12 Feb 2020
Chris Harrod had the ambition to be a chef from the age of seven. His dreams started to take shape when he worked alongside Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. In 2013, Chris opened The Whitebrook, which was awarded a Michelin star within 11 months. The restaurant has since won an AA Wine Award for Wales and Inspectors’ Choice (Restaurant with Rooms) at the AA Hospitality Awards and has become one of only 39 restaurants in the UK to hold 4 AA Rosettes. Along with a place in the 2017 Waitrose Good Food Guide Top 50 UK Restaurants, these prestigious accolades put The Whitebrook amongst the very best restaurants in the country. Chris and his team prepare original dishes using locally sourced food flavoured with freshly foraged herbs and plants to create the surrounding valley on the plate.
Chris Harrod takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.
How did you get into cooking?
It was something I’d always wanted to do since the age of seven. I don’t know why because there’s no family history in . I remember watching people like Keith Floyd and Raymond Blanc on TV at the time, being really enthusiastic and passionate. I was cooking at home: dinners, dinner parties, and basically doing everything I could food-wise. I grew my own vegetables. The seed was planted when I was seven and it was always something I’d wanted to do. And it grew as I grew older. On family holidays we used to go to France or Italy, and just get in the car and drive and stop wherever we found a place. We’d stay in these auberges, and that was what I really wanted, a restaurant with rooms. So that’s how it all started. And then, it was always to work with Raymond Blanc – I literally, from school onwards, was writing letters and letters to Le Manoir asking for a job, getting a ‘Sorry, no, can’t do that’. I went to Birmingham College of Food, did all that, carried on writing to Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir asking, ‘Can I come to work in your kitchen’, still getting the ‘no’ letters back.
Do you think there was enough advice available when you were starting out?
The advice at that time was always if you want to succeed as a chef, you need to go into a five-star hotel in London. That was the advice that was being given. So that’s what I did. I ended up going to The Lanesborough; I was under Paul Gayler. The reason I chose him was because of his angle on vegetarian food and he seemed to be doing something different to the classic, and to the other five-star hotels; and that was something that’s stayed with me, because I’ve always been, like now, well into the different varieties of vegetables and more having focus on vegetables on the menu. So that really started then, and at that time, when I was at The Lanesborough after about ten months, I wrote to Le Manoir again, and I got a week there, where they put me through my paces, with hundreds and hundreds of chicken legs to bone out or mackerel to pin bone or peas to pot. And then, at the end of that week, they said, ‘Do you want a job?’ And then I finally got in there, and that’s when it completely changed. Up till that point, I’d really struggled. But I’d always wanted to be a chef but nothing clicked. I didn’t enjoy college; The Lanesborough was good, but it wasn’t ticking the boxes for what I wanted to achieve. And then when I got to Le Manoir it all made sense: the qualities, the flavours, and the consistency that they put out. That gave me the enthusiasm and I was like, ‘This is what I’ve wanted to do’. So then I was there for four and a half years, which was a good grounding.
What are your ultimate top tips for someone looking to start a career in the hospitality sector?
I’d say the most important thing I always had was a plan. It was always my dream to have my own restaurant, and that’s what I’ve always worked , even when it got tough. There were some hard days at Le Manoir. The end goal was always to get enough experience to go and open my own restaurant. I always had that drive to get my own restaurant, so that was always the reason I was putting myself through those long days or hard times. If I was being knocked down a bit, it was always ‘pick myself up because I’ve got to get my own restaurant’. To me, that’s been the most important part of my career. Once I did decide to get my own restaurant, I didn’t realise it was going to take seven years, and that was a long slog. But again, it was always having that drive, the reason I was doing it was, ‘I’m going to get my own restaurant, I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it’.
What would you be looking for on a CV or in an interview if someone was applying for a position with you?
I don’t tend to go off CVs. Normally, the first thing I’d do is get them down into the kitchen. And I’m looking for that bite, that enthusiasm. To me, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve worked in two-star places, three-star places. It’s, ‘Are you coming here, are you biting, are you into the foraging, are you into what we’re doing’. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s that little bit of passion. Because I think if you can get people to tie in with your vision, and want to achieve what you want to achieve, they’re going to work hard at that.
If you could go back and tell yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you do now, what would it be?
‘Never give up’. I think you’ve got to stay focused, as much as it feels like sometimes it’s never going to happen. You’ve got to stay focused and keep your vision, keep what you want to achieve.