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CHEF CHRIS STAINES FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Chef de Cuisine of London's Michelin Star Restaurant, Foliage . . .

It is becoming increasingly rare to find a hotel company that is up for the heady task of offering guests great rooms and an outstanding food and beverage program. This situation is especially true of London, where a great number of hotel companies have relinquished the challenge of running their own F & B operations, or at the very least have handed over the establishment's fine dining restaurant to a well branded chef in exchange for a good night's sleep, a guaranteed rent check and percentage of the profits.

This concept carries no weight at London's Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The Mandarin is an operation that takes pride in offering its guest a complete experience, created by the hotel's team and not someone else's.

This old fashioned view of hospitality has reaped its rewards. The hotel's restaurant Foliage has received nothing but rave reviews since it opened its doors, and in January 2002 the restaurant earned its first Michelin star.

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Soon after the restaurant was awarded its star, Hywel Jones, Foliage's Chef de Cuisine moved on to become the chef / partner of Islington based restaurant Lola's. I cannot think of a much more daunting task than taking over a kitchen so soon after it has won such a prestigious award. But this task did not intimidate this month's featured chef, 27-year-old Chris Staines. Chris assumed control of Foliage's kitchen in March 2002.

Tell us a little bit about your background

I have been involved with kitchen work since I was at school. The first kitchen job I had was in Wales, then I moved on to Bath where I worked for two years. Then I decided I wanted to move down to London to work in a three Michelin star restaurant. I worked with Nico Ladenis for two years and then went on to Marco Pierre White's restaurant. During my time at Marco's he gave back his three stars, as he wanted to step out of working in a kitchen every day. In the proceeding year we reclaimed one star and then the next year we got our second. I held the position of head chef and Robert Reid was the executive chef. Reid is an excellent chef, I found him to be a very positive influence on my cooking- he helped me shape my food style . . .

Describe your food

The food that I cook is French based and influenced by classical dishes, with a modern style. I aim to keep the flavours simple and allow the natural flavours shine through and compliment not conflict with the other components of the dish.

How conscious are you about using British produce and responsibly farmed and harvested meat and fish?

A large percentage of what we use is organic and the majority of our produce is grown in Britain. Obviously there are certain commodities - foie gras and truffles are good examples, which have to be brought in. I do pay attention to sustainable issues cod is an example of a fish that we do not serve due to its dwindling supply. I feel that it is important to be responsible and stay away from it and other items like it.

How did it feel to come and take over the established kitchen of Foliage and did it make you nervous that it had recently received its first Michelin star?

Initially it was intimidating for a few reasons; Hywel Jones (Chris's predecessor) is a fantastic chef so I had some big shoes to fill. The fact that the restaurant had just received its star meant that I had to hit the ground running. Additionally I have always worked in restaurants not hotels; hotels are not as straightforward to deal with. The intimidation soon subsided. Hywel and I worked together for ten weeks before he left to run his own restaurant, this made for a seamless transition. David Nicholls gave me the instruction to just run the kitchen and focus on the food. He takes care of the other issues that are part of hotel restaurant.

How much involvement does Nicholls have on Foliage?

He has a healthy involvement in the restaurant but does not interfere. Nicholls trust his people and lets them do their jobs has a very positive effect on the restaurant and as the Food and Beverage Director he is focused on ensuring we deliver the whole package - front and back.

Once you are firmly in place, do you plan on changing the food style of the restaurant?

No my focus will be on delivering the best food to our guests. Hywel and I have a scarily similar background and therefore we have a very similar food style, I will be building on what is already in place.

What about the future would you like to travel or is London home for you?

I love London and this is where I want to stay. In the past I had considered working in France, but I want to be part of the London food scene.

Who do you feel are the culinary names to watch out for in London?

Marcus Wearing is already part of the picture but will certainly become a bigger player; Robert Reid has got what it takes and Hywel Jones is nothing short of genius, we will be hearing a lot from him in time to come . . .

Example recipe:

Warm Salad of Marinated and Smoked Salmon
with Saffron Potatoes and Horseradish Dressing

Article written by Jeremy Emmerson and supplied by www.GlobalChefs.com

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