Richard Corrigan, chef/owner, Corrigan Restaurants

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th December 2015

Richard Corrigan is chef/owner of Corrigan Restaurants, which operates Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill, Corrigan’s Mayfair in London and Bentley’s Sea Grill in Harrods, London.

Richard’s culinary career, in brief, spans several years in the Netherlands where he went to work in international hotels at the age of 17; head chef of Mulligan’s in Mayfair and gaining his first Michelin star as head chef of Fulham Road in Fulham in 1994 and his second star at Lindsay House in Soho, in 1997. Most recently, in 2013, Richard bought a 100-acre private estate, the Virginia Park Lodge in Ireland. He plans to use the property as a base for a major organic vegetable farm, cookery school and functions business. Representing Northern Ireland, he has won the Great British Menu an incredible four times and returns frequently to the show as a mentor and judge.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Richard about how the industry has changed since he first started, how his ingredient-led and simple style of cooking is instinctive and how he takes his responsibility for educating the next generation of chefs very seriously.

You’ve worked for and with some of the best chefs in the world during your career, what’s it like now yourself being in that category and having young chefs look up to you?

You are kind of weighed down with responsibility for the next generation, to encourage the next generation of craftsmen and operators of businesses – it’s hard to pay the bills sometimes and just stay alive! I take it very seriously my responsibility to the next generation, I really do and it’s great that there are so many talented young chefs working for us in the company.

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But when they leave me and they move on with what they want to do with their own lives, and a lot have, I think the underlying impression that is always left is the frugality behind the scenes. Being tight, conserving energy – it’s a long road and it’s a big mountain to climb.

Do you think young chefs today want to get to the top quicker?

There are different pressures on young people today and different pressures on owners of businesses. They want to employ those they class as successful, the big hitters and the names. You come with a different set of rules at certain ages in your life.

In your 20’s and your 30’s the rules you have as a chef might not be the same as the rules the owner would like you to have. It is changing and I think young chefs today are becoming a little more business-like about their operations than they were even 10 years ago. I think everyone is very business savvy and business aware and a good chef is one who stays in business.

You travelled and worked a lot in Europe, is this something you think chefs need to do in order to learn and progress?

Listen, mono is not a word I like in my head, I‘m much more of a stereotype guy and you need to travel and constantly broaden your horizons. Culturally and for your repertoire of food ideas you need to learn from the masters around Europe and further afield. You should certainly look very closely at the Asian and Chinese because they have been doing some great food for many thousands of years.

CHICKEN & MUSHROOM PIE, SMOKED BACON, PEAS, GEM LEAVES

CHICKEN & MUSHROOM PIE, SMOKED

BACON, PEAS, GEM LEAVES

It’s probably a difficult question but what are your career highlights?

There are many I have to say but every decade has got its own highlight. In my twenties, I first came to London and I worked at the Oak Room. Then I moved on from there and worked in the Fulham Road restaurant where I got my first star, moved on to Lindsay House where I got another star – I’m not a one-decade flash in the pan. I’m not saying I go on and on like a never ending story but every decade brings its wonderful rewards and surprises.

What are your thoughts on the industry now and how has it changed in comparison to when you first stepped into a kitchen?

The industry has changed, I think there’s brighter, more intelligent, focused and more driven people in our profession now than there ever has been in anyone’s past. I think our industry is better and getting better again every decade. There are wonderful, articulate and bright people in hospitality these days that might have otherwise been working in the city but have decided they don’t want to be bored out of their numbskulls and made redundant at 35/40. They want to go and live life and there are a lot of people coming into the hospitality sector who are living it to the full.

What are your thoughts on the future of food and the industry?

I think we have crossed that great Rubicon of where we are and what we consume and the waste part of our lives. So the waste of energy, the waste of food, the excess. I think we are entering a much more holistic period and I think we are going to be much more careful on our nutritional content. I’ve certainly enjoyed food but I’m very thoughtful of my responsibilities to look after our guests. Not just wining and dining but the exactness of the food. I am from a farming back ground and you’re at one with nature from a very young age.

corrigan quote I’m not talking out of my rear-end when I say I have my whole horticultural operation grown for my restaurants, I own my own farm and my fruit orchards and I have four gardeners. Every Wednesday you’re outside of Bentley’s at 4.30am a van comes in, it’s not coming in from Mars, it’s coming in from my horticultural operation which supplies my restaurants. And it’s not full of micro greens and micro vegetables, it’s full of food to be turned into wonderful, tasty, gorgeous, beautiful dishes for the customers.

Did you always have an idea of the style of food you wanted to cook or did it take trial and error to get to a point where you were comfortable?

I was always about farm and countryside, it really has always given me my encouragement and inspiration.

Do you have a dish you always go back to? If yes does it continue to evolve or is it exactly as you want it now?

Oh god yeah, there’s a wonderful little organic gammon we do. I poach it and I do a warm Shallotte dressing and a little bit of truffle – it’s something I always stand back and look at and think ‘it gets better with age’.

You have won GBM and judged it, what are your thoughts on putting chefs on TV? Does it help or hinder you within the industry?

I never did TV until I was 40. I’m now 50 and I’m not too sure I’ll be doing any more. Life is a long, long road, a long path with many twists and turns and sometimes you get those early pats on the back and told how great you are and you are going to be a superstar; it does deform or disfigure the rest of your life. It’s better to wait and champion those moments that come around every decade. If you reach all your goals in your twenties, you’ll be a very bored person in your thirties, forties and fifties.

Corrigans Chef Plating 1 low res
Corrigans

Are there any young/up and coming chefs who have impressed you recently – your ones to watch?

I think the young chefs on Great British Menu are absolutely stonkingly brilliant, I really do! But I couldn’t point just one out. I think they have just got better. But I’m not going to pinpoint anyone I think there are many, many great individuals.

Does it make it harder to judge?

It does. It always happens that someone makes an error or burns something but stress brings out the worst in everyone, including myself.

You opened Bentley's in 2005, what was your vision for it and have you fulfilled that or is it completely different?

I’m the custodian of one of the great fish restaurants, as far as I’m concerned. We are an oyster bar serving British and Irish produce, and no one will ever look back in the future and say I’ve done a bad job. I’m very conscious of my responsibilities – it’s no more, no less than what I wanted it to be. It’s a wonderful, open, egotarian restaurant – not full of people turning their f**king heads, drinking quarter glasses of wine and throwing their food down the toilet. This is a real foodie place and I’m very proud of my staff and Bentley’s itself.

It will be its centenary next year, what have you got planned to celebrate?

We’ve got lots of things planned – we are going to have many oyster parties! I don’t need any excuse to have a party but next year is a great excuse. I’ve been involved in Bentley’s for over 30 years, I was the head chef and now I’m the owner and custodian of it. I feel my responsibilities are very evident, I like what we are and I’m very proud we’re celebrating the coastal waters and rivers around Britain and Ireland.

corrigan quote 4How different is it to go from being a head chef to then owning and running your own restaurant?

I think coming from a farming environment, you are brought up with responsibility very early in life. I’m not going to be too cocky but it was a natural course of events.

Is it worth the hard work and the hours?

I sometimes think you sacrifice and awful lot and you should be very careful what you do sacrifice.

Tell us about Virginia Park Lodge, it’s where you had your wedding reception – was it nostalgia that prompted you to buy it? 

The opportunity came up, I’ve always looked at the site and I knew the site very well. I thought this is a one-off chance and it might not come on the market again for another 40 years! I always wanted a horticultural operation and I have it now. We’ve refurbished, reshaped it, rebuilt it and we are now a business as well. I’m immensely proud of our achievements there.

How do you see the industry evolving in the future?

What’s happening in London is quite interesting. The rise and rise and rise of the massive restaurant companies of course is going to change the landscape in London. And it is already – all the key sites are being snapped up by them and I know because I’m often chasing and looking at some of them – and you haven’t a hope in hell! All empires fall so I’m not too concerned. There’s always a place in the market for a bit of brilliance, a bit of cock and bull, a bit of fun, good food and a lovely wine list.

There’s a lot of debate around kitchen culture and working hours, are kitchens nicer to work in now than when you started?

Listen, my kitchens are air conditioned! What more can I say? I’ve just put 1.5 million into my kitchens for my staff. I’ll sack a chef for cooking bad staff food, I’m a conscience employer and I don’t expect my staff to eat f**king bin food from anyone, I expect them to be cooked for with the same conscientiousness as customers and I get pretty pissed off if that’s not adhered to.  
 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th December 2015

Richard Corrigan, chef/owner, Corrigan Restaurants