22. Andrew Scott: How to gain and retain a Michelin star

Sue Stockdale talks to an award-winning British chef, Andrew Scott about what it takes to achieve and retain a Michelin star.

Andrew Scott knows a thing or two about what it takes to achieve excellence in his chosen field.  He was inspired to become a chef by his parents, who both worked in the hospitality industry. After winning a cooking competition at the age of 13, Andrew started working part time as a pot washer in the kitchens of his local hotel. Then following training at college, he was taken on by Simon Haigh at Mallory Court in Warwickshire,  England as an apprentice chef.

After four years, he then worked under Simon Rogan at his acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant – L’Enclume in the Lake District, before returning to Mallory court where he became Andrew became head chef in 2010 retaining the restaurant’s Michelin star for three years running.  In 2012, he became Head Chef at the Curlew, in Kent, and in just under a year Andrew gained his first solo Michelin Star in the 2014 guide.  Following this Andrew joined Sudbury House in Oxfordshire in 2014 overseeing Restaurant 56 which won a number of accolades, and during this time he appeared in the BBC TV series Great British Menu, representing the Central region.  Andrew’s most recent role was as Head Development Chef for Miele.

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Andrew Scott Transcription

[00:00:00] Sue Stockdale :  hello, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast. The show where you can gain inspiration from people who may be unalike you. We hope their stories and insights enable you to transcend day to day challenges and reflect on what you are capable of  achieving. Today, we are heading into the world of culinary arts.

I’m going to be speaking to award winning chef Andrew Scott, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to achieve excellence in his chosen field. Andrew was inspired to develop this as a career by his parents who both worked in the hospitality industry. And after winning a cooking competition at the age of 13, Andrew started working part time as a pot washer in the kitchens of his local hotel, following training at college, he was taken on by [00:01:00] Simon Hague at Mallory court. Warwickshire, England. As an apprentice chef. And after four years, he then worked under Simon Rogan at his acclaimed Michelin star restaurant, l’enclume in the Lake district before he returned to Mallory court. Andrew became head chef in 2010  retaining the restaurants Michelin star for three years running.

After that Andrew moved to become head chef at the Curlew in just under a year the team were rewarded for their hard work when Andrew gained his first solo Michelin star in the 2014 guide. After that Andrew joined Sudbury house in Oxfordshire overseeing Restaurant 56, which won a number of accolades.

And during this time he appeared on the Great British menu on TV. So I think we can definitely learn something, but what it takes to achieve and maintain excellence from Andrew. Welcome to the podcast, Andrew.

Andrew Scott: [00:01:52] Hiya Sue. Thanks for having me.

Sue Stockdale : [00:01:54] Excellence is our focus on this conversation. It can mean many things to many people, but what does it [00:02:00] mean to you?

Andrew Scott: [00:02:01] Excellence so in the chef world, it’s all about consistency is a big word for us and discipline, which produces excellent results. So it’s a really strong word and it’s something that we work all day in the hot kitchen environment to produce amazing food. But sometimes we do get a bit caught up in what we’re actually doing.

We’re only producing dinner. We’re not building rockets to fly to the moon.  We strive for perfection in presentation and flavor in our working methods, in the ingredients we use, the way we source ingredients, the provenance, everything. So it’s a real passion. I think you’ve got to have that passion in your belly for cooking to be able to put up with the lifestyle and the hours.

Sue Stockdale : [00:02:42] I can understand you, you have a real passion and commitment to excellence, I guess, as a leader, when you’re working in a kitchen, how do you convey that expectations to other people around you? How do you do that?

Andrew Scott: [00:02:53] That’s a hard one. And I learned a lot about my management basically from Simon Hague at Mallory court. So he used to [00:03:00] say the cooking’s the easy part. It’s the managing the people. It’s the heartbeat. And that, that is so true in any career or any job it’s, you know, once you’ve been in the industry for long enough, you can sort of do the cooking with your eyes closed. It was my management of each boy or girl in the kitchen, knowing what motivates them and what gets them going.

Everyone’s different. It’s a team game cooking in a kitchen. It’s a brigade system. So you’ve got that discipline brigade system of sort of like the army does respect levels. People are sort of reporting into the top chefs, you know, the sous chefs and the head chefs in the kitchen, you were running a tight ship because at the end of the day, it’s a business and you want to make money.

And you also want to achieve accolades to entice customers in. So there’s a real complex environment going on, but you have to work next to people spending time individually, even if you are the executive chef and I pick up a knife, go and went next to the commis chef, have a chat with them. Talk to them, see what inspires them, see what they wants to do.  Next in the corporate world, which is where I am now. They do lots of paperwork, paper, trail, things to see how you feel and sort of what your [00:04:00] aspirations are, but there’s no time for that in the kitchen. It’s very practical. You’re on your feet. So you need to talk face to face, and then you also need to understand if somebody does something wrong, how you discipline them, or how you correct them.

Because just by screaming and shouting at them might not work, you know, pulling them into a room on their own and having a chat with them and telling them this is why this went wrong, . It’s a real balance. You’re individually managing maybe 10 people every day. So it’s quite stressful.

Sue Stockdale : [00:04:28] It can certainly sound like that. And as you say, it’s about together, you’re striving for consistency and excellence. And the Michelin star is the assurance. I guess, that diners have of the quality that they’re going to receive in a restaurant for those listeners in the podcast. And maybe aren’t familiar with what a Michelin star is. Tell us a bit more about that. What is a Michelin star?

Andrew Scott: [00:04:49] It’s a benchmark, I suppose, in the chef world or food is I suppose, people who follow the guide. So the Michelin guide was invented for, you know, by a tyre manufacturer for people who have [00:05:00] cars back in the sort of 1920, 1930s. And it would give people advice, where a good restaurant was to stop and eat along your journey, you know, from a to B and it’s sort of evolved now.

So these really glamorous red books that everybody follows and waits every year with bated breath to see who wins the awards who loses the awards. That’s a bit like a soap opera, but it basically unlocks a segment of customers that you would never attract if you didn’t have one. And so certain clientele that have trust in you that you’re using very, very good ingredients.

Sourcing, maybe locally, you are putting a hundred percent effort into everything you’ll do. Everything’s made fresh in house nothing’s brought in, and you know, really inventive food. So pushing the boundaries and then. I think one star is they say it’s all about the food up to three stars. I think Gordon Ramsey said, or Marco Pierre White said. I think he was in a documentary I remember that you should be able to smell the chefs after shave in the dining room when you have three Michelin [00:06:00] stars. So you should be able to feel the character of the chef in the dining room. Basically.

Sue Stockdale : [00:06:04] there’s one thing getting to a Michelin star and there’s another thing retaining a Michelin star. How do you do that? Because I know you did it three times when you were in one restaurant that you were part of.

Andrew Scott: [00:06:14] Yeah. So we retained at Mallory Court. I retained the star and that was just about keeping everything consistent. So the dishes are sort of trademark dishes. Everything is seasonal. We had a lovely kitchen garden at Mallory court. So you could literally walk out and see what was in season in England, because obviously sometimes you can walk around supermarkets and the strawberries all year round and pineapples and, you know, et cetera, et cetera. You don’t know, what’s in season and what’s not in season. So you could literally go out and pick a peach off the tree or the vine and just stand in the sun and eat it. And it was warm and it was delicious. So that would serve to inspire you to create dishes quite easily by just wandering around the garden. And keeping things seasonal and it was all about flavor, really. So just making sure that you [00:07:00] concentrate the flavor so that if you’re doing a peach dish, it’s all about the peaches.

And you would just maybe accompany it with some raspberries or something or some vanilla. That was the star of the show. It’s very clear what they want, the Michelin guides with food and menus, et cetera, trying to win one is a different scenario. You have to play more of an attacking game. I suppose to get noticed, you need to get the Michelin inspector in your establishment.

Whereas Mallory Court was well known it has a Michelin star for 10 years, and it was a Relais Chateaux hotel, which is a famous brand across the world. It was sort of easier.  If you’re starting up on your own, are you’re an independent restaurant or a chef restaurant, your background, your pedigree really helps to entice them and see what you’re doing. But yeah, you’ve got a really sort of bang the drum and get them to come. And when they come, then you’ve got to be 100% and you don’t know when they come in they’ll book in false names. They may book in their real name. You don’t know that come in their table of one or table of two. They might be hidden within a table of four.

And at the end of the day, you’re cooking for your customers. You’re cooking for your bread and butter, [00:08:00] the people who are going to pay the bills and pay the wages. So everyone should be getting that Michelin star standard experience from the welcome to the goodbye. Obviously, if you clock that it’s an inspector you try a little bit harder and maybe sometimes that’s the wrong thing to do because they can feel it the other side that you’re trying too hard and you almost need to be just sort of natural and just cook as if you were cooking for your friends or your mother, or just the local guys from down the road.

So I’m guilty of that too. I remember when I left Mallory, I went to a restaurant called the Curlew and I’ve got a Michelin star there in 2012. I think it was now and the Michelin inspector came in and he ordered a glass of orange juice cause they’re driving. So they don’t usually drink too much. They might have one glass of wine with lunch or dinner, and he ordered a glass of orange juice and my restaurant manager hadn’t ordered any orange juice from the supplier, or it hadn’t squeezed it, whatever we were serving.

And I remember one of my junior sous chefs, just running  upstairs,to  the staff accommodation and brought down a carton of Tesco Value orange juice that we put [00:09:00] in a lovely tumbler with some ice and the Michelin Inspector drank it. And didn’t say anything about it. So, you know, at the end of the day, it’s subjective, they’re human beings just like me and you, they have an opinion just like me and you. And they have a lot of power, I suppose, in their hand, they can make or break a restaurant or make or break someone’s career.

Sue Stockdale : [00:09:18] You’re making me think now about how one determines. And spot a Michelin inspector, a bit a detective work required?

Andrew Scott: [00:09:24] There’s a few things. You can be fooled by a normal person you know, by someone who is not a Michelin inspector or an inspector of any guide. You’ve got lots of different guides and they’re all prestigious. They’re all ones that you want to be in and achieving, but a single diner, a fairly early table, they’ll maybe order a tasting menu on their own, which could be quite a lonely night. You know, if you’re sitting there eating eight courses on your own.

So in a nice restaurant, you’ll always, if you’ve got a table of one, you always put a few nice magazines, you know, like Cotswold life or something like that on the table for them to flip through in between courses, they will usually have a tonic water when they come in or an [00:10:00] orange juice, or water with their canapes, like we said, and they will probably order one glass of wine and it will usually be a half decent glass of wine. It won’t be your house. It will be like a sort of mid to high end glass, depending on what you’ve got on your menu. And that’s it really, they either leave afterwards and say nothing. Or they will leave their card and say to the restaurant manager, could I see Andrew . They will have done their research, they’re very, very thorough.

They know your name, they know everything. I remember sitting with one at the Curlew and he had a broadsheet paper folded in a quarter and he seemed to know everything. He knew. I trained at North Oxfordshire college in Banbury. He knew my background. He knew where it works, everything my age. It was amazing because I didn’t know anything about him, but he seemed to me, even to  my shoe size. It’s quite an unnerving. They’re looking at you to have a star. They might come visit you two, three, four, five times multiple inspectors. You’ll get ones from Spain and France coming over to make sure that the one michelin star standard in the UK is the same as in Spain or in Italy or in France as a crossover. And they will give their feedback as well. And I think if [00:11:00] one of the inspectors says, it’s not worthy of the accolades, you don’t get it. So you’ve got to be on your game. Every single inspection.

Sue Stockdale : [00:11:07] And I imagine that it’s not just about consistency and maintaining excellence because the bar gets higher and higher. You’ve got competitors out there that are also achieving excellence so how do you keep your finger on the pulse? in terms of what are food trends what’s changing in the marketplace so that the bar of excellence can keep getting higher.

Andrew Scott: [00:11:26] You’ve got your sort of team. First of all, that’s your core thats your nucleus and you’ll constantly be coming out with ideas from the Commis chef, have an idea up to myself and let it run and make the dish. And you will all stand and eat it together and see if it’s worthy or good enough, or it needs tweaking. A lot of the dishes came from nostalgia, so we would do like a pre dessert  in the last restaurant with dandelion and burdock. I remember doing a custard, like a bird’s custard ice cream is in the actual Birds custard  powder and I remember the Michelin inspector coming around and seeing it in my dry store and asking me what the [00:12:00] hell I had that for in my dry stores and I told him, I said, you know, it conjures up nice memories of childhood.

When you think about childhood, it’s usually happy times. So when you’re sat in a restaurant, you had a few glasses of wine. And you’ve got this lovely nostalgic flavor. It makes you feel very comfortable, especially in a high end restaurant where you can feel it a little bit stiff. It just makes you feel a little bit, you understand the food because you’re the, those flavors you associate with comfort. Then the other things it’got easier for me, I suppose, with social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, following all of your chef friends, or people that you aspire to be like, you know, amazing chefs out there that have achieved the highest sort of accolades. And you can see what they’re doing and their flavor combinations and their presentation.

It’s all very visual. Now, when I was younger, before all of that, I used to collect cookery books like that are going out of fashion. And I dread moving house now because I have that many cookery books. It is, I think the next time I move, I might die. My wife thinks it’s hilarious, but half of the, around the garage and [00:13:00] I don’t read them, but I just can’t get rid of them.

So you have plenty of cookery books. I’ve read so many cookery books. That’s all I read. I don’t really read any fiction nonfiction. I sort of just sit and read cookery books or autobiographies of chefs. I sort of live and breathe it. And then the final thing is to save your money when you’re a young chef, because you’re not on very good wages as you go up the brigade system, you get better wages.

So, you know, and you go out with some of the boys or the girls from your brigade or friends from different kitchens and you go into London, maybe eating some of the top restaurants around there and you get inspired, even if it’s just one flavor combination or one dish or one sort of presentation. You take something from every meal that you eat  basically.

And we’re sort of like magpies, I suppose every chef said that they sort of invent things from nothing, but they’re not, they’ve been inspired some way, whether it’s reading or eating out or looking at social media,

Sue Stockdale : [00:13:49] you keep your eye on the outside world. Not just what’s going on in your own picture. Yeah. I get the real sense from how you’re describing Andrew, that there’s a relentless sense of pressure to perform night after night, day after day to [00:14:00] maintain that standard of excellence. And not everyone’s good at coping with pressure. How do you cope with it? And how’d you get the best from your team?

Andrew Scott: [00:14:07] I suppose I thrive under pressure. I love to work in that the buzz of a kitchen and a service. I can’t describe it. It’s almost like I’d say it would be like drug. It’s an adrenaline rush.

You feel absolutely knackered afterwards but it’s the preparation through the day, the lead up almost like being an actor in the theater, practice your lines, and then you have to perform every night. I think a lot of chefs say it about doing a service or a dinner, especially in a high end kitchen. But I think when you’ve got some really good people around you, that you’ve trained up and you’ve worked with for years, you need that trust and that loyalty around you.

And when everyone’s working at that pace at that level, the feeling is amazing. When you’re putting food on a plate, that’s perfectly cooked and it was presented perfectly on beautiful plate that you’ve maybe sourced. And the cutlery and the way that it’s going to be served by the waiter and they’ve matched the wine to it.

And I think you get a buzz as a chef of putting a smile on your customer’s [00:15:00] face at the end of the day. That’s what it’s all about is making people happy with food and feeling proud. And especially when you’re cooking for friends or family and you walk out at the end of service and go and sit with them and have a glass of wine or a beer.

And they, you know, they’re like, wow, that was amazing. And that’s the whole point in being a chef, I suppose, is a bit of an ego thing. But also it’s a huge passion. And I think just making customers happy, it’s like the hospitality team, I suppose. You’ve either. Got it. Or you haven’t when people come around my house, like run around, you know, would you like a drink?

And I’ve got crisps or some nibbles or you’re sort of a very welcoming person, warm person. I think all chefs have to be, have that in them to want to do the job, even though the pressure is hard, it’s worth it. Basically at the end of the day to chill out. I used to when I was on split shifts, so you’d sort of work eight in the morning to three o’clock and then back in at five, I joined the gym, I love swimming, so I went swimming on my own, and then you know, do sort of half an hour, 40 minutes swimming constantly and then go and sit in the jacuzzi maybe have a steam, hot shower back to [00:16:00] work and feel refreshed and de-stressed, or just go for a walk or have one of the guys come round your house and you buy a lot a cakes from the shop and just drink tea and cake all afternoon.

There was many ways of just relaxing with sometimes get a football and going to have a kick around in the park as a team. you spend a lot of time with these people front of house as well. It’s really important to get on with the front of house because they are eyes and ears in the dining room. And if you’re winding them up, they’re not going to do a great job for you.

So yeah, we see lots of team things together and then just really, really appreciate your days off your time off and your holidays and make the most of them always looking at booking things up in advance. If you can, as you’ve got set days off. Go and see family and friends that always make you smile.  Make me feel like I’ve had a bit of a reset because you get caught up in this cycle of work, work, work, work, work in the kitchen. And you’re in this sort of stainless steel box with no windows. And it’s very noisy and hot.

Sue Stockdale : [00:16:51] It sounds really like a vocation. It’s not just something that people go into halfheartedly.

Andrew Scott: [00:16:56] It’s a lifestyle, I’d say, yeah, it is a lifestyle.

Sue Stockdale : [00:16:59] How [00:17:00] does one conjure up nostalgia with plant based diets and vegetarian food becoming far more of our diet as a nation?

Andrew Scott: [00:17:06] I think in the future, we’ll all eat more of a balance of food, vegetarian, vegan dishes, meat, and fish. And I think the vegan dishes will become a little more diverse and a lot more delicious and a lot more everyone’s street. Everyone will want to eat a little bit more like that. At the moment, there’s only certain ingredients that we can produce dishes within restaurants, and we need to do a lot more research and be a lot more inventive and creative with those dishes. But it’s tough when you’re not a vegan or vegetarian yourself.

Just try and invent dishes that you think of vegetarian or vegan would enjoy as. Someone who eats everything, you can get yourself inspired by sort of a lovely grilled piece of fish with some, you know, samphire or chorizo or  something on the top. It’s tough when you’re just using vegetables and then it’s even tougher when you’re taking dairy away.

Sue Stockdale : [00:17:52] I’m imagining then perhaps that detective work in future will involve a understanding, more stepping into the shoes of those people who are [00:18:00] vegetarian or have plant based diet. So, I guess my final question to you as somebody who loves food myself, is there one ingredient that I should have in my store cupboard at all times? It really will be the thing I always should have as a go to ingredient.

Andrew Scott: [00:18:14] I thought about this one a lot, and I don’t want to be too boring, but my wife always takes the Mickey out of me because I love citrus. I love using lemon juice in cooking now not to make things taste of lemon or lime. I love lime as well. But lemon, when I was training in the kitchens, I’ve trained in, especially in the Simon Hague who was very classically trained chef. And he had a Michelin star for like 20 odd years consecutively. It was an absolute maestro in fishmongery, butchery, seasoning. And he would teach me how to season and we would always have salt and pepper, but we’d always  have half a lemon next to the salt and pepper. And we would add drops of lemon juice to seasoned say a, leek, and potato soup. Now the leek and potato soup wouldn’t taste of lemon. It would just accentuate the flavor of the leek, [00:19:00] how delicate it is. And if  you are training under someone like that, who really knows  that stuff you start to appreciate what citrus can do. It can really bring the flavor out in lots of different foods without showing itself as there’s tons of lemon in that. So I would say you always need to have a lemon in your fridge or your store cupboard, wherever you want to keep it. I’m actually a salt and pepper. And honestly, just a few drops of lemon in a few different bits and pieces. Try it. You’ll notice the change.

Sue Stockdale : [00:19:28] Fantastic. Well, it’s great to get that top tip from one who knows what one’s talking about. It’s been a real pleasure to speak to you, Andrew. And I’ll definitely offer out to the shops now to buy myself a lemon.

Andrew Scott: [00:19:39] That’s quite a cheap one. I could’ve gone truffles good or something like that, but lemon is quite a humble one.

Sue Stockdale : [00:19:44] Absolutely. And the list is all around the world. There’s probably access to lemon.

Andrew Scott: [00:19:48] Yeah. Everyone can get a that. Exactly. So good.

Sue Stockdale : [00:19:51] So much for your time today, Andrew, it’s been great to talk to you.

Andrew Scott: [00:19:54] No problem. See you. Thank you very much.

Sue Stockdale : [00:19:57] It was great to speak with Andrew and get a better sense [00:20:00] of the relentlessness that is required to stay at the top of your game in these top class kitchens. As always. If you enjoyed this podcast, please take a moment to leave us a review on Apple podcasts or on our website. Access to inspiration.org. The next episode, I will be talking to Paul Rose, a man who has been at the forefront of exploration and adventure for almost 50 years. He was recently on our TV screens in the UK presenting a series and the Lake district. And we’ll be explaining in the podcast why he loves the outdoors and remote places. I hope you will join us then.