2 Michelin star legend talks about working with us in the future

 

What a thrill it was for the Cucina team to welcome food legend Phil Howard into our Teddington School kitchen last week.

We’d all watched Phil’s work on BBC’s ‘The Great British Menu’ with great admiration. When you see the country’s most prestigious chefs competing against each other like this, the perfection of their work just makes your jaw hit the floor.

I don’t know if you had the chance to watch the programme yourself. If you did, you’ll know that it highlights one thing very clearly – that there are  probably more of the world’s finest chefs here than any other country.

The list of past and current participants in the programme reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the finest our industry has ever produced: Tom Kerridge, Alan Murchison, Marcus Wareing, Nathan Outlaw, Daniel Clifford, Simon Rogan…

All these guys are true greats and I’d have been pleased to welcome any of them. But for me, Phil Howard stands above them all. I absolutely agree with all those who call him ‘the chef’s chef’.

So when we were looking for someone to inspire our guild of chefs, we had one name, and one only in mind – Phil Howard. Some months ago we invited him to come and meet us at one of our school restaurants and he accepted.

The meeting went well too. Phil had a good chat to me, my fellow director Sam, our Teddington School chef Phil Wilkins and our Exec. Chefs Ian Morgan and Andy Wilcox. After taking a good look at the lunch service in operation he sat down and ate our food with us.

When you meet someone famous, a celebrity or someone you have long admired from a distance, it’s easy to go a bit wobbly at the knees and become all star struck. It’s happened to me in the past on occasions when I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my footballing heroes. But Phil’s grounded, down-to-earth approach helped ensure a relaxed and enjoyable meeting.

Grounded. That’s such a good word to use when you talk about Phil Howard and it applies just as much to his food. For me, that’s the thing that really sets him apart.

Like other chefs on the ‘The Great British Menu’, his food is beautifully crafted with exquisite flavour combinations, but its real beauty is that it is not complicated for its own sake – it is more about enhancing and bringing out the natural flavours and properties of the ingredients he uses.

I know you could be wondering at this stage why a school food company would be courting the assistance of possibly the finest chef in the country. Well, it’s to do with the point I’ve just made about Phil.

The grounded, simple (you might even say ‘pure’) nature of his cooking is a good fit with what we’ve always aspired to – classy, wholesome but completely down-to-earth food.

Phil said he was genuinely impressed by the way we set ourselves the highest of standards and then go all out to make sure we reach them. He also liked our policy of identical daily menus at each of our 41 restaurants.

Once I know I’ve achieved something, I’ve never been happy to just sit back and be satisfied. I know people can sometimes find that trait annoying, but it’s just how I am.

For Cucina, it means always looking to see how we can improve. So I’m really excited that Phil Howard is now ready to do some work with our chef team, to push some boundaries a bit further still. As I said at the beginning of this post, what a thrill!

 

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