De Keyser was named Chef of the Year in the prestigious Top 50 Gastropubs awards after taking the reins as head chef at celebrity chef Tom Kerridge’s famous Hand & Flowers site in 2021.
The rota at the gastropub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has been worked on and now the excessively long working days have been reduced and a genuine benefit is having three days off every week.
He explains: “Gone are the days when I was in London working five or six days a week from 7am till midnight or 1am then racing to get the last Tube.
“There’s a lot more work-life balance and you can see it in the teams. Everyone’s fresher, they put a lot more love and energy into their day so it’s far more productive.”
De Keyser cut his teeth in the business as a demi chef de partie at York & Albany – a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London – then moved onto the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in 2012, aged 23 just after the gastropub earned its second Michelin star.
After two and a half years, De Keyser was promoted to chef de partie and Kerridge’s second site, the Coach, opened also in Marlow. Both he and Nick Beardshaw went to the new site as senior sous chef and head chef respectively where they won a Michelin star in 2017.
Beardshaw moved to the Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in London leaving De Keyser in charge at the Coach where he remained until 2021 before taking the head chef job at two Michelin-starred Hand & Flowers.
“It’s a big job but very exciting,” De Keyser says. “At the Coach, I was responsible for 24 staff but at the Hand, it’s 100-plus, so it was a massive leap but the role is great, every day is different and I get to use exquisite ingredients.”
All about the team
Owner Kerridge’s sites have fared amazingly well at the Top 50 Gastropubs – the Hand & Flowers, placed No.8 on the list while sister sites the Coach was No.15 and the Butcher’s Tap & Grill placed No.57.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a secret to winning awards,” De Keyser said. “But I suppose comes down to working hard and building relationships with colleagues within the industry because outside of work it’s important to go and eat out so you can meet new people and talk about the industry, dishes and ingredients.
“It’s a massive honour and I was very proud to receive it. There’s a lot of hard work and you make a lot of sacrifices with regards to your personal life as well because you want to do well. So that was great and it was a massive shock.
“We’re not in the job to get awards but they’re great to receive and it’s good publicity for the team and the pub. Of course, it’s not just my award because there’s no way I would have ever got this without the team here.”