Interview with Chef Richard Bainbridge


Benedicts Nov23 Kitchen 151

Interview with Chef Richard Bainbridge of Benedicts restaurant.

Address: 9 St Benedicts Street, Norwich NR2 4PE, UK

1) Age

I am 41.

2) What made you want to become a chef?

I wanted to become a chef for various reasons. Firstly, necessity – my mum was a pretty bad cook! Secondly, I witnessed the art of hospitality during my upbringing whilst watching my grandparents make people happy through food and drink. This was really inspirational for me. Thirdly, after starting my first job in a kitchen, I was getting recognised and told that I was good at picking things up, whereas at school I had struggled academically. So this was the first time I was being praised for something I was good at and that encouraged me to keep learning and progressing in the kitchen.

3) Where did you train to become a chef?

I went to my local catering college – City College Norwich – and I did an NVQ Level 2, but I soon realised that being in the workplace was more productive. So I managed to get my first real chefs job at Michelin starred Morston Hall on the North Norfolk coast where I learnt about seasonality and regionality and some of the core basics of a proper kitchen.

4) What made you want to open a restaurant?

I think it’s every chef’s dream to open their own restaurant when they are young, and that never really left me, particularly with the driving force of my incredible wife Katja, who had never worked in hospitality. She really pushed that boat forward for us to open our restaurant, and the main goal was to create somewhere that we wished existed in Norwich, to go with family and friends, date nights, birthdays, anniversaries, with our children – all of the above – which showcased local, seasonal produce with some great hospitality.

5) Your first memorable experience as a chef (good or bad)?

One of my first real memories when I became a chef – I have two. One from early on in my career, I was asked to go into a walk-in fridge and bring the chervil back. At that time, I had no idea what chervil was…I spent 45 minutes in a small refrigerated box trying to find this herb that I had never before heard of. Years later, chervil is one of my favourite herbs of all time! Another great experience that really changed the way I thought about food and my outlook on food, was going to eat my first ever Michelin starred meal, which was at Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire – it was 2 Michelin starred at the time with Germain Schwab at the helm. That dinner truly blew my mind and opened up a world of possibilities that influenced my becoming a chef.

6) How would you describe your cooking style?

My cooking style and that of our restaurant…it’s difficult to pigeon-hole what style of food we have as we are inspired by food from all over the world, which I think any chef really should be, but the foundations of what we do are rooted in modern French food and techniques incorporating British ingredients and seasonality at its core.

7) What chefs inspire you?

There are lots of chefs and restaurants that inspire me, from my local place down the road all the way to some of the big ones. When I was growing up, it was the Roux brothers who really inspired me – we wouldn’t have the gastronomy that we have in the UK if it wasn’t for those brothers coming over in the 1960s, and I was lucky enough to work for them for four and a half years, so that was like a dream come true. Another great inspiration is Fergus Henderson at St. JOHN as I find his nose to tail philosophy in using every part of the animal truly inspiring. We tend to take this on board here at Benedicts with our meat and fish and all our ingredients we use really – we like to use every single part of the ingredient. Another restaurant that truly inspires me and that I am in awe of is La Grenouillère in Normandy, Northern France. Again, it is a truly inspirational restaurant with seasonality and regionality at its core. The way Alexandre Gauthier puts dishes together is utterly mind blowing. Finally, an English chef that I am really impressed by currently is Merlin Labron-Johnson – he owns a restaurant called Osip in Bruton, Somerset. He has a farm to fork restaurant, very small, but I find his food truly unique and inspiring and I don’t think you can look at a plate of food he’s produced and not know it’s his.

8) Has the way you cook changed over the years?

I think the way that I’ve been taught and the way that I’ve learned about food over the years has changed and evolved as fashion does and when the seasons change. So every year, we grow and move forward and think of new ideas and new techniques. However, the core of what we do is based on modern French cuisine whilst applying older cooking techniques because I believe you have to look back to move forward.

9) What do you think makes a good chef?

This is such a difficult question! I think anyone who cooks a plate of food that makes someone happy makes a good chef, but when I look at menus and chefs that inspire me, it is people who work with the seasons and the region they’re from, whether that’s the British Isles, France or America, South America or Asia. I think a chef who shows respect for ingredients is also something that really makes a good cook. Knowing the fundamentals and the basics of seasonality and regionality, as well as respect for the ingredients and the producers, is so important.

10) What do you like to eat at home?

Katja and I have two young children, so when we cook at home together, our favourite is roast chicken with all the trimmings on a Sunday afternoon when we are all together. That is something really special. But if I’m honest, my children at home think that I’m a rubbish home cook!

11) What is the best piece of advice given to you as a young chef?

The best advice I received as a young chef was to keep my head down, absorb and watch everything that you see, and take on board everything you learn. If you’re going to mess up, allow it to happen, admit your mistakes, learn from them and try, try again!

12) What are your favourite things to do when you’re not working and have time?

I love spending time with my family. It’s the one thing I don’t get to do enough of, so doing things with my wife and children is really special for me. We love to visit the Norfolk Broads on our paddle boards and kayak – it’s one of my favourite places to be, as you can really switch off – no phones, being at one with nature and with each other is really important to me. We also love going for walks along the North Norfolk coastline any time of year – this is really special for myself and my family.