Russell Bateman, at workNapoleon and I have have something in common, from the age of six we both wanted to be Chefs. His dreams changed, mine did not. That is where my similarities with the great man stop.

Growing up in Hayes, West London there was not much quality where restaurants were concerned. Fortunately, my Grandmother baked all her own bread, Granddad grew some vegetables and he also brewed his own ale. This alone was enough to spark my interest in cooking. The smell of fresh bread, picking and eating runner beans, beetroot, radishes & tomatoes and of course the ceremony of opening a new batch of his ale, which had been sat ageing in store cupboard. I used to love seeing my Grandad open a new batch, it was like a sommelier opening a bottle of wine that he was particularly excited about. I used to go to my Grand parents straight from school. Upon arrival I’d be handed a doorstep sandwich of freshly made bread, thick with Salted butter, pickled beetroot and loads of ground white pepper, flavours that I still absolutely love and even better memories. Unfortunately I never got to taste the Ale.

A few years on, when called into the careers office at Abbotsfield Comprehensive I was asked “what do you want to be?” I said “a Chef”, they laughed. For a work experience placement, I was placed in “Tutto!” a small Mediterranean restaurant ran by the then Chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs Stephen Scuffell. I absolutely loved it. The camaraderie, the tension, the hard physical work, the openness, the uniforms, the size of the place and most of all the food. I finally had a chance to learn something I was actually interested in. Stephen offered me a part-time job, I took it. When I left school I went on to work there full time. I also attended Westminster College in Battersea on a part time NVQ course one day a week.

After finishing my first year at college I decided it was time to up the anti, so I left Tutto! & Stephen and went to work at Harrods in Knightsbridge. I met some great people and learnt lots at Harrods but it only added to my desire to learn more. Harrods is also were I started to fine my passion for dining out. Whilst there I visited Marco Pierre Whites Oak Room. I was a 17 year old and I was hooked. Through the Executive Chef at Harrods, I was introduced to the Head Chef of Chapter One. I was leaving the safety net of Harrods, to go into a full service in a large fine dining restaurants kitchen. I was a confident young man with no fear though and went in all guns blazing. I got on well with the Head Chef Paul Dunstane and progressed well and earned his trust. I still consider Paul a good friend and someone I owe a lot to. I also met Tim Johnson a wonderful chef, quite different to any chef I had ever met. Tim and Paul were a different breed, a different kettle of fish. These were the kind of Chef that I wanted to be.

Paul did not stay at Chapter One for long though, some places are not for some people. He left and went to work at Chez Nico (the famous flagship of legendary restaurateur Nico Ladenis)as Head Chef. He asked me to join him. Of course I went.

Nico’s was a different league, 5 gears up, another world, but I still had Paul to help and guide me. Paul Rhodes was the Executive Chef and was there everyday. I was convinced he did not like me. I was getting jumped on for the tiniest of errors by him and the senior chefs. We were doing 5 day weeks, 14 hours a day, It was hard but I would never give in and I still look back on those days with fond memories. I was there then kind of thing. I know now he was helping me, shaping me, moulding me and preparing me for my next challenge.

It was June when I arrived on St James Street (the original Petrus site) it was hot, the hours were long, the standards unbelievably high and the work gruelling. At the time it was incredibly hard. Looking back now I can honestly say I don’t regret one moment of my time spent with Marcus. It was hard, but it had to be. Petrus is irreplaceable for me. I feel that was where I really learnt to be a Chef, to cook, to taste, to practise, to perfect, to work, work and work some more. I never thought it at the time, but I owe Marcus Wareing a huge debt of gratitude. The team downstairs in that little kitchen was incredible. Everyone was a solid cook I still speak to many of them now. We are all bonded by our experiences in that small basement on St James.

With Marcus I learnt much more than cooking. During my two and half years with Marcus we opened the Savoy Grill, Fleur and the then new Petrus at The Berkley, all of which were fantastic experiences for a young chef learning his trade. Of course my time with Marcus was to come to an end and I was only interested in one place next; France, and 3 Star Michelin.

Marc Veyrat beckoned. When I arrived in Annecy I spoke no useful French what so ever, but I knew I could cook (Marcus kindly reminded me of that after my last service with him). Soon though the other cooks could see all that really mattered was the ability to do the work. I started in the pastry which was great for me. Learning pastry properly in a 3 Star Michelin, it does not get much better than that! I soon moved onto the sauce section, preparing the meat and making the sauces. At the time Marc Veyrat was the only 10/10 in the Gault Millau Guide which is quite impressive in its self. He was also pioneering a new style of cooking. Every morning we would congregate outside the restaurant usually about 4.30 to go into Manigod. Picking wild herbs and flowers from the mountains of the Alps. This was Marc Veyrat’s great passion and one you see reflected on so many of today’s chefs menus. He truly is the Godfather of this style and that should not be forgotten. His Restaurants could not have existed without the environ, it was key to it. Everything was a product of the local environment, from the cheese to the chairs.

After Marc Veyrat I returned to England as there was a mix up with my next post in Paris (we wont go into that though).

I started work with Eric Chavot at the Capital Hotel, a Chef I already had huge respect for having eaten there several times. Eric was is an amazing chef; flavour, flavour, flavour. I still hear it now. My time with Eric was short lived but I loved working for him, he really did have a lot of influence on me.

Next was Danesfield House Hotel in Marlow. A beautiful property on the River Thames working for Aiden Byrne. This was a leap of faith for both of us. We started on the same day and the task in hand was massive. I saw a new style of cooking emerging in Aiden’s food. It was exciting, fresh and natural. I started as Aiden’s Sous Chef but when Aiden got the call to go to the Dorchester to take on their Grill Room. I was asked to man the ship. I was very proud to do so and really enjoyed my time at Danesfield House. Adam Simmonds took over the reigns at the hotel continues to go from strength to strength.

Midsummer House in Cambridge was my next port of call. An absolutely beautiful 2 star Michelin restaurant beside the River Cam, owned and run by Daniel Clifford. I liked Daniel from the first time we met and we still remain friends to this day. His food was packed with modern technique but had a firm grounding in the Classics. We would sit and talk about dishes for hours and hours. Often not realising and working through the night on new ideas. If I could use one word to some up my time spent with Daniel it would be Passion.

I finally took my first proper Head Chef role at The Feathers. A charming old town house hotel in the village of Woodstock in Oxfordshire. I was with the Feathers for two and a half years and I learned a huge amount about myself. I found out that the food is almost the “easy” bit. Here is where I honed the other skills managing GP, manning, ordering, sourcing, staffing, social work, paperwork……the list goes on. I really am grateful to everybody at the Feathers for taking the chance on me and giving me such a wonderful place to work in. However I had to move on with my ambition.

Now, Colette’s at The Grove.

Who knows what the future holds for me? I just know that I am happier than I have ever been cooking. I am enjoying my surroundings, my kitchen, my team, and my food more than ever. I once said “everyday I come to work and all I see is possibilities” that has not changed.

To be continued……………….

Russell Bateman

My Journey

April 2009 – Present: Colette’s at The Grove, Watford Head Chef 3 AA Rosettes, 5/10 Good Food Guide Gold Award on Top Table Recommendation in Hardens Guide Responsible for 45 cover Restaurant and Private Dining Room (30) Oct 2007 – March 2009 : Feathers Hotel, Woodstock Head Chef 2 AA Rosettes, 4/10 Good Food Guide …Read more