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Chefs Behind The Chefs: Andrew McLeish and Dean Ferguson

07 March 2014 by
Chefs Behind The Chefs: Andrew McLeish and Dean Ferguson

Our Chefs Behind the Chefs series goes to Michelin-starred Chapter One in Locksbottom, Kent, where Dean Ferguson has progressed from chef de partie to Andrew McLeish's trusted head chef during their 13 years together

ANDREW McLEISH, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CHAPTER ONE

Dean came here in 2001 from a restaurant in the USA called the Inn at Little Washington. I had an interview with him over the phone and we seemed to hit it off.

Dean came in as a chef de partie and started on the garnish. It's fair to say that he struggled at first, but I think it built him into the strong person he is today. He is really hard working and extremely consistent as well. He is also fantastic with flavours and very creative.

I would say that for the first year or so, his creativeness was not my style, and over the years I think both our styles have probably changed a bit. We had some whacky dishes at first, but I could always see the essence of phenomenal cooking in there.

Dean has been my head chef for four to five years, and over the past two or three years he has done a true head chef's role, where I am not here every day of the week. On a working day I will still be in the kitchen, because that is my habit. I will get up at 6am and go to work, even to the extent that when I don't need to be here, I am here sometimes. But I do rely on him.

As far as the cooking goes, we are side by side all the time. And when it comes to new menus, between the two of us, we will work together and get the dish right. We have got to do a dish that works for us, whether we're doing 140 covers on a Saturday night or 40-50 covers for Monday lunch. That is the key to it.

As far as our temperaments are concerned, a couple of years ago, if I lost my temper, Dean would lose his temper too and there would be carnage in the kitchen because we would both be spitting our dummies out. But over our years of working together, and with Dean as the head chef as well, if I am losing it in service then Dean will be picking up the pieces and making sure the guys are ticking through, and vice versa. I couldn't have somebody in Dean's position that I didn't trust. I know he does the best he can possibly do.

DEAN FERGUSON, HEAD CHEF, CHAPTER ONE

I was working in the USA on an 18-month work visa, and my parents were sending me Caterer and Hotelkeeper every week so I could look for jobs over here when my visa ran out.

Andy had recently taken over at Chapter One, and I saw in the magazine that the restaurant had been newly promoted to a Michelin star. I got my CV drawn up and sent it across. I wanted to work somewhere that had a Michelin star, and I thought there would be a good buzz in the kitchen with someone who had just got one, rather than someone who had had one for many years.

The whole layout in America was completely different to the setup here. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest. For me, the hardest thing was that I came from quite a new kitchen and I came back to an old kitchen where I actually had to rely on myself rather than on timers on ovens and so on [the kitchen has since been upgraded].

There was less depth when I was cooking in America, too - less braising of products or using different parts of the animal. Over there, I used more fillets of beef. Here, it was a bit of a wake-up call. I thought, wow, I need to knuckle down and see what goes on.

I have learned commitment and hard work. Andy is always the first person in and the last to leave - even wearing the bin liners to do the deep clean. In a lot of kitchens you go into, you see the head chef swan in at 11:55, kick up a fuss, throw a few pans around and then it all gets a bit sheepish, rather than someone being there and overseeing and tackling problems as they arise. We bounce off each other. Your trust grows.

When I started, we got along, but we have reached the point where I understand the way the cooking is here, compared to what I had done before, which was completely different.

FIVE KENT CHEFS UNITE

All five of Kent's Michelin-starred chefs are to cook together for one night at Chapter One restaurant in Locksbottom to raise money for charity. The event will see Stephen Harris (the Sportsman), Graham Garrett (the West House), Daniel Hatton (Thackeray's) and Tim Johnson (Apicius) join Andrew McLeish at Chapter One to cook a seven-course meal to raise money for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation - a charity for people living with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury. The dinner will cost £120 per person, and the event is already about three-quarters full. "It's a big deal for me to be working in the same kitchen with such talented chefs. We know each other well and eat in each other's restaurants," says McLeish.

"The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation is a charity that is very close to my heart. Daniel Nicholls, the reason why the charity was founded, used to work for me at Chapter One and I'm happy we've all come together to raise money for such a worthy cause."

Daniel Nicholls is the son of David Nicholls, group director of food and beverage at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, who set up the charity after the accident that led to Daniel's paralysis while he was travelling in Australia.

Book by contacting Cheryl Almond via email on cheryl@chaptersrestaurants.com or call 01689 854848

CHAPTER ONE FACTS AND STATS

AA UK Restaurant of the Year for 2003/2004

Four AA rosettes

Michelin star 2001-2006, 2009-2014

Chefs 16

Front of house staff 25

Average spend per head £45

Capacity 105

Weekly covers 1,400

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ANDREW McLEISH ON CHEF RECRUITMENT

I think recruitment is now probably the hardest I have ever seen it. I work closely with Broadstairs College and the lecturers there are excellent. They really try and push the students into doing more than just what you see on TV. We have a student from that college who has been with us for over a year now and he is fantastic. The lecturers say that if all the students were like him, the trade would be in a much better place.

You often get young chefs who have done molecular cookery or water baths, but if you ask them to roast a guinea fowl or a chicken, they can't do it. That frustrates the hell out of me. The youngsters will not work the hours that were a trend in Marco Pierre White's day. Then, if you weren't almost dead by the end of the week, you hadn't worked hard enough. Marco instilled that into everyone. You only have to read White Heat - it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I do agree with it, but times are changing and we have to change, too.

I think in the past Chapter One has worked the chefs more hours than they should have, under extreme pressure, and maybe we got a bit of a bad reputation four or five years ago. I was determined to get away from that, so we brought in a four-day working week. I don't like that mentality that a chef can be in early but go home after lunch, and then have another shift in the evening. They won't have done things because they were thinking about where they were going that evening.

I would like colleges to teach the art of cooking, and that is what Nico Ladenis taught me - how to cook. Forget about putting it on the plate - let's make a nice pot of something that tastes good, then we can get onto putting it on the plate. You can become more modern once you have basic skills. Someone like Sat Bains might do things at one extreme, but he is actually cooking properly as well. Claude Bosi is another fantastic chef, and he is cooking old school, and that is good to see.

ANDREW McLEISH ON LOSING AND REGAINING A MICHELIN STAR

We lost our star in 2007, which was a tough time. It hit me pretty hard and sent me to a level of depression that I didn't realise, but my wife tells me afterwards that I was hell to live with.

I lost around 80% of the team here through me probably being a bit more volatile than I should have been. Nico [Ladenis] phoned me and scolded me for losing the star. But I am very fond of Nico and I think he is quite fond of me for the years I spent with him.

Nico asked me to send a menu to him. He had a look at it and he saw there was an apple caviar we were using with the pastry. I think I had lost my way. I think I thought, shit, this is what these other guys are doing, let's try it. He went absolutely mad with me on the phone and said: "If I put an apple in front of you or a bowl of apple caviar, which would you prefer to eat - a nice, crunchy green apple or a bowl of apple caviar?"

And that stuck in my mind all the way through - you cannot beat the flavour of the apple. Let's use that flavour and not turn it into something we can't recognise any more.

I got a bollocking back to my commis days from a master of the trade, telling me to take it back to the roots, take it back to the flavour, and now that is what we are known for.

COOKERY COURSES

McLeish heads a regular series of cookery classes at the restaurant at the rate of around 12-14 a year. Many of them, particularly during the game season, make use of his considerable skills in butchery. McLeish is a keen huntsman and much of the game found on the menu has been shot and butchered by McLeish himself. "What I like about it is it just opens us up to the public a little bit more and they don't think we are this snooty restaurant that doesn't want to be involved with local people," he says. "It brings new people to the restaurant because they bring their friends or they give courses as Christmas presents."

Courses range in price from £70 per person for an asparagus night, which includes a three-course meal and a talk with a local producer, to £100 for a roebuck butchery demonstration that involves basic knife and butchery skills as well as the roe deer carcass.

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