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Pub chef opinion: The importance of balance in the kitchen

By Jesse Dunford Wood , 22-Nov-2012

Dunford Wood:

Dunford Wood: "We try to achieve some kind of creative/financial balance within the business"

I recently had an epiphany that successful management is all about good judgment and clear decision making. That and balance, of course.

Chefs struggle with their inner voices every day — I certainly do.

There are many kinds of chefs around — creative ones, rich ones, Monday-to-Friday ones, straight-shift ones, six-doubles-a-week ones, single ones, married ones. There are a few passionate ones, and also the bored-out-of-their-mind ones.

At some stage, chefs have to make a decision in life, whether they go for a creative, exciting kitchen career or a better-paid lifestyle job. A creative businessman struggles with the right financial path versus the interesting creative path. I am sure you have all heard of the expression of “falling on your sword”. Heston Blumenthal famously nearly went bust in the weeks before he got his third Michelin star, foregoing creativity over business sense.

He was a lucky one. Others in less glitzy establishments have to play the creative/financial balancing act for longer, and some don’t survive the battle.

We may all dream of a full house of 50 customers a night, a brigade of 15 chefs and the three stars to go with it, but it is only a very few who achieve those kind of dreams. You often see chefs with a fancy fine-dining restaurant opening more financially lucrative, and less demanding brasseries or pubs. It is all about the balance.

At The Mall Tavern, in Notting Hill Gate, west London, we have a humorous menu, with fun, every-day elements, including fried Brie and cranberry sauce, chicken Kiev, and Arctic roll. They are all done very well, and with a few remarkable ‘edges’, but they also offset the creative dishes such as grouse with elderberries, and turbot with cockles and purslane.

We try to achieve some kind of creative/financial balance within one business, and even within one menu. The accountant loves the fried Brie, more than the labour-intensive, and less spectacularly GP’d, grouse. I love both, but it is difficult to get the two different styles of dishes sitting well with each other on a menu.

The accountant sees only the numbers, but we see the whole picture. Don’t give up on the dreams, and keep creative. Do you cook the food of your dreams?

I do, and I often dream of fried Brie. Cooking grouse can be a nightmare.

Jesse Dunford Wood is co-owner/chef of the Mall Tavern, Notting Hill Gate, London

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