David Sharland, Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, Padstow

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th December 2011
Some images with kind permission from Rebecca Bernstein David Sharland is the executive chef of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. The restaurant – the oldest of Rick Stein’s businesses - has been around since 1975, although David joined it in 2005. David’s career has been characterised by working at many large, quality hotels such as the Savoy. David is from Exeter originally and studied at Exeter Catering College. He went on to spend most of his early career in London, working for high-profile hotels such as the Hyde Park Hotel, Park Lane and the Savoy, with which he spent fifteen years. After the Savoy he moved to near Newbury, Berkshire to open the Vineyard at Stockcross, before moving back to London to work at the Harrington hotel and the Atlantic Bar & Grill, where he worked with the Irish restaurateur Oliver Peyton. He followed this by working at the department store chain Harvey Nichols, at which he was executive chef, before heading to Padstow and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. He was nominated for the People’s Choice Award by the Craft Guild of Chefs earlier this year.   David first and foremost thank you for inviting me in today. It's great to come to Padstow, and meet you at The Seafood Restaurant. Can you give us an outline of your role here at Rick Stein's? So six years ago I came in as the executive chef and my main responsibility was to look after all of the kitchen outlets, plus give some input to the retail side of the business, we have two units outside of town which make our deli and patisserie items, we make our own chutneys, pickles, breads and pastries, and the products are then sold through our retail outlets. The production units also support the restaurants making stocks and sauces, fresh breads, chips and freshly squeezed orange juice too, so there's a lot to consider. So that was the main role, plus overseeing 60 chefs. Wow. How do you approach that? I remember my first day coming in and meeting all the head chefs and sous chefs and my opening speech was; "My role here is not to work in your kitchens, or take over your kitchens but to share the experience and knowledge that I've gained over the last 30 years within the hospitality industry to support you." It worked well and I stayed in that position until the 1st August this year. I'll remember that date, a baptism of fire if you like, as I was given the job of looking after not only the kitchens but also the front of house operations of the business. So I now oversee all the restaurants and production units. I knew I couldn't do that job totally by myself so we've recently taken on an operational manager, who's there to support my ideas of where and how I want to improve on service, consistency and quality. I needed somebody to really support the progression of the business and so Ian Fitzgerald came on board. He's a real foodie - he loves everything from cheese through to wines and seafood and so is an ideal partner for me and it's working out really well. How do you find recruitment, I know you don't recruit 60 staff all in one go but Padstow's not a big place. Is it difficult recruiting staff or does the name tend to attract people? The name does attract people, but we try wherever possible to recruit locally. We have several staff houses which enables us to recruit people outside of Padstow. I think over the last couple of years we've noticed that recruitment has become harder, we do a lot of promotion within. I know in London it probably happened ten years ago that chef de parties were not really chef de parties, chefs are being promoted quickly and are having to step up into the role with support and training,  we've started to see that effect coming into Padstow, but it's an opportunity for them to develop. We do a lot of promotion within. Just talk us through the outlets then. Obviously we've got The Seafood Restaurant"¦ Yes there's The Seafood Restaurant, the flagship if you like. Rick and Jill's first restaurant which was opened back in 1975. Then there's St Petroc's Bistro, Rick Stein's Café and Stein's Fish & Chips. Along with four restaurants in Padstow there's the cookery school, 40 bedrooms, a deli, patisserie and gift shop, production units and mail order department. A couple of miles down the road there's the pub, The Cornish Arms, and in Falmouth, the latest venture, there's Rick Stein's fish & chips and Seafood Bar and a deli. It's all under Stein's banner isn't it? Exactly. The interesting thing is that six years ago chefs at The Seafood Restaurant wouldn't necessarily work closely with the chef at St Petroc's or the Café and vice versa. Over the years I've managed to get everyone to work together, which is important. The centralisation of everything was very, very important. There were inconsistencies across the business and now with a central purchasing unit and a new warehouse we get better buying power and we're able to supply the rest of the outlets with good products at good prices. Now I hear the Fish and Chip shop in the summer has a queue going out right around the corner is that right? It does. It always surprises us how popular the fish and chip shop is, but I guess it's just something people feel they have to do when they come to the seaside. But it's done to a good quality and the consistency's there. I think as prices of fish go up we've never really increased our prices, but over the last year or so we've had to. We've had to really look at what we're delivering and if it's about delivering smaller portions or increasing the price we've got to find the balance between the both of them really, to make sure our customers are still getting good value. It's not like any other fish and chip shop, there's such a range of seafood on the menu. We deliver fresh oysters, grilled fish, squid, battered fish, charcoal roasted fish from our Josper, gluten free fish, vegetarian options"¦ we try and cater for everyone, except we don't do deep fried sausages or Mars bars! Let's talk a little bit about your background, large quality hotels in London, the Savoy, how has that put you in good stead with dealing with what is extensively here a multi-outlet, large volume brigade? Was that essential having your background? At the peak of the Savoy you're doing 1,000 lunches and 1,000 dinners in three or four different outlets, whether it be banqueting or restaurants and room service. So I think it gave me a good idea of how you spread your day and structure your day. I did 15 years at the Savoy, when you leave that place you realise how much you've learnt. I didn't know at the time. That's often the way when you work in something isn't it you need to take a step back it's only when you leave and you go, "Actually what a journey I've been on." Exactly. After the Savoy I set up the Vineyard at Stockcross where I had a £1.1 million budget to build a kitchen. I looked at the Savoy, the way they put things together and thought, "˜how would I do that but slightly differently?' I was responsible for the fitting of the kitchen and the style of the food and I wanted to combine freshness and quality, I wanted the kitchen to really be ahead of the trends with new equipment such as Pacojets and we were the first to produce a chocolate room for instance. It wasn't until after I'd built the kitchen and all my peers were saying "Wow, what a great design, how did you come up with that?" that I realised it had been a success. From the Vineyard I set up my own place and, typical chef, got my head down in the kitchen and didn't worry about anything else. The thing was, working in hotels, you had an F & B manager, you had an F & B team, so you never got involved in yield tests or looking at GPs or margins because everyone did it for you. You knew in your heart what you had to produce and how you could produce it and that's the way it was. But now, it's different - you've got to look at the bigger picture. And you were a West Country lad originally aren't you? I was yes, from Exeter. I did two years at Exeter College and couldn't wait to go to London, I thought "˜one year and I'll get that under my belt and come back and open my own place', as you do at 18, 19 years of age. 30 years on I was still working in London! It was great, I loved it. I worked for Oliver Peyton for a while which was a great experience I must say. Oliver's entrepreneurial way of working was quite an inspiration for me. He's had some very successful restaurants hasn't he? Very successful, I learnt so much from him. Then I went to Harvey Nicholls for four years which was a totally different experience, working with a company that had restaurants and a retail department, I think that really helped me to adapt to the role I'm in now. I was going to say the retail element must have been a big boost for working here? Yes, it was, because I was the Executive Chef for Harvey Nicholls I was able to open Edinburgh, open Manchester, go to Leeds and see the Birmingham site, I didn't get to see Dublin before I left but what we created was that interaction between all the sites, and that's what I did when I came here to work for Rick and Jill. It was really important to get the chefs to actually sit down with me on a Monday morning, talk about their week, what went well, what didn't go so well, what we could improve on"¦ it opened them up a little bit more. We got together for food tastings, so everyone could taste a dish and see how it's made and really get that consistency across our products. It was about challenging the status quo at the time and getting everyone to work together; I think we've managed to achieve that really well now. It's very important that in your role you have to manage people, it could be very easy just to come down and go, "Out the way I'll do that." But that's not what you're paid to do. So how do you find managing people? I think I admire people that can still work in their kitchen at 45, 50 years of age. It's not easy is it? No it's not easy, but I got to the stage where I no longer wanted to try and compete with that young generation of chefs, I was in the kitchen working 12 or 14 hours a day thinking, "˜God how long can I cope with this?', especially because I'm a bit of a workaholic"¦ Show me a chef that's not. Yes, I would take over everything and if I couldn't keep up the pace I'd feel I was letting myself down, as well as the team. So I got to that stage where you say, "You know what, they're better than I am. What I'm good at is people. What I'm good at is directing people and managing people, teaching and training them, because of my experience," and that's when I said to myself, it's time to get out of the kitchen. Is it hard to do that? It is because I still enjoy food and you see somebody doing something and you automatically want to jump in and take over and make it happen. But that's a short term fix isn't it? It is a short term fix and I think where I am now, approaching 50 this year, I've come to that stage where I've accepted my role. I'm still very enthusiastic about young people, food, wine and service and I think I can make a bigger impact in this role. I think working with somebody like Rick who has a lot of other commitments as well as this business allows me to take ownership, but at the same time I still have somebody I can ask, "What do you think Rick? How should we do this?" Rick and I still have conversations like that and it's a good working relationship, with the management team and the directors. Jill's exactly the same. I can also have a good one-to-one with Jack Stein, who's Rick and Jill's middle son. He's certainly coming up in the company, raising his profile and you can have a chat with him about where he sees the company going and how I might be able to help support that. Jack's now heading up a new project - a development kitchen we're building in Padstow, it was Jack's idea because of his travels, because of what he's seen with Heston. I see Jack as the next generation of "˜the Stein way' if you like and I think it's important. Well last question then very, very successful in your career, a number of operations you've already mentioned, Vineyard, Harvey Nick's, Savoy, you're heading up a multi-million pound business, six years under your belt. Where's David Sharland going to be in five years' time and where's this business going to be in five years' time? Well we're forever looking at other opportunities and although we don't always make 100% commitment to buying new property, we're always interested in looking at these sort of things. The company is definitely still growing. I think where I'd like to see myself in the future is being very much still part of this business. I'd like to be in a position where I'm making more decisions. I'd like to be in a position where perhaps I'm sitting at director level, because I do like this business and I do like working with Rick and Jill and there's a difference between working "˜for' or "˜with'. I believe that as the business grows Rick and Jill realise that although they still want to be heavily involved in the business, they still want to be the entrepreneurs, they cannot do it all themselves. I still see myself in an operational role, working with both kitchens and front of house teams, but perhaps out of the chef whites a little bit more!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th December 2011

David Sharland, Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, Padstow