Paul Ainsworth, Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Padstow, Cornwall

The  Staff Canteen

Paul Ainsworth is the chef patron of Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, his Michelin-starred restaurant in Padstow.

Paul has worked for some of the top chefs this country has produced starting with Gary Rhodes at Rhodes in the Square, then Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road where he featured in the legendary fly-on-the-wall documentary, Boiling Point, and finally Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. He moved to Cornwall in 2006, opening Number 6 with two friends before going solo in 2009. In 2013 he won his first Michelin star.   Your father cooked traditional British food and your mother Creole influenced dishes; did that background influence your own cooking?

For what I lacked in romantic stories about being brought up surrounded by fresh produce, what I think helped me was that my mum and dad owned a ten-bedroom B&B and for breakfast lunch and dinner we sat round the table. Everything was home cooked; Monday to Thursday my dad cooked traditional British fare like shepherd’s pies and roast dinners and on the weekends my mum used to cook, which would be lots of fish, lots of rice and Creole cooking. I think those simple disciplines of being sat round the table and having a dad who cooked meant that I was extremely lucky. How have the chefs you’ve worked for influenced your cooking style? I think, first and foremost, out of all the chefs I worked for Gary Rhodes was really ahead of his time. What Gary was saying about absolute simplicity, great British produce, using local and all those things that just seem normal now – they weren’t normal back in those days. I think Gary was more than just a great chef; I think he was a little bit of an Escoffier of our times. With Gordon Ramsay it was absolute finesse and discipline. It was an all-round finishing school. I know people think Gordon is all about screaming and shouting but when I was working for him he showed me that by having absolute finesse you can get so much more from a dish. Marcus Wareing is just an incredible craftsman. From Marcus I learned absolute technique and working with him in the kitchen, he’s just a great man to watch. It wasn’t just the main names that influenced me though. It was their head chefs that I was mainly working with, people like Mark Askew who has to be one of the most incredible chefs I’ve seen and worked for. Also Darren Velvick was just incredible and taught me a great deal, especially about the man management side and how to get the best out of people. Sorry I have to ask you one question about Boiling Point; was it really as intense as that or was a certain amount for the cameras? That literally was a fly-on-the-wall documentary where what you saw was how it was. What you didn’t see is that of course they edit it down and you think people are in that environment all day long which you’re not. I remember when I was there that other chefs would say things like, “I wouldn’t take that shit; I wouldn’t put up with that; you’re just a muppet for being spoken to like that” but what they didn’t realise was that Gordon has to be one of the most generous people I’ve ever worked for. He had such a presence and you just idolised him; and whenever he really gave it to you, he always backed it up with why he’d done it. He’d never let you get onto that night bus feeling like shit; he’d always make sure that the next day you were pumped and ready to go again – that’s the only thing that documentary didn’t show. Gordon would give you anything; if you gave him one hundred per cent, he would give you everything he’d got. Did your own food style come into its own when you moved to Padstow? When I first came here I just brought what I was doing in London to Padstow. I didn’t understand the demographics of the area and I was just kind of blinded by fine dining – amuse bouches, canapés, pre-desserts and that kind of thing – the food was good but I was probably a bit too adventurous; I probably had one too many components on the plate and at the end of the day I was just 26 years old.

After three years the two guys I’d been working with decided to go their own way so I decided to take the business on myself and completely change the way we were doing things. It was right at the height of the recession and real dark times financially, but fortunately by changing the business and actually working with the times, that played a massive part in me using a lot more humble ingredients. I put a lunch menu on - £5 a course, three courses for £13.50; I completely stripped away amuse bouches, pre-desserts and canapés; I got rid of the tasting menu and just did one á la carte with six starters, six mains and six desserts, and this is still the exact ethos we’ve got now. I love turbot and John Dory and those kinds of things but they’re really expensive ingredients and I try to hit the middle ground; I try to cook absolutely amazing food but keep the price point down so that it’s not just focussed on a certain type of person. It must have been eye-opening, having come from London to suddenly have all this quality Cornish produce on your doorstep? Yes and what’s nice about Cornwall now is that, yes the first thing you associate Cornwall with is world-class fish and that hasn’t changed, but what we’ve also got now is world-class beef and lamb. Pork is really starting to come into it down here too. We’ve got brilliant vegetables and we’ve got an abundance of artisan suppliers as well.

Is it possible to pick out a couple of Cornish ingredients which are your particular favourites? I’d probably say Cornish lamb and Porthilly Oysters also the vegetables from Ross and Claire Geach from Padstow Kitchen Garden who grow a lot of vegetables for us. Do you see yourself always staying in Padstow? Yes I do see myself staying in Padstow. Sometimes it would be nice to be nearer London and sometimes you feel a bit out of the way, but I’ve got Nathan [Outlaw] and Rick [Stein] here as well which just goes to show what a brilliant area it is. I love Cornwall and hopefully one day I’ll start a family. Just living within walking distances from my businesses and not having to jump on a train or drive anywhere is just really attractive. I love London and I love visiting London but there’s so many restaurants and so much competition there so I don’t know if I would add anything to the London dining scene. I feel that I’ve got a lot to offer in this beautiful Cornish village which makes it more unique and more personal.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th June 2014

Paul Ainsworth, Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Padstow, Cornwall