George Dingle, chef de cuisine, Monsieur Benjamin

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th March 2019

George Dingle is the head chef at Monsieur Benjamin in San Francisco.

At just 28, George has accrued a wealth of experience working in acclaimed restaurants around the world. From Claude Bosi's Hibiscus to The Hand and Flowers and Whatley Manor, passing through Benu and Lamazère Brasserie  on the way. We spoke to the Gloucestershire chef about how tough it can be to become a chef, but if you can put in the hard graft, the return you get makes it all worthwhile. 

frog legsWhen did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

When I was 15 or 16. I used to cook a lot when I came home from school. I watched lots of cooking shows and got the bug for it then.

I tried [cheffing] when I was 18, and I was like 'nah, this is too hard, I don't want to do this, then I did something else for a year, and it was bugging me, I was like 'no, I need to go back and do it.' So I did.

What else did you do?

I worked in a ski resort in France, les Deux Alpes, in a bar, then I worked in Birmingham in a bar. I felt it was unrewarding and realised that's not what I wanted to do. When I was 20, I started working at Hibiscus. 

Image: frog legs @georgedingle @mbenjaminsf

So you left because it was too intense, and then you went to work for Claude Bosi?

 

Name your five favourite restaurant dishes (they can be your own):

  • Turtle tower San Francisco California (Pho Ga, extra green onion and Jalapeno
  • Scallop shell Bath England (Fish and chips )
  • Holborn Dining room London (warm pork pie)
  • Souvla ( Rotisserie chicken salad add french fries)
  • Benu ( xlb)

Guilty pleasures : What food that isn’t considered ‘cheffy’ do you love to eat?

  • Instant Ramen noodles
  • Fish finger sandwich
  • KFC with the gravy

The five chefs most influential chefs in your career: 

Had to be six, sorry! 

  • Claude Bosi (Hibiscus)
  • Ian Scaramuzza (Hibiscus) (now insitu)
  • Tom Kerridge (H&F)
  • Corey Lee (Benu)
  • Niall Keating ( Whatley)
  • Brandon Rodgers ( Benu)

Haha, yeah, pretty much. I was 18 when I did that and I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself intoAnd then when I was 20 I was like 'right, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to throw myself into the hardest scenario I can do, and not quit.' And that's basically what I did.

Was there any formal training alongside that or did you just train on the job?

On the job. I did a year at UCB food college. The second year was the placement and that's when I started at Hibiscus. I was supposed to go back to UCB to finish the degree but I ended up staying at Hibiscus.

What was it like to work at Hibiscus?

As you probably imagine, was pretty grueling and intense.

Everyone ended up staying for each other as opposed to actually wanting to be there. Yeah. It's kind of how I imagine the military, staying there for the person who's stood next to you kind of thing.

It was a lot, it was intense. But we were all there because we wanted to work for him despite the crazy hours and all that kind of stuff. 

And then you moved on from there to work at The Hand and Flowers, right?

Yeah. Basically, I decided I wanted to move to America while I was at Hibiscus. I went and did a stage at Benu, and then when I came back I realised from Benu that I'd have to wait a year to get my visa so  in the meantime I went to work for Tom.


It was great, I loved it. I still love it. The restaurant is awesome, the food's awesome.It felt good coming from Hibiscus and going to work there, as opposed to when I first started at Hibiscus and I had no idea what I was doing. It was a good year.

You've been back to Europe since, you were in Germany and the UK, do you just move according to where the work takes you?

Yeah, pretty much where the work falls. When I was finishing up at Benu's I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go or what was next. A buddy of mine that I used to work with at Hibiscus was running a restaurant in Germany [Lamazère Brasserie]. 


He was like 'hey, I could do with some help, how do you feel about coming over?' and I was like 'yeah, sure let's do it.'

It was good fun, it was a small restaurant, it was just three of us cooking there, doing 60 to 80 people, simple bistro food.

I hadn't done that before so it was good experience to come from Benu and fine dining restaurants and
being in a tiny kitchen. But when Niall [Keating] rang me in December and told me he was about to go and take over at Whatley I was like 'okay.'

What were you responsible for at WhatleySalmon poêlée with roasted leeks%2C accompanied by sauce remoulade with crispy beer batter bits

I took the head chef job. He's got a lot going on, they've got a bistro, a fine dining restaurant, while still having to do room service all that stuff hotels do. It all comes from one one kitchen.

Whereas it's usually kept separate and managed by different teams, Whatley is like a smaller boutique hotel. Everything comes from that one kitchen, so you're in charge of managing that kind of stuff.

And you were there when it got its Michelin star?

Yeah, it was funny, winning a Michelin star and then on break having to make club sandwich because there's no-one else in the kitchen.

You seem to have cracked the Michelin inspectors' code. What's the key to getting a Michelin star?

I don't know. Interesting and tasty food and being super consistent, I guess.

Would you say that you've ever felt restricted by chasing accolades, or is that something that you've always felt matches the way you work?

Image: Salmon poêlée with roasted leeks, accompanied by sauce remoulade with crispy beer batter bits. Maude Ball 

I think my relationship with food is based a lot around Michelin because that's like a lot of the kitchens that I've worked in and the chefs that I've worked for. 


But it's definitely not everything, the restaurant I worked at in Berlin didn't have a star - although it does have a Bib Gourmand. It was busy and the food was good and I was still happy cooking like that. 

I think it  depends, I think sometimes you just need and deserve to have a Michelin star and other places maybe don't need it.

Steak Frites credit Eric WolfingerCan you tell me a little bit more about Mr. Benjamin? What kind of food do you cook?

Modern French bistro, but California produce driven. Obviously some fine dining technique, it's a Corey Lee restaurant after all. When I first moved here, when I was working at Benu, Monsieur Benjamin was always my favourite restaurant to go and eat at on a day off or for brunch.

We've got a hamburger on there, we do steak frites, we've got a coal fired Josper oven so a lot of the meat comes out of there lunch, we've got rabbit leg, a steak, a burger, we do a seafood sausage that comes out of that oven as well.

Would you have your own restaurant? 

Yeah, one day, for sure. Maybe it's a pub, giving some love back to the English food, or maybe it's something completely different, I'm not sure yet.

Are you happy in San Francisco? Is that where you'd like to stay?

At least for the next five or six years. I still feel like I've got lots to discover in the city and I love my life here. I've  got some really good friends and my girlfriend is from California so it just works right now to be here.

But who knows in the future, I love to travel and I love England so maybe one day it's back to England or maybe it's somewhere completely different. 

Image: Steak Frites, Eric Wolfinger

Is there anything to be said about the food culture and the produce there?

Yeah, being in California and being so close to Mexico as well, we have some fucking unreal produce. The one thing I do miss about England is fish, from Cornwall and parts of England. The fish was fucking awesome [in the UK].

The fish is still great here but that's one thing that I think England has got over AmericaAnd also being so close to Scotland, because shellfish from Scotland is unrealBut as far as vegetables and meat and all that kind of stuff, yeah, it's pretty good.

EWP2015 MonsieurBenjamin 0863
Monsieur Benjamin exterior - credit: Eric Wolfinger

Given your resume you're likely to be a role model for young chefs. What advice would you give to someone who's starting their career in the kitchen?

I think it's as straightforward as you get out what you put in. I get asked quite a lot because I'm quite young. People ask 'how are you in this position now, how you doing that.' If your main focus is work and it's something you love and that you enjoy, you'll find your progression naturally faster I guess.

I think just be humble. I try and be super humble and learn what I can and take the best bits from every situation that I put myself into and then move forward with those things.


I've worked with a lot of different chefs who manage in a lot of different ways; 
I feel like I've managed to pick and choose what I like about each of those trusting my own opinion about how is a good way to manage people.


Just stay humble and work hard. The industry is pretty good to you in the end, if you can kind of stick it out through the early days.

By Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th March 2019

George Dingle, chef de cuisine, Monsieur Benjamin