André Garrett, now of his eponymous restaurant at Cliveden House, has developed a career at the top end of the restaurant world over a substantial period of time. Having worked with Nico Ladenis, Guy Savoy and the Galvin Borthers, André now finds his name above the door at one of the most iconic country house hotels in Britain. Here, André finds some time to chat to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place in the library at Cliveden in late December 2013.
Tell us some background about yourself?
I was born in Bath and as a young boy was fascinated by restaurants thanks to my grandmother running a local restaurant. My career in the kitchen started at the end of the 1980s, after qualifying from City of Bath College, I took a position as commis chef at Hunstrete House Hotel.
After three years, I decided to move to London and started working for Chef Nico (Ladenis). First as Commis Chef at Simply Nico, then Chef de Partie at Nico Central before the same at the three Michelin starred Chez Nico at ninety Park Lane (1992-1994). To further round my experience I spent two years with Bruno Loubet at Bistrot Bruno before returning to Nico (Ladenis) as head chef of Nico Central.
The next major step in my career was joining Chris Galvin at his Michelin starred restaurant Orrery in Marylebone. From 2000 to 2013, I was to hold various positions within the Galvin group of restaurants including, from 2002 to 2006 Head Chef at Orrery and from 2006 to 2013 as Head Chef at Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane. These restaurants respectively retained and gained a Michelin star.
I’m a firm believer in offering a helping hand to the next generation of chefs; to help them come through and develop their skills – I’m proud to be on the board of the Academy of Culinary Arts, having received a Master of the Culinary Arts (MCA) back in 2005.
Taking part in certain competitions has also sharpened my skills, broadened my horizons and provided a stimulus moving forward and I can see this will do the same for others: For example, winning the 2002 Roux Scholarship was a great honour and gave the opportunity, amongst many other things, to spend time in the kitchen of Guy Savoy in Paris. In addition, being selected to represent the UK in the 2007 Bocuse d’Or competition was important for development.
Having been a head chef in top end restaurants, I have realized the need to constantly evolve and develop skills and to that end completed a Level 5 Management and Leadership diploma.
So with this new opportunity ahead of me, at Cliveden House, I am thrilled to have my name above the door at such a prestigious venue and look forward to repaying the faith in me of those that have brought me here…
How would you describe your intended cuisine at Cliveden?
My goal is to create an iconic restaurant within this iconic property. We’ve opened in a positive way, having started with a strong classical base which marries my background perfectly with the style of the ‘house.’ For example, poached Dover sole Veronique is a classic with modern techniques applied to lighten and lift the dish. I look forward to the menu evolving over time and across the seasons.
What do you make of your new home at Cliveden?
A uniquely British, classic, iconic country house. The objective is to restore it to its full glory as one of the major destination hotels (and restaurants) in the country. The bricks and mortar alone are so full of history and character and I bet they might tell a story or two! To imagine this was once owned and lived in by a family (The Astors) is incredible. I actually filmed here for the Roux Scholarship programme that aired earlier this year and until that point hadn’t realised that this was actually Albert Roux’s first job in the UK working for the Astors!
Describe the menus currently on offer?
We have three menus – a competitive three course set lunch at £28, which shows value and choice with three alternatives on each course. We have an a la carte with six choices on starter, main and dessert at £65. We have an eight course tasting menu for £95. I’d like to see the tasting menu have strong sales – its not just a ‘greatest hits’ from the a la carte, there are four unique dishes on this menu so we want to encourage people to try this while at the same time having a breadth of alternative choices available.
What’s your kitchen management philosophy?
I think I have a strong will and strong mentality but at the same time I don’t like too much noise in the kitchen – the team should be quietly focused and determined at all times to get things done. I also like a sense of control, although this doesn’t always happen (smiling) – if there is some shouting its because something has gone wrong and I would say it would be the exception to the rule.
In general, my philosophy is that with the amount of hours we all put in, the chefs have to be enjoying what they are doing, not just to have a happy life, but to do their jobs well. That is so important in the context of understanding the responsibility of achieving excellence for the customers. Attention to detail, mentoring and training are all other key aspects of running a successful business and these apply equally in the professional kitchen.
In terms of developing the creativity of the team, this comes with responsibility. Over time, for example, the set lunch dishes may be opened up to sous chefs (and others) to create something within the parameters that I might set. So I might say, “these products are seasonal and a good price, I want ideas for dishes from you for this menu.”
Equally as time goes on and the team show me what they can do, some responsibility may cascade down in terms of the a la carte menu and so on. These are opportunities I never had early in my career, in the days when a young chef was just told what to do in a hierarchical set up. Having said that, there remains a hierarchical environment but one where responsibility and opportunity is cascaded down on merit.
What is the size of the brigade in the kitchen?
The brigade of chefs for the food operation of the hotel is 17 heads, which over time, will need to be nearer to 27. There’s a lot to do in a hotel; the pastry section alone is pretty much a twenty hour a day operation; The Cliveden Club is an all day dining facility which can get very busy at weekends; private dining, room service and main restaurant. I’m sure most chefs would say they need bigger teams (smiling).
André Garrett Restaurant and private dining has its own space and I’ve been fortunate with the space and layout of the kitchen.
How would you describe the front/back of house communication at Cliveden?
Logistically it is a challenge as the kitchen is downstairs and the main restaurant upstairs. Not a unique challenge as I’ve experienced it before in London kitchens. We’ve toyed with various ideas for systems to work out the best form of communication between kitchen and dining room: Intercoms, head pieces, video and so on. Realistically (and in keeping with the nature of the property), we are likely to have someone dedicated (a chef de passe) to providing the link.
What do you think of sites in the internet age like trip advisor?
First of all I think this type of site is here to stay, it’s a byproduct of the modern world where everything is immediate and interactive. Many years ago if someone didn’t like your restaurant they would probably go away and moan about it to their friends and family and maybe not come back. Now they vocalise this in a different way. Since Trip Advisor took steps to manage the site better (they had some bad press themselves), I think that you have to accept the feedback gracefully and take the rough with the smooth.
When you are on the right side of the feedback it is a powerful marketing tool for the restaurant. All things cannot be to the tastes of all people and accepting that is important. There is also the scope, when details of fact are mentioned, rather than matters of tastes, to have the opportunity to put in place changes for the better of your restaurant.
The web generally has definitely played a part is raising the profile of chefs and restaurants and must be a good thing.
What is your view of inspector led guides like Michelin?
An important benchmark of recognition in your career and as such of equal importance to chef and customer. I hold them in high regard, they remain anonymous (even if you get to recognise one or two of the top inspectors), they remain important, respectable and a gold standard, too.
The AA is also important: They have a number of great guides. The Good Food Guide is also impressive – the top 100 list has certainly given them a lift.
All of them are good for the trade.
Do you eat out? If so favourite places?
I was at the Green Man and French Horn last week – I love what all the Terroir group do, fairly simple, rustic but good honest food!
I’m actually amenable to all types of food – my girlfriend is Italian so we seek out the best in Italian cuisine, I also like Asian food.
I’m not just interested in eating in cities, as I’ve been impressed with everything from the pubs through the restaurants to hotels in this part of the country.
Which chefs do you most admire and why?
After the Roux Scholarship I had the privilege of spending some time learning at Guy Savoy which was inspirational. Alain Chapel and Michel Bras have also been inspirational on the French side of the channel.
In the UK Sat Bains, is a big inspiration for the way he deals with ingredients. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles as an original Roux Scholar and holder of two Michelin stars at an iconic property. Finally, Le Manoir for being an institution in what they do and having achieved that is something admired in the industry.
What are your ambitions for the future?
To get this restaurant strong and solid, performing well and getting all the necessary work done. Hopefully the André Garrett Restaurant and the hotel will evolve together to achieve all their joint objectives.