Russell Brown – My Life in Hospitality

Russell Brown – My Life in Hospitality

Russell Brown is the head chef of Sienna in Dorchester.

It took Russell Brown until the age of 27 to realise that he wanted to be a chef, and not the owner of a fishing tackle business in Cornwall. Even then, the he took an unusual route into his new profession.

"I decided to become a chef because I have had a passion for food all my life. And also partly because we weren't making enough money out of the fishing tackle business," he explains. Fortunately, the fact that he worked from home meant that Brown could spend a lot of time practising his love for the culinary arts.

"In my last year of running the business, I had a lot of time at home when I could cook - particularly out of Pierre Koffmann's La Tante Claire. That was probably the first serious cookery book I bought and it was an amazing inspiration," he says.

Even so, Brown thought he ought to get some formal training and signed up for a course at Cornwall College Camborne. But his plans changed when he spotted a vacancy for a commis chef at Alverton Manor in Truro. Despite lacking experience, he got the job following a working trial. The experience, he adds, was a "baptism of fire", working in a small brigade at a very busy venue.

A year later, he made the move over to the small farm restaurant, Percy's, at Virginstow in Devon as a sous chef. But after another year he wanted to move on to more responsibility and took his first head chef's job at the Yarlbury Cottage hotel in Dorchester, where he helped the restaurant gain a second AA rosette.

After a three-and-a-half-year stint there, he moved to the Horn of Plenty in Devon. "I started as sous chef and then moved to a head chef role. I'd known Peter Gorton for quite a long time and I'd done a few stages there when I was at the Alverton for odd days," Brown explains.

But in 2003 he went it alone to open Sienna, his 15-seater restaurant, also in Dorchester. "It had always been a goal to open somewhere of my own. My wife had made the career change from working in a building society to working in hospitality. So it seemed like a good time," he says. The period before the opening was stressful, Brown says. And the couple spent nearly £100,000 on a full refurbishment of the venue. But thanks to his reputation in the local area, the business was soon a success.

HIGHS… The obvious high point of Brown's career was winning a Michelin star in January this year. But he also recalls earlier, more modest triumphs, such as achieving his aim of getting a second rosette for the Yarlbury - the first accolade he achieved in his own right - and coming second in a competition at Cornwall College as part of a team from Alverton Manor. "Little things like that stick out in your memory," he says.

HIGHS… Brown and his wife Elena were both hired to work at Biskra Beach hotel on the Isle of Wight. But the events of 9/11 meant that the job offer at the beachfront property near Ryde was withdrawn. The Middle Eastern bankers who owned the property instructed its managing director to put it on the market in the weeks following the attack.

Age: 43
Family: Married
Holiday: Vancouver or the Channel Islands
Drives: A very old Mazda MX-5
Motto: Keep striving to improve things


Recession-busting tip: Keep checking your invoices - mistakes do get made. You have to keep aware of what you are spending and what you are paying for things.

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