Steve Drake, Drake's, Ripley, Surrey

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th December 2011

'Protein-free' - excitement-packed!

We revisit Drake's after two years to discover vegetables could be the secret of Steve's continued success.

  Steve Drake: " "¦ there's nothing wrong with just having a pure vegetable dish." Steve Drake: ""¦ it frustrates me when I hear people say that Michelin star restaurants don't make any money. All my building work that I've done here I've done it through profit."   This month the chefs favourite website, The Staff Canteen, brings you Steven Drake from Drake's at Clock House, Ripley In Surrey. Steven, a Roux Scholarship winner in 2001, began his career under Keith Stanley at the Ritz Hotel London, his career progressed under Tom Aikens , Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre White and William Drabble. Steven was awarded his first Michelin Star in 2003 at Drakes on the Pond, Surrey.  After four years Steven and his wife, Serina, fulfilled their lifelong ambition and opened their own restaurant,  Drakes in Ripley, which in 2004 gained both a Star, and 3-AA rosettes in the first year and was voted Newcomer of the year in the good food guide. We first visited Steve in November 2009, and thought it was about time we went back to see how it's all been going ...   First and foremost Steve Drake thanks very much nice to see you again. Lots of changes here. Thank you nice to see you. Thank you, menu watch, how many menus do you run at Drakes? We've got a lunch menu, we've got an á la carte menu, we've got a vegetarian tasting menu and a tasting menu. Vegetarian seems to be quite a popular thing at the moment, quite on vogue now vegetarian menus. It is. Do you have to do it? Well the initial reason for doing it was it just made life easier but now since the last couple of years, I mean I like to eat healthy myself as well and to celebrate vegetables and I don't really like to call it a vegetarian menu, something like a protein-free menu or something like this is probably a better term for it these days because there's nothing wrong with just having a pure vegetable dish. Go to noma you can probably get about 20 of them. Exactly and I have to admit I was inspired a bit I went to the Mad Food Camp  and basically celebrating plants and vegetables and even on our nine course tasting menu I specifically have a vegetable course now which I only started doing this year. I think also for the ease of service, if we get guests coming and they say they're vegetarian we give them the vegetarian tasting menu and we say, "Well look you can have these ones as starters or these as a main course," if they want three courses, or they can have the whole shebang. So it just makes the operation easier really. I mean how often do you change the menus then? Seasonal? There's no such things as the spring, summer, autumn any more is there? No there isn't and I've always had this ambition, I've always said to myself in my head, "I'm going to change the menus every month,but it's really when it just comes naturally and as things come in and out of season, we've got venison just coming into season now and this is a great time of year, autumn. Do you change the whole menu Steve or do you just tweak dishes? So what constitutes a menu change? The lunch menu would be I would just try and change it completely because it's quite a small choice. So how many dishes are we talking about? Two starters, two mains and one pudding. So it's quite easy to do that. You get a lot of repeat business at lunchtime and the turnaround is normally every two weeks. When it comes to the tasting menu and the dinner menus it depends really if we feel inspired we'll change a whole new dish, new ingredients will come in if there's a season change or if something's going out of season we'll find a replacement and think that'll work well, find something better to go with it. I would say it's much more just really how it feels. There's not really a structured thing to it although I was just going to say that now the last couple of years I really log what I do week to week every year and I look back at what I did the year before. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that's really good personally. It is very good yeah. I know chefs say, "Oh I just like to be creative," but I think there's only so much you can do at times and there's nothing wrong with looking back at something and asking, "Well can we improve it or is it at a level where we're really confident with it?" and is that how you change? I'm looking at what we did last November and thinking, "˜Okay we did that dish, and there's a starting point,' and then from there "We don't want to do the same dish but what we want to do is we want to bring it on a level, bring it to another place so it's just a way of a bit of a memory jogger because if you wait til November things will be coming in and they're gone, before you know it the thing's out of season. Yeah absolutely. In terms of customer feedback how important is customer feedback to the way you structure your menu? For example if you do your all singing, all dancing dish but the clientele just don't like it for whatever reason do you drop it or do you persevere with it? I think that's probably one of the most difficult decisions to make. Absolutely because you're emotionally attached to it aren't you? Yeah absolutely and it think that's a very interesting question which nobody's ever asked me and it's something I think about quite a lot because at the end of the day"¦ Is it your job to educate or is it your job to listen? It's difficult isn't it? Exactly and for me you kind of want to show people your style, your way of doing things and sometimes people maybe won't understand, or people will even talk themselves out of a dish, we use vegetables on desserts and some of the older guests might go, "Oh my God that sounds terrible I don't want to go for that," where other people are saying, "Wow that sounds amazing," and some people will taste something who maybe aren't as open minded and won't be able to get their head around using parsnip as a dessert, but it's important that we persevere with what we want to do and be individuals. So I mean it's never happened but if we get that many negative comments about a dish I think it would be foolish not to look at it again and even if we decide yes we're going to keep it on. Now here we are at Drakes in Ripley lots of development, lots of changes, lots of investment, it's a business at the end of the day, how important is it to you to cost your menus, understand your GP and know that you're making money? My God I mean again that's incredibly important and it frustrates me when I hear people say that Michelin star restaurants don't make any money. All my building work that I've done here I've done it through profit. Fantastic. Because the last few years no one's been able to borrow any money, banks are a bit of a nightmare when it comes to that and we've done it through profit. It's taken me eight years to do the restaurant. It's cost me a lot of money but it looks amazing now. But it also proves as well doesn't it that you don't have to have chandeliers and chintzy this and chintzy that to have a star. Exactly. Absolutely it's all about individual style but just going back to the thing about costing is that what we all have to remember is that the only way I achieve any income is through the food that we serve and I've got a huge building here with maintenance costs which are astronomical and so if we get our figures wrong for one month we can't just say, "Oh sod that," as you say we are running a business so there's no difference, you can produce fantastic food and you can produce great figures as well and you need to. I think you have to. So what do you do? Do you cost each dish individually or do you look at a balance? Say if it's a tasting menu do you cost the tasting menu? I generally cost it across the board. To be honest I do a very unorthodox way of doing this and what I'll do is I'll look at what we spend for a month, I look at what my income was for a month and I'll take off what I need to take off, make allowances here and there and I'll basically work a GP out on the month and perhaps last month I spent a little bit too much, this month I just need to tweak it a little bit and so I'm generally always on track. I think from a creative point of view it can be stifling to say, "We can only spend £2.57," and if I say, "I want to use butternut squash rather than Jerusalem artichokes," and I say, "Well do you know what it's cost 10p more I can't do that," so I don't think that's the way forward. I think the way really to look at it is on an average and an overall. Because our menus aren't individually priced either, the dishes aren't individually priced so we can do that. You mentioned creativity there we're in autumn, lots of things happening now, game, mushrooms, all sorts of things but as a season and as a chef what's your favourite season and why? Well it is autumn. I think that summer season is great, I mean spring and autumn are the best seasons for me. Spring because after the winter things are coming alive again and every week you're getting something new coming through the door. Summer I find a bit tedious with the ingredients. It's just everything's peaking and there's so much going on and I think sometimes I don't know it's not a favourite time of year for me. You get to autumn and it kind of slows down a bit. You get the lovely autumnal colours, the autumnal flavours and the earthy flavours, things like Jerusalem artichoke, things like truffles of course, the mushrooms, as you say you've got your game. This is a fantastic time. Are you a feathered or a hoof man or both? Oh hoof really, well no I like both. I mean we use a lot of mallard at the moment, venison, I've got some lovely cured venison as a canapé at the moment which is fantastic, Douglas Fir and we're thinking about a partridge dish next week, pheasant and I think it's something you really need to exploit while it's in season because as we all know it's only around for a few more weeks literally. Does that make it more exciting though that the seasons are shorter so it makes you focus on what's seasonal? Oh it can be frustrating as well of course because dishes are always being tweaked and I think just the nature of creativity is you're probably never satisfied you're just thinking, "˜I don't know we can change that, we can do this,' or something's different and you have a new idea or we take something off the plate just to simplify it, to emphasise the other ingredients more and you're constantly doing that with the dishes and so the game season can be very frustrating because of that shortness but then in a way it's quite intense as well and that's why you log it and next year comes along, look up what did I do? Yeah that didn't work I remember that, that was rubbish. Absolutely well listen it's great to come and see you, great to see that there's reinvestment going into the business which obviously means that you're doing well and once again thank you very, very much for your time. Thank you.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th December 2011

Steve Drake, Drake's, Ripley, Surrey