Like Rick and Jill Stein before them, Paul and Emma Ainsworth are putting their own culinary stamp on Cornwall by surrounding themselves with strong businesses – and with plans for more. Amanda Afiya talks to them both
In 2000, The Caterer interviewed Rick Stein in Padstow. Rick was at the height of his television career and he couldn’t cross the road without being mobbed. This went some way to explaining why this Cornish holiday destination – with a population of less than 3,000, but a tourist season to die for – had been cheekily renamed Padstein. I couldn’t imagine anyone having the temerity to challenge Rick’s throne – not in this town anyway.
But in the most charming and self-effacing way, Paul and Emma Ainsworth are managing to do just that. Together, the pair are gently putting their own stamp on Padstow, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Steins, and with their absolute blessing.
Paul and Emma’s journey to respected restaurant and hotel operators, employing a workforce of 68, is quite simply the stuff of dreams. But it could have been so different.
Single, and at something of a crossroads, Paul arrived in Padstow in 2005 after a colleague offered him the chance to become head chef at a restaurant his dad had acquired, No 6.
The professional gamble paid off and today Paul and Emma operate one of the most revered restaurants in the UK, Rojano’s in the Square, which turns over more than 10,000 covers a month in high season, and their first foray into bedrooms, the beautifully appointed Padstow Townhouse.
The early years
Both originally from Southampton, the pair met in 2000 when Emma was just 16 and Paul was 20. Emma was training to become a hairdresser, and Paul had recently secured himself a job at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant in Royal Hospital Road.
The couple began to court and they met up at weekends as Paul was based in London and Emma was completing her apprenticeship in Southampton. Emma says: “During the first year of our relationship, the restaurant won three Michelin stars and Gordon became this huge figure – everyone was excited that my boyfriend was working for Gordon Ramsay.”
While they worked hard to maintain their long-distance relationship for three years, bubbling away underneath was Paul’s burning career ambitions. “From the moment I met Emma, I said to her: ‘You have to understand, I’m not like the rest of the guys, I haven’t got a normal job – my career is number one’.”
“He was incredibly driven and it was never about money,” interjects Emma. “Everything was about what he did and what he was learning. I tried to understand, but I would ask: ‘Why do you go to work so early and finish so late when you don’t even do breakfast there?’.”
When Paul went to work for Marcus Wareing as junior sous chef at Pétrus, he didn’t get weekends off any more. The relationship came under pressure. Emma would head to London to meet Paul after service, but he was living in a grotty bedsit – “Just a place to put my head down” – and Emma would find herself alone.
“Then, one Sunday, Paul came around and was very quiet. He said he still loved me but he couldn’t carry on; he had to concentrate on his career. And I was broken.”
Emma had qualified as a hairdresser, but devastated by the break-up, she was desperate to spread her wings and applied to Virgin Atlantic to be a flight attendant. “Although Paul broke my heart, he inspired me. I thought, he’s doing something for himself. As much as I loved what I was doing, I would look out the window and think, ‘There’s so much more out there. I don’t want to be one of those people who never leaves Southampton’.”
And she was off – first to Johannesburg, then Washington, New York, Jamaica, Las Vegas, India, Africa…
Meanwhile, Paul had spent six years working for Wareing and Ramsay. “At the time, Gordon was rolling restaurants out – Claridge’s, the Connaught, the Savoy. I didn’t want to be a head chef in one of those restaurants, with the greatest respect. I wanted to do it how Gordon had done it. I didn’t want to walk into a million-pound dining room with the best kitchen. I had this desire to struggle – to be part of the journey, working with shit equipment. I wanted to say I did it from scratch.”
Working at the Berkeley, Paul was talking to one of the concierges who asked if he knew anyone looking to set up a restaurant in Chislehurst in Kent. “And I said, ‘yeah, me’. He wasn’t expecting me to say that as senior sous chef, but, long story short, I left.”
Paul and fellow chefs David Boulton and Chris Mapp moved to Metz with Paul’s girlfriend, Molly Christianson (all formerly of the Gordon Ramsay Group). “The owners invested what they could,” says Paul, “I liked that. We went to a knackers’ yard and bought two Falcon Dominator stoves that were on bricks, and set up the dining room by shopping at Ikea. We worked six days a week, but I quickly realised I wasn’t going anywhere. All I cared about was showing Gordon and Marcus that I could win a Michelin star, but it wasn’t going to happen there. It was a party place.
“I ate at Chapter One [in nearby Locks- bottom] quite a lot and I thought, we’re not getting this clientele. We were getting the 20-somethings in Lamborghinis. And this is where Padstow began.”
Paul thanked his fellow chefs for supporting him at Metz, but it wasn’t for him. “At the time, I was honestly thinking Gordon and Marcus were right – there’s no life after Ramsay Street. And Chris, who was on pastry, said: ‘Before we part ways, my dad is thinking of buying me a restaurant in Padstow. I don’t want to split up with you boys, I’ve really enjoyed working with you, will you meet my dad?’”
It could have been a dead-end opportunity, but Mapp’s father was a revered businessman and he presented Paul with the perfect platform. “He told us about himself and what he did, and I realised just how connected he was to the industry. Derek was managing director for Mansfield Brewery and then went on to create pub chain Tom Cobleigh. Within seven or eight years they rolled it out to more than 60 pubs, pubs with rooms and hotels all around the country. He sold out to Rank [ for £114m] and that’s when he made his first serious wealth. When he made his money, he invested in property and he and his family used to come down to Padstow to their holiday homes.”
While the Padstein effect had already taken grip, Paul says it was still pre- Padstow “going utterly bananas”. “It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that Padstow has entered into its own microclimate, economically.
“Derek and Chris were actually going to buy No 6 and mothball it. Chris was going to travel around France to learn his craft, but he said, ‘I can learn from Paul – why don’t we do this together?’ That’s how it started. A brilliant opportunity to be head chef and have professional support.”
Mapp went into pastry and Paul and Boulton covered the main kitchen, while Christianson looked after front of house. With hindsight Paul felt he got the food wrong in the beginning. “I found that I had understood the demographic better in Chislehurst than in Padstow.
Seeing the obvious wealth in the area, I started cooking the food I cooked with Ramsay and Wareing. But I believe that mistakes shape you, and I realised and appreciated what I was creating with the guys. Derek had said: ‘Whatever we make, we’ll split it five ways between all of us’. Obviously, we didn’t make anything, but we were becoming a destination for people who were into food. We were only going to be busy in summer, but I was going to be alienating the local people – and we needed those people. When everyone goes back to London or back up country, you need the local people on your side from November to March.”
Within the three years, the original No 6 team had started to fall apart. “Molly and I split up and she moved back to Denmark. David was a proper London boy and found Padstow claustrophobic. Chris went through a breakup and moved on.”
Then one day, Paul popped into White Stuff, next door to No 6, and heard a voice say: “Paul, Paul Ainsworth?”. It was Emma’s old hairdressing boss from Southampton.
By now, Emma had left her role at Virgin and was working in customer escalations for British Gas. Emma recalls: “I was still in touch with Sharon and she phoned me and said ‘Emma – I bumped into Paul and he gave me his number on a card to give you. I’ve not known whether to give it to you – I don’t want you to get hurt’.”
This chance meeting resulted in the pair getting back together and Emma relocated to Padstow.
In the intervening years, the pair have built up an empire of which to be proud. It would have been easy to focus on No 6, but in 2010 the couple acquired Rojano’s, an Italian restaurant in partnership with Derek Mapp (now non-executive chairman of Mitie), which in turn enabled them to buy and renovate the Padstow Townhouse.
Earlier this year, Paul and Emma completed a £600,000 refurbishment of No 6, which saw the installation of Cici’s Bar (named after their daughter), while Rojano’s has had a £70,000 glass extension allowing a further 24 seats.
Their strategy is clear – to absolutely cement their place in Padstow. “Hand on heart, Emma and I want to make this Fortress Padstow.
“Unless it was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down, I don’t want to go to London, if I can help it. I don’t want to go overseas, and I don’t want to roll things out. I want to try and create a collection of businesses that are sustainable in Padstow. The only way I can do that is with a business like Rojano’s that generates proper profit, proper cash.
“I was quite young when we got involved with Rojano’s. I remember Michael Caines saying to me early on: ‘As a chef who cooks fine dining, how do you diversify into something like a business like Rojano’s?’
“Trust me, we’re eight years into Rojano’s and there have been times where I’ve wanted to sell. But now, I really understand. No 6 will always be the signature restaurant, No 6 will be where I am based every day, but Rojano’s is the kind of place where I love to be on my days off. I’m really, really proud that I never tried to change it or take it down a fine-dining road. Now we’ve got a point where we have got one hell of a business there – and a real moneymaking business at that.”
Rojano’s is exposed to the same work ethic as No 6, and the same suppliers. “I think there are so many chefs who would not even dare to go near a business like that if they’ve got a Michelin star. But I’m so proud of it and the people who have eaten there. They love sitting on the balcony and digging into the charcuterie. Although it’s big numbers, it’s still sourdough-based pizza, it’s still proper buffalo mozzarella.
“If I do another set of bedrooms, the money comes from Rojano’s. If I pay my mortgage off and own our house, that will have come from Rojano’s. As a business, it’s phenomenal.”
The new year will see further development as Paul and Emma plan to buy No 6 and extend into the building next to it to create an upstairs cookery school-cum- chef’s table.
Based around the talents of No 6 chef de cuisine John Walton, and senior sous chef Chris McClurg, Paul and Emma have created a multifaceted concept to inspire their guests.
“Chris has been with me coming up to eight years, and John has been with us since day one. John’s just had a baby girl and it’s time for him to have another role and for Chris to step up and become chef de cuisine.
“That’s a serious thing – that’s a phone call to Michelin to tell them, of course. They know everyone at No 6 and they know John has been the talisman and my chef de cuisine here. But that person’s now going to be Chris.”
During the day, ‘the Sandpit’ will operate as an intimate cookery school, playing to Walton’s skillset as a “humble, down-to-earth man and a brilliant teacher,” says Paul. But it will also give the team the opportunity to do some development work. “I’ve got ideas constantly that I don’t have time to work on because when we’re not in service, we’re prepping and when we’re prepping, we’re in service.”
Then, in the evening, the Sandpit will revert to a nine-seat chef’s table. The space, situated on the first floor of the building next to No 6, with its own street access, will be decorated by Eve Cullen-Cornes, who designed the interiors for Padstow Townhouse and No 6 itself, and Emma, whose time with Virgin left her with an excellent eye for detail.
And by 2022 Paul and Emma hope to own everything that they run in Padstow.
“I don’t want to be a consultant or a chef name in a hotel, I want the bricks and mortar,” says Paul. “That is why, when I do telly, I do enjoy it, but we’re in the town of Rick and it’s to make people know about us and for us to generate business.
“I’m so passionate about what I do but I’m not a chef that’s just about the art, just about the cooking – I enjoy the business side of it. I know that I want to remain true to myself and always make sure that in all of our businesses, people are blown away.”
Paul Ainsworth’s culinary career
With parents who ran a busy guest house in Southampton, Paul had a strong work ethic instilled in him. By the age of 12 he had four part-time jobs. He went on to study catering and hospitality at Southampton City College and worked at the Star hotel in Southampton and Careys Manor in the New Forest.
When Paul graduated, his tutor, the late Martin Nash, introduced him to Gary Rhodes, and from 1998 to 2000 he worked at Rhodes in the Square in Pimlico, London.
“For me, he was so far ahead of his time. There are not many chefs who invent something, but Gary would look at something such as bread and butter pudding and think, ‘That’s not the way to do it’. He was making humble dishes great again.”
At the turn of the millennium, Paul moved to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where he worked for three years. “All I cared about was being successful. Gordon was the epitome of that. He took me under his wing. I idolised him.”
In 2003, Paul went to work for Marcus Wareing at Pétrus in St James’s and then moved with Wareing to the Berkeley when it relocated. After six years with Gordon Ramsay, Paul moved to Padstow to head up the kitchens of No 6. Three years later, Paul and his wife Emma took over and relaunched it as Paul Ainsworth at No 6. In 2010, they acquired family favourite Rojano’s, which was originally opened in 1974 by local businessman Stanley Rojano. With a nod to Paul’s time at Rhodes in the Square, they renamed it Rojano’s in the Square.
Paul appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu, winning the south west regional heat, and serving his dessert at the final banquet at Leadenhall Market, London. Paul has only recently been able to take his award-winning dish – A Taste of the
Fairground – off the menu.
In 2015, Paul and Emma launched their most ambitious project to date, Padstow Townhouse. The 18th-century building has been restored by Emma and interior designer Eve Cullen-Cornes (Tom Kerridge’s sister-in-law).
The Cornish empire
Paul Ainsworth at No 6
Opened 2005 as No 6 and relaunched in 2008
Seats 46 with private dining for eight
Owners Paul and Emma Ainsworth (leasehold)
Executive group chef John Walton
Restaurant manager Sarah Holian
Accolades Michelin star, four AA rosettes, 7/10 in The Good Food Guide
Rojano’s in the Square
Ownership 50% Paul and Emma Ainsworth, 50% Derek Mapp (freehold)
Directors Paul and Nicola Dodd
Head chef Jack Clements
General manager Paul Dodd
Accolades One AA rosette
Owners Paul and Emma Ainsworth (freehold)
Townhouse director Lucinda Bayne
Accolades Five AA stars