In London with Chris Staines - Chef de Cuisine of Foliage, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I have been involved with kitchen work since I was at school. The first kitchen job I had was in Wales, then I moved on to Bath where I worked for two years. Then I decided I wanted to move down to London to work in a three Michelin star restaurant. I worked with Nico Ladenis for two years and then went on to Marco Pierre White's restaurant. During my time at Marco's he gave back his three stars, as he wanted to step out of working in a kitchen every day. In the proceeding year we reclaimed one star and then the next year we got our second. I held the position of head chef and Robert Reid was the executive chef. Reid is an excellent chef, I found him to be a very positive influence on my cooking- he helped me shape my food style…
Describe your food.
The food that I cook is French based and influenced by classical dishes, with a modern style. I aim to keep the flavours simple and allow the natural flavours shine through and compliment not conflict with the other components of the dish.
How conscious are you about using British produce and responsibly farmed and harvested meat and fish?
A large percentage of what we use is organic and the majority of our produce is grown in Britain. Obviously there are certain commodities - foie gras and truffles are good examples, which have to be brought in. I do pay attention to sustainable issues cod is an example of a fish that we do not serve due to its dwindling supply. I feel that it is important to be responsible and stay away from it and other items like it.
How did it feel to come and take over the established kitchen of Foliage and did it make you nervous that it had recently received its first Michelin star?
Initially it was intimidating for a few reasons; Hywel Jones (Chris's predecessor) is a fantastic chef so I had some big shoes to fill. The fact that the restaurant had just received its star meant that I had to hit the ground running. Additionally I have always worked in restaurants not hotels; hotels are not as straightforward to deal with. The intimidation soon subsided. Hywel and I worked together for ten weeks before he left to run his own restaurant, this made for a seamless transition. David Nicholls gave me the instruction to just run the kitchen and focus on the food. He takes care of the other issues that are part of hotel restaurant.
How much involvement does Nicholls have on Foliage?
He has a healthy involvement in the restaurant but does not interfere. Nicholls trust his people and lets them do their jobs has a very positive effect on the restaurant and as the Food and Beverage Director he is focused on ensuring we deliver the whole package - front and back.
Once you are firmly in place, do you plan on changing the food style of the restaurant?
No my focus will be on delivering the best food to our guests. Hywel and I have a scarily similar background and therefore we have a very similar food style, I will be building on what is already in place.
What about the future would you like to travel or is London home for you?
I love London and this is where I want to stay. In the past I had considered working in France, but I want to be part of the London food scene.
Who do you feel are the culinary names to watch out for in London?
Marcus Wearing is already part of the picture but will certainly become a bigger player; Robert Reid has got what it takes and Hywel Jones is nothing short of genius, we will be hearing a lot from him in time to come…