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Chefs Behind the Chefs: Sat Bains and John Freeman

07 February 2014

This month, our chefs behind the chefs series visits Nottingham-based Restaurant Sat Bains. Chef-patron Sat Bains and head chef John Freeman have enjoyed a 13-year working relationship with many successes, not least the award of two Michelin stars in 2011. Kerstin Kuhn reports

Sat Bains, chef patron, Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms "John was working at a country house hotel near Nottingham when he came for a meal at my restaurant. He sent me an email afterwards saying it had changed his life and offered to come and work for me for free on his days off, which he did for seven months until I made him commis chef. At that time it was just three of us in the kitchen: me, John and Ben Greeno.

In his previous job John was constantly teaching himself new things by obsessively reading books and he completely outgrew what he was being taught in the kitchen there. When he joined me, he came to an environment that was all about learning, experimenting and pushing things forward so there was a really great synergy between us right from the start. Of course, I've mentored him and he's learned a lot from me over the years but I have also learned a lot from him as everything is and always has been a collaboration between us.

After we took over the business in 2005, I made John head chef. It had been a very stressful period for all of us and I wanted to reopen the restaurant as a solid environment. John was a very strong advocate of our ethos and I knew he was the right person for the job. He is a great character in the kitchen and the chefs here really like him because of his fun nature but he also runs a tight ship and with great discipline; he wants to be the best and really pushes himself.

John is a solid person and hugely respectful, especially of other chefs in the industry and his elders. He has a very strong set of values and I've never seen him be cocky or arrogant with anyone.

Lots of people ask me: "When will John leave?" I would never stand in his way if he wanted to go but he seems very happy. Not every chef wants to be his own chef.

There's an innate inquisitiveness to our kitchen and we are always moving things on so you never get bored. We are hoping to open a second site and John will very much be involved in this in the future."

John Freeman, head chef, Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms "I was working at a country house hotel doing traditional English food when I went to eat at Sat's restaurant. It absolutely blew my mind. I'd never had food of that level before and the flavour of everything was incredible. His forward thinking really inspired me and I knew I had to come and work here. But there were no jobs so I worked for free until a position became available.

Over the years the team grew and all these sous chefs came in above me but because I had been there longer, my knowledge and discipline were greater than theirs. After the fifth sous chef got sacked, I said: "I'll do the sous chef job." When Sat reopened the restaurant in 2005, I became head chef.

What I most admire in Sat is his drive and relentless amounts of energy; he never stands still and is constantly pushing you. We never have a day in the kitchen where we chill out; we are constantly pushing for perfection, which is something he has instilled in all of us. I also admire his honesty - sometimes it can be brutal, he never sugarcoats anything.

At most restaurants the food stays the same and chefs move on because they get bored after a while. You can't get bored here. Since I've been here, we've done so many things: we've built a development kitchen, a tasting room, a kitchen table, a brand new pastry kitchen - there is always something happening that keeps it exciting. To see how the restaurant has grown in the past 10 years is unbelievable and I'm very proud to have been a part of that. I am ridiculously happy working for Sat. He is always inspiring me and that's what I need."

SAT BAINS VIDEO Go behind the scenes at Restaurant Sat Bains with our video at www.youtube.com/caterersearch.

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