. I've run businesses so you’d know how to do that you can get someone to come in and do your paperwork, your filing. At the Hinds Head for example after developing dishes for the menu, I didn’t want to spend my time in the office, typing it out, costing it, so I passed that on to someone else. I could then move onto the next task where I thought I'd be more useful. In business be it a large or a small operation you've got to be prepared to adapt That's where experience comes in though isn’t it? Yes but your target is happy customers, people being wowed by your food we are in a hospitality industry. Last question then, great operations, very diverse background where is Clive Dixon going to be in five years time? Very good question, Clive Dixon doesn’t know where he's going to be in five years time. I was head chef at 23 and I worked at a Michelin star before 30. I did that at 25, then I wanted to be in business and I did that with the Snooty Fox and it didn’t end greatly but amazing learning, incredible. I really want this place to work…it’s very early days of course. We're heavily into this, auberge menu at lunchtimes and dinner whereas it’s a very limited menu and we’re doing it at the moment it’s just £10 for two courses but we're really into it and it’s fresh, it’s made today. And you've got a full restaurant. Yes we're full, the restaurant for lunch today and that's what I want to be, I want to get this before right before I do anything else or think of what’s next, I live local to here. I love the fact I've got a kitchen now and that I can come in and create and cook. I want to strengthen my customer base and we've seen already loyal customers coming in and with these deals some people, four times a week for lunch it’s exciting for us right now! Well I wish you every success. Thank you. Thank you very much for talking to us and it’s been great to meet you thank you very much. Thank you.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th May 2012

Clive Dixon, Chef/Patron, The White Oak, Berkshire