Rupert Rowley Head Chef Fischers Baslow Derbyshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th June 2011

Rupert Rowley is the head chef of Fischer’s Baslow Hall, a Michelin starred country house hotel and restaurant in the village of Baslow, Derbyshire. Rupert has made a career of working at some of the finest two Michelin star and above restaurants in Britain. Rupert trained at Sheffield Catering College before starting his career at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxford. After this he worked with John Burton Race at the two Michelin starred L’Ortalan restaurant in Reading and then at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship 3 Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea before starting at Baslow Hall in 2002. In 2003 he was made head chef. Rupert’s food relies on seasonal British produce from local suppliers, some even as local as the Hall’s Kitchen Garden. He opened a sister restaurant, Rowley’s Restaurant and Bar, also in Baslow in 2006.

Let me start by asking you Rupert to talk us through your operation, number of covers, how long you've been here, how long you're open, restaurant, that type of thing.

Sure well I've been here now nine years.

Have you really?

I've been head chef now for eight years, I started in 2002, and in 2003 I was appointed the head chef taking over from Max(Fischer) who'd done it previously to that. Fischers its self has been open a long time. I couldn't tell you the exact number of years but I used to work for Max when I was 16 and I'm now 34 and they'd been going a good few years before then, of course its grown every year, bits change, obviously there's a lot of refurb and investment across all areas. We're open seven days a week. We close Monday lunchtimes which is quite nice you do the weekend and then Monday the guys get a bit of a lie in, come in later and tidy up, clean out the fridges and plan for the week ahead. In terms of covers the maximum number of covers we do is about 50. Sunday lunches, perhaps sneak up to 60 but it's about 50 I think that's a prefect number. It's an achievable number to achieve a high standard we're not trying to do too many and cram people in. Which is very much the Fischer's ways.

Rupert in the nine years that you've been here then how have you. and how has your food style evolved in that period of time?

I think where we are and where I've trained and where food is now it's quite a different thing because I trained classical French, very much with Asian influences but it was based very heavily around classical French cooking which I love even now having eaten, in my restaurant and hotels, still my favourite restaurants are the ones based around that food style. I still stick to that and it has changed of course. I think now I've come back round a little bit more and I'm a bit perhaps more classical, but with the modern techniques. I spent many years learning that style and getting bollocked for and told off, so it's very much a part of me. Jimmy my sous chef, has great ideas and Max is still very much involved in Fischer's running and menu's with me. So we'll do a dish and Max will offer his thoughts. We're quite free with what we do and I find it ever so difficult when people say, "What style of food is it? What do you do?" "Modern English, modern European," "

Rupert rather than giving us a food style because I know it's difficult to pigeonhole, what dish would you say best describes your cooking right now?

I've got a lamb dish I'm putting on tonight that we're going to do it's new season lamb, we've had it in a couple days now, we've had it marinating in some rosemary and garlic. It has got a bit sort of classical touch with that we've gone for a gratin dauphinoise  with a goat's cheese to change it slightly.

What part of the lamb are you using?

Best end, the rack but trimmed right back because, I got sick to death of serving lamb and people complaining that it's fatty, so we just go for that piece of meat, and the customers are happy. Personally I'd rather do something a little bit different but you have to bow to what the customers, and I think we're doing that. We'll cook the lamb sous vide and then sear it off for me this is the best way. I do love water bath cooking but you must caramelise it off. There's nothing worse than when chefs are poaching it in the bag and then serving it, this sort of insipid floppy piece of meat. Meat needs that caramelisation to give it the flavour. We're doing a very traditional lamb stew made with beef stock, chicken stock, rosemary and then we're going to do it with an aubergine purée, a little goat's cheese beignet, some sort of Provencal cherry tomatoes and some baby aubergines something along those lines.

Very nice.

And wild garlic which we've got growing in the woods here so we'll do maybe a purée or some leaves. That's a typical dish, we'll do here

Fantastic. Talk to us about your career journey then. You're a Sheffield lad, Sheffield College, no disrespect to Sheffield it's not the culinary capital of the world"

Not in the slightest ((laughs)).

"¦what makes a young lad from Sheffield suddenly say, "I'm going to be a chef and I want to be a Michelin star chef?

At school I could have done a lot better than I actually did if I'm honest.

I think that's very true of a lot of chefs isn't it Rupert?

I found things that I was interested in school, I liked technology I was good at it, then when I was 14 we had to do work experience. I had always enjoyed cooking at home, baking cakes, with my mum, I loved that, I really enjoyed doing stuff like that. A friend of my dad's said, "Why don't you go to a Trust House Forte Hotel in Sheffield," and I thought yeah let's do that. So I went there and I remember on the first day I had to pod a box of peas and I came home and my hands were hurting and I'd been doing it, from nine till four whatever it was I'd said"

Half a day ((laughs)).

Yeah, yes half a day ((laughs)) I'd said to my mum and dad, "I don't want to be a chef this is awful, this is ridiculous, I'm not doing this," and I said, "I'm not going back," and by day three I loved it, I loved the food side of it but the food there was nothing special, but I loved the kitchen, the guys in the kitchen, the way they worked, quite boisterous and it was great fun. That was when I decided I wanted to be a chef.

It's difficult to explain that sort of feeling there is in the kitchen but it's often quite a strong bond, there's a great sort of team ethic, even if people bang off each other, there's banter, there's a little bit of machoism"¦ Ribbing and"¦ Yeah absolutely.

So from there I went to Sheffield College which, is a great catering college. I was 16 and it got a little bit of confusing there at that point, and I think this is the problem with some colleges. I had  decent GCSEs, which meant I could do the BTec course. I wanted to be a chef I didn't want to be a manager, I wanted to cook. Luckily a friend of my dad's was a lecturer and they said, "No if you want to be a chef you want to do general catering course," which was restaurant and kitchen.

And it all sounds so unappetising as well doesn't it, general catering?

Yeah I'm sure some of the people on our course, it was either prison for them, or on the general catering course, if you know what I mean?

Or both perhaps!!! ((laughs)).

Probably both yes!!!. So off I did the general catering course, like all chefs I didn't want to do front of house but I understand why we had to do it now, it was explained to me and I loved that, I enjoyed college. I'm a big fan of colleges and Sheffield College was great' you went from school where you were treated like a kid to college where you were treated like an equal, like an adult, "If you're not bothered we're not bothered. If you're bothered you'll excel," and I loved it. We now have very close links with Sheffield. I've got some of my lads in the kitchen who I won't name some of them are college trained and some of them aren't, and for me the college trained and there's no comparison. The ones who have been to a good catering college have got a good basic knowledge of how to work, I think for young lads, ladies who want to be chefs catering college is the best place for them. I think it's a good grounding for becoming a chef.

Rupert from Sheffield to one of the best operations in the world, I don't know if you went straight from college t Le Manoir but how important, how big an influence was somewhere like Le Manoir in  your career because it is a culinary institution. If you look at the chefs that have come out of that operation it's just staggering. So how much did that shape your career?

I got that role through the college. It was one of the ties, I started the third year, and got a placement at Le Manoir, did three months there, and was offered a job. I came back to college said, "I'm leaving, I'm going to the Le Manoir," and they said, "Fine, great." So I never actually finished my third year at college. I just went straight to Le Manoir. And It was great, I loved it there. It was hard and the place was a madhouse at times in those days. You sort of think it'll all be all prime and proper and it wasn't.

It's evolved a lot Le Manoir.

Yes of course it has, when I was there the operation was too big for the kitchen but it was great, a magical place. At the time, there was a lot of young people working there. There was a good nightlife, a good social life between everyone. The food was great and the products you used were the best there is they never compromise. So I think once you've worked somewhere like Le Manoir, that's all you ever want to work with, it changes how you look at things

So it very much influenced you"¦ Yeah. But you have worked with some wonderful chefs and you mentioned Alan Murchison earlier, obviously the team at Le Manoir, who do you think if you could pick one person, has been your single biggest influence in your career to date?

Don't know just one"

Have you taken little bits from lots of people?

I've taken everything from all of them because, they've all got their qualities and they've all got their faults. I love working for Max Fischer now and I loved working for Max when I was at college, his infectious enthusiasm for all things catering, and to do with Fischer's he's still got the same enthusiasm now that he had when I was 16. So I think that is something that I love and even now Max, when we do a dish and he's, "Oh wow, da-da-da"¦" that's really, really great and he's a very unique. I've enjoyed working for all of them I did enjoy when I went to Royal Hospital Road I think that was a big eye opener.

When were you there?

I was there just after they got the third star, in 2000, yes and that was a bit of an eye opener from somebody who, and I'm not a big headed person, wen I say this, but I thought I was pretty good, and then I went there and I thought I could do long hours ((laughingly)) and then I went to Royal Hospital Road

Pretty hard.

Oh yeah, yes it was Hard!

So who was the senior team at Royal Hospital Road at the time?

Mark Askew was the head chef, Mark Sargeant was the sous

This would almost have been round about the Boiling Point.

Just after that. The guy on veg was Paul Ainsworth who's now at....

Number 6 in Padstow. Lovely guy Paul.

The other sous chef was, Glen Eriksson he went off to open New York, before that he worked for Pied a Terre, with Richard Neat. David Dempsey The poor guy who died, fell off the scaffolding I went for my trial day at Royal Hospital Road, because I was at the Red House then, I'd left L'Ortolan and done this sort of pub and"¦ John Burton Race did a consultancy for it and I was going to leave L'Ortolan and John had offered had said to, "Do you want to go and do this as head chef?" I was only 21 and I went off and did that and I did it for a year but I hated it, well I enjoyed it and then I hated it and If that makes any sense?. But it was The Red Hen that prompted me to go to Royal Hospital Road, because I thought, "˜I want to get back into that that level of cooking again.' I went on my trial day, I got there at half past six or seven o'clock in the morning and it was pissing it down with rain. It was pitch black and the kitchen was just as if it was"

Ten to twelve?

Yeah they were all flying, the pans were boiling and I was like, "˜F***king hell, how long have these been here?' and this was on a Monday morning.

Last question for you then you've been very successful to date. You've been here nine years now, you're still very young, 34 years old, no doubt ambitious, what does the future hold for you? Where do you want to be in five years time?

I don't have set goals of what I want to achieve. I think we're in difficult times at the moment. It's slightly different now, because I'm running Fischer's and running Rowleys . I'm just more focused on keeping the customer satisfaction, keeping the businesses going. Rowleys is now five years old. Maybe one day I'd like to do another Rowleys but it was never set out to be a chain, because I don't want that at all. I think each restaurant should be unique, and stand on its own and if I did I wouldn't copy it. It would be something different.

It always loses it when it rolls out

 Yeah I can't stand it. I think these restaurants that role them out with the same menu it doesn't work.

Because Derbyshire is completely different than Nottingham where I've just been it's a completely different market.

Totally isn't it.

It might only be an hour away but it's a completely different market.

So I think each restaurant has to be unique for its faults as well as its good points and that's what makes it what it is. So I don't know, just keep doing what we're doing really. I've got a young son now so that changes things a little bit.

I was going to say has that changed you?

Yeah it has a bit because I think that's important.

Work becomes less of a priority? Not less of a priority but it's not the number one priority any more.

No it's definitely not the number one.

You kind of balance things better I guess?

Yes and we want to have more children and so that's something that definitely would be in the next five years, within our personal life

It's important though to have a good and settled personal life"

Definitely yes

Too many chefs get divorced and end up drinking too much, end up doing things they shouldn't do.

My personal life outside of work I think is really important. I've got two dogs, cats, chickens at home, so my home life's quite important"

 It sounds like the Good Life.

Yeah it's not quite like that it's more like a zoo. I think that's really important to create a good life at home. My wife and I have Sundays off together, that's our day together as a family and then Tuesdays my wife works so Tuesdays I have my son so we go off for the day the two of us and that's great, he and I are really close so it works well.

Being career focused is hugely important and I think sometimes what happens with chefs is they become, too career focused it's their career beyond anything else because they're so dedicated to it and ultimately that often leads to ruin and you tend to find the ones that are more successful are the ones that actually have a more rounded life because happy in work happy out of work.

When I came to Fischers, obviously I'm quite a laid back kind of chap, some may disagree but when I worked at Royal Hospital Road it was savage there, and you come out of that, and it changes you slightly. I came to Fischers which is quite different mentality, and I soon learnt here you can't treat people like that. It doesn't work, that's not how it works and I'd be left on my own with no one. Fairly soon I realised the key is training and nurturing and looking after your team. All right you spend time with somebody, if they're still not going to get it you've done your bit but the key is bringing people on, development. Most of team, I've brought on. I've got Matt a lad who's worked for me and Tom who's my head chef at Rowleys have both worked for me, gone away, and they've now come back which is absolutely great. I've got a lad who's working for Marcus Waring at the moment. I've got another guy who used to work for me at Hibiscus and another guy who's just left L'Enclume and he's going to Jason Atherton, so looking after your team, and developing them, when they are with you, and when they leave is important, and Fischers has taught me that perhaps, and I hope that in the future they'll return.

Well listen it's been great to come and talk to you today Rupert, lovely to come to the Derbyshire dales and thank you very, very much. No thank you.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th June 2011

Rupert Rowley Head Chef Fischers Baslow Derbyshire