lazy cooking makes me angry. My vicious defence of
good food comes from my mum. She was a single parent,
bringing up four kids on next to nothing, but we still
ate like kings. There were no turkey twizzlers in
split up with my dad when I was still a baby. Her
second husband took off when I was 12 and my three
sisters were eight, four and a babe in arms. We moved
from a council house in North London to a little town
in Devon and there were times when we were totally
skint, but she always made sure we ate well.
money was tight we lived off lentil soup and amazing
vegetable stir fries. I'd go out fishing in a boat
with family friends and we'd eat what I'd caught.
We'd buy pheasants from the big house after the City
boys had been down for a shoot and bagged enough birds
to feed a family for a year. I can still cook a mean
braised pheasant casserole.
mum, with her hippy philosophy of peace, love and
good food on a shoestring budget, gave me my passion
for fresh, great quality ingredients; my capitalist
dad, on the other hand, taught me a tough lesson about
ambition, dedication and hard graft.
grew up in a poor part of London, but escaped the
poverty by winning a scholarship to a good grammar
school. He wore a second hand school uniform, but
he fought tooth and nail to get on, and by the time
he was 21, he was driving his first E-type Jag.
was only 25 when my parents split up but he didn't
abandon me. For the next 15 years, wherever we were
living, he would make the trip to see me every other
weekend. That didn't mean time off for him - it meant
work for me. From the age of five, he would give me
stuff to do and as a teenager I could tackle the same
kind of jobs as his other employees. He was driven
by financial success and although he has eased off
now, I learnt from an early age that there's no quick
way to make a million. At the same time, I promised
myself I was never going to let work swallow me up
as it had him.
grew up fast and by 16 I couldn't wait to leave home.
I got a place at Torquay College, doing my National
Diploma in catering. It was very practical. I learnt
knife skills, how to make a béchamel and roux
- all the building blocks you need.
followed it up with two years at Bournemouth College
of Food and Technology and an HND course in hospitality
management. It was all talk, no action. Let's say,
I was a little less studious. I remember the raves
more than I remember the lectures - and even they're
a bit of a blur. The one good thing to come out of
it was a placement at Brian Turner's restaurant in
Walton Street. It was the worst year of the recession
- long days, hardly any bookings - but Brian was unshakeable
and his son Simeon became one of my best mates.
first job out of college was as trainee manager at
Center Parc, Longleat. I hated every minute of the
six months I spent there but I learnt three great
be fooled by the word "manager" in your
title - you can still be paid peanuts and treated
like the oily rag
you want 20-year-old lads to feel good about themselves
and confident dealing with customers, don't ask
them to wear lime green nylon trousers, candy pink
bow ties and pink and green floral waistcoats
are people who are happy being part of a catering
factory - I'm not one of them
in my notice, I took off around India and made it
a short way up the east coast of Australia before
my money gave out. I'd had a really great time, but
then came a tough few weeks taking any job I could
find. I picked cherries for a few dollars a day and
scraped enough together to get to Cairns. I was down
to my last few cents, desperate for any kind of work,
when I heard on the grapevine that a chef had walked
out from his job on one of the dive boat charters,
which was setting sail that night. I raced to the
harbour. They asked me if I could cook on board for
40 people. I said "yes" - it was one of
the biggest lies I have ever told and one of the riskiest
things I have ever done. Sure, I could find my way
around a commercial kitchen, but I hadn't a clue about
cooking on this scale - and on a boat in the middle
of the ocean, there's no-one to step in if you f***
afternoon, I went to the library (I couldn't afford
to buy a book), found some recipes and photocopied
them. I had to place the order right away, so I ran
through the ingredients and wondered "how much
milk do 40 people get through in a day?" Of course,
I bought far too much stuff, but bulging store cupboards
were the least of my problems - despite all that time
I'd spent on boats off the Devon coast, I was horrendously
spent the first four days on board in the kitchen,
with my toothbrush and toothpaste in my pocket. I'd
be cooking, then there'd be a bit of motion and next
thing, I'd be chucking up in the loo. Quick brush
of the teeth and back to stirring the pot for lunch.
The crew must have known - I was a pale shade of green
the whole trip - but there was no way I was giving
the end of it, I'd found my sea legs and I went on
to work on three other boats over the next six months.
It was a fantastic, wild time and I saved enough money
to travel up the west coast of the States on my way
in the UK, through a friend-of-a-friend, I got a job
as duty manager at the Bath Spa Hotel, under the legendary
hotelier Robin Shepherd. For "duty manager",
read "Jack-of-all-trades". I had to cover
every department, running up and down stairs all day;
turning rooms around for 150 between lunch and dinner;
helping to fix the boiler in the early hours.
was working 90 hours a week and at night I could wring
the blood out of my socks. It was before the National
Minimum Wage came in and I reckon I was earning less
than £1 an hour - but I loved it. Andrew McPherson,
Billy Burchill and I were Robin's "class of 1999".
We learnt so much from him - he was a real ladies'
man, a total charmer, who could make guests feel like
a million dollars - and he let us get away with blue
was really keen to show Robin how entrepreneurial
I could be and I kept badgering him with the idea
of setting up an events catering business off the
back of the Bath Spa's fantastic reputation. He shooed
me away, so I went to Kall Kwik, had some business
cards made and set up appointments as the hotel's
"Outside Catering Manager". I sold one event,
lost the company £500, and got a severe bollocking
from Robin. He still had enough faith, though, to
let me organise a couple of gala dinners, including
a New Year Noel Coward night, when I got to do the
set design and dress up all the staff in black tie
and tails - note, no lime green nylon trousers.
now, London was the happening place for food - Terence
Conran had reinvented Quaglino's; Oliver Peyton had
opened Atlantic and Coast. There was lots of excitement
and I wanted to be part of that. I hear a lot of young
guys in this industry say they're not paid enough
to eat in the best restaurants. Food is as important
to me as rent, and I'd apportion some of my wages,
catch a train up to London with Andy, go for a pint
or two in the pub (we couldn't afford restaurant prices
for drinks), then sit down in the latest restaurant
hot spot for the two-course plat du jour and a bottle
of house wine.
then, I was stealing menus, taking photos, going back
to Bath and putting together mood boards for fictional
restaurants that I desperately wanted to make a reality.
I was too baby-faced for property agents to take me
seriously, so I told them I was a property scout for
one of the big leisure companies, looking for sites
for a new restaurant concept. That got me viewings
of all the available properties in Bristol. At the
same time, I was setting up spreadsheets to work out
my gross profit (GP) on different menu ideas.
this time, I had progressed to deputy manager of the
Bath Spa restaurant, but I knew that hotels weren't
for me. Raymond Blanc had opened Le Petit Blanc brasserie
and I heard it was packed out for every service. I
wanted to understand the magic. I rang the general
manager and offered to work there for free just for
the experience. He said yes, I booked a week's holiday
and set off for Oxford. I did a week of double shifts,
soaking up the atmosphere, and I knew this was where
I wanted to be.
a couple of months, I had said goodbye to the Bath
Spa and started work full-time, on the payroll, as
deputy manager of Le Petit Blanc. When Raymond opened
a branch in Birmingham, he put me in charge as general
love Raymond's food ethic. He is the one who says
if it's not right, don't serve it. He will only ever
use the best ingredients and he cooks with real passion.
While I was working at Le Petit Blanc Oxford, I shared
a house with four guys and when they rolled in from
the office on my days off, they would find me in the
kitchen trying out Raymond's recipes - tarte au citron,
roast guinea fowl - they ate very well.
worked at Le Petit Blanc for five years. Raymond and
general manager Sunnil Panjabi became my bosses, my
mentors and ultimately, my friends. They gave me the
confidence to believe I could go out on my own.
the time was right, in 2002, Sunnil introduced me
to a friend of his, Hamish Stoddart. Hamish comes
from a classic business background and has the management
skills they failed to drum into me at Bournemouth
College. Hamish had recently sold his family business,
Cearns & Brown, for vast amounts of money, to
Brake Bros. He had spent six months in France learning
to glide, but was back in the UK, acting as non-executive
director for a couple of companies and interested
in nurturing a new business - I wanted it to be mine.
a few weeks, I'd persuaded him to come on board full-time
and together we founded Peach Pub Co, with Victoria
Moon, a really smart sales and marketing expert I'd
worked with at Le Petit Blanc. While Hamish pounded
out the business plan, Victoria and I toured three
counties, looking for a Midlands-ish property that
would become our first Peach pub.
acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of pubs in and
around Birmingham/Oxford, before finally hitting on
the Rose & Crown right in the centre of Warwick
- well known as a seedy drinking den. We acquired
the lease, gutted the interior and turned it into
the kind of place you could take your mum or your
2003, we discovered the One Elm in Stratford-upon-Avon.
A freehold this time, we bought it, did it up and
created an amazing 75-cover split level dining area.
Then the Fleece came up, on the Church Green in Witney.
Lovely location but the previous owners had taken
a grotty pub and turned it into a snooty restaurant.
We turned it back into a fabulous bar and restaurant,
with private dining and 10-bedrooms.
had already decided that pubs need the owner-manager
touch. One person can't run more than three pubs without
losing that personal involvement. We wanted to recruit
joint venture partners, so we could expand Peach without
losing our whole ethos. Hamish and I nobbled Andrew
Coath, a fantastic hotelier and events organiser,
and persuaded him to come on board as our first JV.
2005, Andrew opened the Black Horse in Woburn and
the Swan in Salford, both instant hits with everyone
who thought Milton Keynes was a culinary desert -
genuinely warm welcome, outstanding service, great
food, amazing attention to detail and gorgeous surroundings.
We found another pub for Hamish, The Fishes, in North
Hinksey Village, just outside Oxford. We turned a
dark seating area into a light and airy restaurant,
opening onto a new decked terrace, overlooking three
acres of grounds leading down to the river.
year, 2006, we met Alan Turtill at the Best Places
to Work in Hospitality dinner and persuaded him Peach
was just that. JV number two on board, we found the
Old Mill, Berkhamsted and took it over in December.
It needed vision to see past the grime, the cobwebs,
the fake beams and the stud walls, but all that was
swept away in March 2007, when the Old Mill reopened
after a three week refurbishment and the locals just
raved about it. The team rallied round after head
chef Michael had a car accident and the doctors declared
him out of action. Despite all the teething trouble
you'd expect with a new site, we cracked £31,000
turnover in one week - somewhere in the region of
five times the take in an average food pub.
just celebrated winning two regional National Business
Awards, one for customer service, the other for corporate
social responsibility. Other trophies in the cabinet
include BII Licensee of the Year 2007 for Andrew and
we were named the One to Watch Rising Star of the
licensed retail sector in the Retailers Retailer Awards.
dad taught me to work hard, my mum encouraged me to
experience everything life has to offer. I put a lot
of energy into building my business, but I put just
as much effort into my social life.
already mentioned that when we were living near Salcombe,
I went out fishing on a boat with family friends.
They were keen divers and being around them, I got
the bug. I couldn't qualify until I was 16, but as
soon as I was able to, I saved up and went on a two
week British Sub Aqua Club residential course in Plymouth.
There were the worst possible conditions - it rained
the whole time, there was a two and a half metre swell,
visibility was atrocious and I had a leaky wetsuit.
I survived, and I qualified as a scuba diver. (In
Australia, working on the dive charters, I was able
to dive in between meal times - it didn't stop me
feeling seasick, though.)
22, my friend from Torquay College days William Ireland
(whose family owns the Cottage Hotel, Hope Cove, Devon)
took me skiing and I was hooked on that. The next
time, I converted to snowboarding and I have been
every year since. It's a maniac sport that combines
speed and an element of danger, with drinking and
partying. It attracts a whole bunch of people prepared
to risk their limbs on the slopes by day, and shoot
beers all night - that's my kind of sport.
met my partner Victoria Marr, when I was at Le Petit
Blanc in Birmingham. She's a soloist with the Birmingham
Royal Ballet and used to come in for lunch with some
of the other dancers. Given half a dozen beautiful
ballerinas, it didn't take me long to wind my way
over to their table but we didn't get together until
the opening night party for another Birmingham restaurant.
Even then I nearly blew it, because I was more interested
in meeting one of my idols and a fellow guest at the
event, Jeremy Mogford. He built up the Brown's chain
and sold it for an exceedingly large amount to one
of the pub groups.