Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham Menu Watch

The  Staff Canteen

All photographs by kind permission of John Arandhara-Blackwell

Sat Bains started his career working for Mick Murphy, who he describes as an inspiration due to Murphy’s passion for food. In 1999 Sat won the Roux scholarship, run by the Roux brothers and their fathers, giving him the chance to work at Le Jardin des Sens, a three Michelin starred restaurant in France. On returning to England he became head chef at the Hotel des Clos, with was reopened as Restaurant Sat Bains in 2002. In 2003 the restaurant received its first Michelin star. Sat was also one of the winners on BBC2’s Great British Menu in 2007. Sat spoke to us about running a developmental kitchen.   Sat, first question, why a development kitchen? Why is it central to what you're trying to achieve at Restaurant Sat Bains? It's a business tool. I wanted to create an area that was separate to the kitchen. There are eight chefs here now at Restaurant Sat Bains, and the kitchen here is very confined, ultimately this allows us the freedom without the pressures of service to come up with the ideology and the germs of the ideas to move our food forward. We can work on dishes, perhaps where we need to add acid, and understand where it's going to be plotted in the menu. We can play with vinegars, something we've always done, but now without pressure of service, in almost a serene setting, well as much of a serene setting you can get with a motorway over your head and a pylon and gypsies living two or three metres away!!!! That's your USP Sat. It is actually yeah and I celebrate that and what's been great it's got this real calming feeling to it. We brought in a development chef, solely to look after that kitchen. We are in a recession so it was important, I had to work out could I generate an income. We've added in demos, we do lunch and dinner offering as well, which obviously gives you a return. That was my next question, is how do you justify the investment of £100,000, and measure the return on that? Well the way I look at it is there is a recession on as we all know and I've attacked it full on. But you're not going to increase your menu price by very much are you so where's the return? No way you wouldn't. We've allowed ourselves the creative freedom to have a development kitchen knowing how important it is to the evolution of the food here at the restaurant. What we've noticed is that our food has got stronger over the last six months because the more effort you put into the development stage, the better the return in productivity and also the actual physicality of the dish is more developed. Before you may do it in a rushed service, "Hey guys I've got a new dish try this." It may not be 100% but you'd normally go with it. That's how it worked for a long time and a lot of chefs do that. Don't get me wrong I know it's a luxury. Sat, there's going to be a lot of chefs say looking at Sat Bains, "Oh it's all right for him he's got a development kitchen no wonder he's got a star" Yes but I pay my wages, I pay the bills I'm not stupid, I'm not doing this just to be like the Fat Duck. The Fat Duck was so ahead of everyone, because they knew that research and development was important to what they did. It's also important for the restaurant here, because of the type of cuisine we do, is very simple in terms of it's modern British but I wanted to understand food and flavours and what happens to food on a level of a craftsman. So if I want to work on something like an aerated sponge that's going to be cooked at low temperatures like meringue, how can we get meringue with less sugar in? Well you can use less sugar but you can cook it at a lower temperature like 60 degrees and it becomes like powder. When you put it in your mouth it explodes, rather than there's something to chew on. This is what it's allowed us to do. There's no pressure to get the food out on time. You haven't got those restrains. What you have got is a freedom to experiment and that's the onus, the research and development. Sat talk us through the idea process then. How does an idea formulate? I've seen some of the, in the nicest possible way, scribbles on Twitter. Well they are scribbles. So does it start as a picture in your mind or do you start with the flavour or how do you start? It starts off as both so you could have an idea, we do a chocolate dish that's very rich but very small, that started because we were brainstorming me John and Nanna , we wanted something with very high lactic acid, like yogurt, to work with something savoury like chocolate. We emphasise the savouriness with cumin, from that brainstorm is the conclusion of what the dish it is today. I'll wake up in the morning, or I can be anywhere, have an idea, jot it down quickly, go straight to work, tell Nanna that I want duck skin, and try different variations. Perhaps give it a crackling, now Nanna will have the time to then work on the idea. We have a tasting. The dish is either accepted or needs tweaking, the thing is we have the time now, whereas before it would be 80% complete, and the dish would go on the menu, now if it's not right we don't do it. So surely that brings structure and stability?

  Sat without being negative then what's the failure rate of dishes that don't make it to the menu? None. There's no failure the reason is it's an evolution so it's fine. Whereas in a busy restaurant scenario if something didn't work it doesn't get in. Here, that didn't work, so let's treat that. We're looking at it from several angles, also we're dictated a lot by the weather and seasonality so there's only a small window sometimes, we can only play on certain items for a very short period of time and that could be pannacotta, one dish we do which is the NG 7 which is the dish with a everything foraged, from within our post code a Fuck you dish, and the reason I say that is because of the location I want to use it to my advantage. Seven minutes and that's the first time you've sworn!!!! (Laughs) We are in a unique location; I don't want to be looking at it from a negative point I want to celebrate that. We have got wild produce, on the banks of the Trent, and what's incredible is that there is an edible dish now on the menu, and it's solely from the postcode of the restaurant, I'm not kidding, that could be used anywhere, any postcode of any restaurant. Foraging we all know is the in word of the moment, we're not fucking Noma. We use elements of the foraging because Nanna is a forager as well, but we use them in the way that helps enhance. I don't want the menu to be all fucking hickory and everything's picked from the fucking local garden and we're jumping in the river with waders trying to get bulrushes.  love the idea of wild food, our location has dictated the food not people, what's great about what the Nordic cuisine has done it's made everyone look at more natural flavours and a more natural way, and what's great is having a development kitchen which will look at flavours in more purity, so there's a lot less manipulation over the last three or four years of ingredients. So we try not to put too much technique that's going to destroy the original structure of the dish. You want to ultimately still taste duck and still look like duck. I don't want an airing that tastes like duck. It's the food that's important. Sat you mentioned Noma and foraging and I know you're friends with René and you do embrace a natural cuisine, Simon (Rogan) does as well do you not think you as a leading chef have a responsibility to educate, because, people will look up to you and they will try and emulate even copy what you do and maybe without the knowledge, is there a danger that we're going to find people picking and eating things that they just don't understand? No the rule of thumb is if you see a tampax leave it on the floor. ((laughs)) No in all seriousness if it means you're getting back to nature and you're physically looking at flowers and then looking to see if they are edible and then to see what gastronomic value they have to your cuisine, surely that's a positive. It is but what I'm saying is there is stuff out there in the world that you shouldn't eat. But then again you only use people that are reputable. We use Miles Irving and Nanna's a top trained forager from her upbringing in Denmark in the countryside. This is not something that we just said, "Hey let's go and do that." No, no that's not what I'm saying what I'm saying is other people will copy"¦ People will because it's something you find. It's like the Fat Duck and their food style. Everybody got like foams and jellies and we were looking to stay away from all of that, I went to El Bulli and it was fantastic but I left it there. I liked the idea and techniques a lot of which are now used in modern kitchens, have stemmed from Ferran Adria's pioneering cuisine. You can't deny that, he was and he still is probably one of the greatest chefs that have ever lived but you take what you can to make your cuisine better. So you still have to have your own identity, but from the emulation point of view, is you have to know your subject! So my advice is don't pick anything that you're not sure of get out there, get a book, get the resources, speak to people like Miles who's always at the end of the phone, speak to the forager, speak to the guys who are experts in their field and be careful. Pick things you know like elderflower, elderberries,.. So you've got to be careful. And we also make Nanna taste it first if she's not sure, and guess what she keeps fucking coming back to work. ((laughs)) In terms of Nanna your Development Chef, do you task her with producing so many new dishes a month, so many new concepts or is it an organic process? It is. it's natural. I don't want it to be that structured because, for example, Alexanders? Alexanders and lovage go really well together but lovage is very strong and the garden's full of it. So we use one leaf, dip it into an emulsion for three minutes, take it out and it tastes of pure lovage, you've got the lovely egg that when you crack it, it goes creamy, it binds everything together to give you a viscous dish that's light, fresh, and full of spring, using this tasting menu format we offer smaller dishes, which give you bigger hits whereas if we're actually á la carte there will be a case where we can only have so much of that because it would simply get overpowering. What would be the main goal for the development kitchen to achieve? What's been the main driver behind it? Is it consistency, is it development, is it change of food style or is it all of those things? For me it's another arm to the restaurant where we are allowed to develop without the restraints or the pressure of the business by also allowing it to be self-generating through the tables we do for lunch and dinner, it looks after itself number one, but also it's ultimately about evolution of I want the restaurant to stand alone as a"¦

When you say evolution of the cuisine are you driving accolades behind that?"¦ No just flavour. It's flavour driven. The development kitchen is flavour driven. Accolades will come and go and that's very fickle. What we're hoping for inevitably is the passion and desire to give us something very taste defining. So taste and flavour are the driving forces behind that development kitchen because I know that if something's not right and doesn't give me an amazing hit of flavour then it's not right there. So what can customers expect from Restaurant Sat Bains, then is new innovative dishes that are tried and tested, albeit they're always changing dishes on the menu. Yes and what's great is that you can change a dish by just changing all the main ingredients but still keep the garnish similar in makeup, so you end up with a big umbrella of different variables that can fit with several different types of say protein The development kitchen itself has its own blog, which is on the website. It's our experiments so we've got about eight or nine experiments on there and all the mistakes, everything that we've done, People say "You're mad giving all your ideas away," and I say, "No I'm not I'm sharing," because if I put down there perhaps lovage caramel, as something to try we may use it now but someone might want to have an idea and surely sharing is more positive than keeping"¦ Chefs don't usually share their recipes do they? No and I'm a massive believer and I've said many times now, if you give everything you know away, it'll come back twice and I believe that philosophy chefs are now more open, That's what it's through Nanna and the website we are sharing that information, and someone might write and say, "Sat I've tried it with this and it worked better try it." Right you're sharing, you're having a dialogue. Surely by sharing it doesn't matter if it's a commis chef, if it's a sous chef from a Michelin three star it doesn't matter it's about food, surely it's about sharing. Surely it's about making the industry richer, not by me, just by the ethos of sharing. Someone can ring up tomorrow, or drop us an email and say, "Sat," or John, or Derek, whoever's in the kitchen, "Listen guys we tried that dish, and the protein cooked at this temperature or this way, cooked better,," well try it because surely it's going to make it more richer in education and also in the craft in the kitchen. Well thank you very much it's been great talking to you. Not at all. Listen that was great. 

>>> Related: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? (part 3)

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th June 2011

Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham Menu Watch