From his recent interview with Chatting Food Magazine, our Executive Chef, Paul Welburn discusses what it takes to be a leader in a kitchen, working for Gary Rhodes and crumpets.
Paul trained with some of the best British chefs in the industry including Gary Rhodes and Richard Corrigan, and held a Michelin Star himself for five years as Head Chef at W1.
He appeared on The Great British Menu in 2014 where his main course, “Blackout Beef,” was awarded a perfect 10 by veteran judge Phil Howard.
Paul joined The Oxford Kitchen at the beginning of 2018 and quickly stamped his style on the plate with his use of British and European flavours, seasonal ingredients and his unique mix of classical and modern techniques.
Firstly, congratulations to the team at The Oxford Kitchen for winning your first Michelin Star.
How has life at The Oxford Kitchen changed since winning it?
Well apart from the obvious overnight local and national interest in what we are doing here, the business has grown, and it’s a testament to the owner’s ambition and the team’s hard work to allow us to achieve this. The mentality has changed from the team’s pride to the customers’ perceptions; we don’t take it for granted and strive to maintain the level our guests deserve and evolve the food every day.
How would you describe The Oxford Kitchen to someone who has never stepped foot through your door?
A relaxed neighbourhood restaurant, comfortable feel with a seasonal and creative food mix of simple lunch offerings and our signature tasting menus going alongside.
We only get one chance to eat one dish from your menu, what should we order?
Gin and tonic cured trout, dill, treacle and cucumber… It’s a dish that has evolved over the years and shows the simplicity of our food in its visuality but also the complexity of its elements. It is something all our dishes have in common.
You have trained with some of the best British chefs in the industry, including Gary Rhodes and Richard Corrigan – what have been your career-defining highlights?
Being given the opportunity to run a Michelin Star kitchen for one of my mentors and life-long inspired chefs in Gary Rhodes at the age of 26 was for sure a huge defining moment and one I thank Gary for. Also, obviously achieving my own Michelin Star last year was the most incredible moment in my career.
You appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu where you got a 10 for your dish ‘Blackout Beef’. How was the experience? Did you find it odd watching yourself on TV?
It was so strange to watch myself on TV but what a fantastic experience. It was tough, but great to represent the North East region with such an amazing brief. And to get a 10/10 from 2 Michelin Starred judge Phil Howard was incredible and the highlight… Shame I could not have won the week but let’s see if I ever get another crack!
You have said in the past that you have always pushed yourself to achieve your highest potential but not at the expense of those around you, and you always want to encourage, teach and support your team. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in a kitchen?
I think the most important advice is to slow down and take the time to train and learn properly. The industry is changing, and the need to progress quickly is no different now as to how it used to be when I started, but I feel that the time to hone your skills and gain the needed experience should not be rushed. Chefs want to run kitchens at 21/22 years old, now they may have incredible ambition and drive, but I feel you should take time, work hard, really build up your knowledge and be ready to run a kitchen, rather than sound like you are.
What do you believe makes a good leader in a kitchen in 2019?
Ambition, drive and leading by example are always needed. I think they need to be understanding, patient and open-minded. We all have to realise that the old school way of working in the past is not as accepted now, the industry is changing, in some ways good and in other ways frustrating, but it’s about getting the best from your team and individuals.
What are the future plans for The Oxford Kitchen?
We are always evolving the food, but consistency is the key to what we do here. We are a casual restaurant, but the level we aim for has to be maintained, our customers are what matters, and they deserve the highest level of food and service we can give. There are also plans to look into a chefs table at some point to create another unique environment that brings the guests into our world… Watch this space!
A Quick Chat
Your favourite restaurant? Gastrologik in Stockholm.
Food hero? Gary Rhodes (without his support back then I would not be where I am today).
Favourite ingredient? Yorkshire Blackout Beer (well I am from Yorkshire, and it did help to get 10/10 ).
What will be the next food trend? For sure it will involve reducing plastic, packaging food waste – and that definitely would not be a bad thing.
Worst food trend? Fad diets – keep them for at home not force chefs to adapt.
Guilty food pleasure? Hot crumpet, marmite and cheddar cheese.