Overall ranking: 78
Chef ranking: 11
Philip Howard is the head chef and co-owner (with Nigel Platts-Martin) of The Square, a modern French-style restaurant in London that holds two Michelin stars, three AA rosettes and an 8/10 rating in the Good Food Guide.
Howard, who is 38 this year, graduated from Kent University with a degree in microbiology and served his apprenticeship with Roux Restaurants.
After nine months, he asked for a job at Marco Pierre White’s Harvey’s restaurant in Wandsworth and became White’s chef de partie at the age of 23. But he was sacked after nine months just before his promotion to sous chef.
Howard became chef de partie at Conran’s Bibendum under Simon Hopkinson. After patching up his differences with White, he returned to Harvey’s for three months.
White introduced Howard to Nigel Platts-Martin (his partner in Harvey’s) who was planning a new restaurant in St James’s. As a result, Howard became head chef and co-owner of The Square when it opened in December 1991. It moved to its current site in Mayfair in February 1997.
What we think
Philip Howard has taken an unorthodox route to the top. When he became head chef of The Square at the age of 25, he had only been cooking for three years, had no formal catering education and had not even served as a sous chef. What he had was an understanding of food chemistry, a passion for cooking, and experience with some of London’s finest chefs.
Howard – who is known for his self-effacing, temperate and disciplined approach – says the early days were “madness”. He claims he had no particular vision, no management skills and an “out of control” kitchen. “My early menus were a bizarre mismatch of things, many of which I’d never cooked before,” he told Caterer in 1998. He would decide each morning what he would cook in the evening.
Nevertheless, The Square was voted Best Newcomer by Time Out in its first year and won its first Michelin star in 1994 and its second in 1998. Howard was the Catey Chef of the Year in 1998 and the Carlton London Restaurant Awards gave The Square an Award of Excellence in 1999 and its Best French Restaurant award in 2001.
The first Michelin star helped attract more chefs to the business – which had just six in its first 18 months – giving Howard more time to think more about his direction. Platts-Martin helped him see that consistency and continuity could be achieved by developing and perfecting a set menu.
Howard is respected as a thinker, as a thoughtful and thought-provoking mentor to his staff, and as an inspiration to young people to enter the industry. He is deeply involved in industry competitions and events.
As Shane Osborn, the Michelin-starred head chef of Pied a Terre puts it: “Phil is a brilliantly kind person. He nurtures talent, he listens to people, he asks his chefs de partie to come up with dishes. They might not make it onto the menu, but he encourages people to think about different ways of cooking.”
Howard opened two Jus sandwich and juice cafés in Carnaby Street and Covent Garden in 1999 in partnership with event caterer Julian Dyer. This year he opens another restaurant with Platts-Martin on the site of the Hartford Group’s former Dakota restaurant in Notting Hill.