Richard Davies The Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2012
Richard Davies is the Michelin starred Executive Chef of the Bybrook, the restaurant of The Manor House, a country house hotel and golf club located in Castle Combe, Wiltshire. The restaurant takes its name from the river that runs through the hotel grounds. Many of the ingredients used in the restaurant’s food come from the restaurant’s vegetable patch and kitchen garden and other ingredients are locally sourced. Before joining The Manor House, Richard achieved a Michelin star while working at the Sawyards restaurant in Storrington. His CV of Michelin starred restaurants also includes The Vineyard at Stockcross in Newbury and the three starred Gordon Ramsay. He appeared on the BBC Two show Great British menu in 2010. Richard started working as a chef at 15, during his summer holidays. Work experience followed after Richard told his headmaster what he’d rather be doing than school. The Bybrook was awarded a Michelin star in 2009 which it has retained ever since.   Richard Davies four years here at the Manor House Castle Combe, great success in that time, talk us through how you, your role and the Manor House have evolved in those four years? I think we have changed quite considerably over the last four years, certainly since I started, we've had three general managers, and I think the change has been good, it’s been successful and it’s been good for the business, one of the general managers was just on a temporary basis so it’s not  that we've had instability across the hotel. I came to the Manor House to work for Paul Thompson, a great manager, it’s a stunning property, and it was Paul and his vision that attracted me to the hotel in the first instance. But we have moved on to a new chapter with Stephen Browning, and he has made a massive impact on not just the hotel, but also me and the way I approach my role. I think from an outside point of view, Exclusive Hotels, to me have really sort of pushed themselves forward in all their properties. There’s been a lot of investment over the last few years in bedrooms, we're always getting really great feedback on our bathrooms, I think the bathrooms is one of the biggest areas that they focus on, they’ve all got amazing showers and TVs in the walls because when you go away to a hotel what you’re looking for, you’re looking for a great bed, we've got a pillow menu that people can choose what type of pillow they want, from what type of feathers go in it, what scent goes on the pillows, what fibre’s. It’s endless and the bathrooms, people don’t want a crappy shower that you can have at home, you want something that's, special. I think the Manor House was always stunningly beautiful, tucked away but never really matured into its full potential would that be fair. Absolutely, I'd agree. I stopped on the driveway to take some pictures on my interview, and I've never done that anywhere where I've gone to work, I've been lucky to have gone across the world to see some beautiful places and I've never really been taken back like I had here and I just wanted to produce food that lived up to that expectation and married the surroundings. So what’s the food journey you've been on in the last four years then? Well when I started it was very simple, very safe…I didn’t bring anyone with me, I worked with the team that was here and what I wanted to build was a really consistent product, if it was consistently simple then so be it but I started at the bottom and I think we're in a position now where we are starting to evolve the product and introduce new technique. This is a seven day operation, we turnover £1.4 million a year just on food at the hotel, that's excluding the golf club. It’s breakfast, it’s lunch, its afternoon tea, we cater for the corporate market, working lunches, weddings and it’s all from the one kitchen predominantly. Two things on that it’s very interesting what you said there about starting simple, lots of chefs come into an operation and they want to impress straightaway and they want to do all singing all dancing, whistles, bells, flares, I think what you said makes complete sense, if you can’t be consistent there's no point in having your all whistles and all bells great on one day and then the next day being a total car crash. I've seen it done so many times, a new head chef coming in and trying to change everything like a bull in a china shop and everything is just a complete mess and what I did was settlement myself in and let everyone just carry on. I cooked David Campbell’s menu for about two months with very minor changes. I might change the way in which something was made but predominantly the menu was the same. I’m sure people were looking at me thinking, well what’s he bringing to the table then? But it all came slowly. I changed three of the starters and then another three … But it’s also good that you have the support from the management to allow you to do that because sometimes there's expectancy from them that you have to change everything. And I think that's the best part about this group as well is that Danny is so food led. He's very food focused isn’t he? He wanted to be a chef and I think it was his dad Giuseppe that talked him out of that. I think that's why you’re seeing so many of your hotels with stars because they’re employing that type of chef. Yeah and it’s no coincidence that Matt Gillan’s got a star down there and Michael Wignall's doing wonders at Pennyhill and we've got the star, it’s because that's the philosophy of the company and that's the vision that attracted us to the company. Michael was brought in to Pennyhill to achieve what he's achieving, nothing more, nothing less and that's why he's there and Danny’s given us all the support that we need to achieve these things. Richard you mention breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, you mentioned Michael there who’s been hugely successful at Pennyhill, Michael’s there looking after the restaurant you’re looking after the hotel, you've pretty much got a restaurant background, predominantly, how did you adapt to all of those other areas? I was very fortunate coming into the Manor House where it had a really good team in place. I had a senior sous chef, Ted he’d been here for years and also Tom who became my senior sous; he'd been here a couple of year’s. So they really knew the business inside out. They knew about where all the function sheets came from and how to get them off the computers and they really showed me behind the scenes. I think it was the support that I had from them that really helped me to bed in and now I know this place inside out, upside down, back to front How do you keep yourself motivated now? You've been very successful you've been here four years you've got a good team in place; you've got a star, what makes you get up in the morning? I like to pride myself first and foremost on the team I have got a fantastic team here and it ranks amongst the best that I've ever worked with and I'm not just saying that because you’re recording this, they really are good…. So you take pride in the fact that you’re building a team and you’re investing in them? I don’t want people coming to me saying that they’re going to work in a two rosette pub down the road as a sous chef, they’ve been here, done two years as demi or CDP and they're going to be a sous chef, I want them to be going, “Right Chef I've got a job at Marcus Wareing,” or, “I've got a job at the Hand and Flowers,” So they’re actually progressing. I want people to be going on to bigger and better things and it’s all about inspiring people. I'm very much hands on; I'm always in the kitchen day in day out. Sometimes a bit too much to be managing all the health and safety, the food safety, the purchase ordering system, the clocking in, clocking out I'm surprised you find time to cook!!!!! I know. I was running a section for three days a week, when we were a bit short or we’ve got people on holidays, I'm not in the office and looking out and overseeing everyone. So that gives me the motivation. I'm hands on and that's my favourite part of the job is being in there and to make that transition to a real executive chef I think I will struggle with Is that the end goal for you then? This leads onto my last question, you've been very successful, we've seen you on GBM, it’s no secret now it’s out, you’re going to be doing GBM again, you've got a star as I've mentioned before where is Richard Davies going to be, very selfishly, in four or five years time? I would still like to develop the product here. I want the fourth rosette, why can't we achieve two stars here? The property is beautiful, the area is beautiful. We've got great suppliers, great produce, and a great team. The Vineyard was a very similar size, 50 bedroom, weddings for 100, so it can be done. People came here, everyone told me when I came here, “You'll never get a star at the Manor it’s too big,” and it’s a load of bo**** .One of my inner motto’s if you like is that unless you set a goal then you'll never achieve it. Yeah you need goals. You have to set a goal and then I think that gives you a target to work to that it can be achieved. If you’d asked me two years ago where I thought I'd be in sort of five years time I would have probably said my own restaurant, possibly in Cardiff, the only capital city I think in Europe to not have a Michelin star I think having roots is very important; knowing where you come from is I think really patriotic. But I really do feel like an honorary Wiltshire citizen now and I love the area, I live in Chippenham which is ten minutes up the road, it’s not the most exciting of places but we're right in the middle of Bath, Bristol, Swindon, an hour and a half out of London we've got everything here. And if you want to go back to Wales it’s not far at all is it? Exactly, so I really do like the area I think there are some beautiful towns and villages around and who knows why not try and build something around here. We're starting to build a good reputation here and using that reputation to do something for myself why not. Well listen thank you very, very much, it’s great to come down and see you I really, really appreciate your time. Thank you. Cheers.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2012

Richard Davies The Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe