Garrey Dylan Dawson: This is Raymond Blanc, one of the godfathers of cooking, and he had this bowl of peaches on his table. And you can imagine it was one young chef’s job to choose the best six peaches, right? And he grabs this peach and he looks at it and he bites into it. And there's juice all down the table and he's looking at me, he goes, “Gary, is there enough English food to make a language?” This is Raymond Blanc, and I'm just sitting there going, “Huh”?
Hello and welcome to The Recipe — a podcast about restaurants.
I’m your host, James Clasper, and this month’s episode features an extended interview with industry legend Garrey Dylan Dawson.
Today, he’s the general manager at Henne Kirkeby Kro, an 18th-century inn on the west coast of Denmark, which boasts two Michelin stars.
But that barely scratches the surface of Garrey’s long career in the industry.
His highlights reel includes a decade as the head chef of The Fat Duck, alongside Heston Blumenthal, when it won its three Michelin stars, a long-running stint on one of the UK’s most popular food programmes, Ready, Steady Cook, and a move to Denmark, where he forged a formidable relationship with Paul Cunningham — which fellow chef Sat Bains has called one of the best in the business.
I recently discussed all this with Garrey in what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done. As you’ll see, he’s a natural storyteller, so my advice is to make yourself a pot of tea, find a comfy seat and just sit back and enjoy the conversation. And whether you work in the kitchen or on the floor, are a serious foodie or a casual diner, you’re in for a treat.
Coming up, you’ll hear how Garrey broke into fine-dining, how he got the job at The Fat Duck, what it was like working with Heston, why he decided to leave the kitchen to focus on front of house operations, and why he rarely eats in Michelin-starred restaurants any more.
But let’s begin at the very beginning, with Garrey’s first job in the kitchen — at a fancy hotel in southern England, not far from where he grew up…
Garrey: I was 13 and I said, “I want to cook”. At the school I was at, when you made your choices of which education to go down, I chose catering, because I thought, “This is what I want to do”. Now a reaction to that was you have to go on your work experience, this work placement, to a catering establishment. So I went to the best hotel in the area, which was called Pennyhill Park, and I was there for a week, in the still room making tea and coffee with a fucking bowtie on, because they just didn't understand I wanted to be a chef. So, at the end of the week, I went up to the head chef and I grabbed him and his name was David Richards. I mean, he was a stereotypical chef. And I remember going up to him saying, “Excuse me, chef, excuse me. Um, there's a mistake. I really should be in the kitchen. “And he just gave me loads of abuse, you know? Like, “You can't come in the kitchen, who do you think you are?” But then he spoke to the guy who was in charge of me and sure enough, he came back to me and said, “You start school holidays in the next couple of weeks?” I went, “Yeah”. He said, “Come and work.” So I did. I spent actually most of my school holidays working in a kitchen, just learning stuff, just being in the environment. And that environment, to be in a kitchen, I mean, Tom's got it right — Tom Kerridge — when he calls them pirates, right. You know, they worked all day. They partied all night. They were fighting, it was verbal. Everything is looked at, you went, “My God, this is incredible.” It's an amazing environment to be passionate about. So that was it. Yes, that was why I was like, “This is definitely right for me and I'm sticking with it.” Now, obviously the next step from there was the best hotel, which was a place called Cliveden House. And that was like, wow. Charlie Chaplin used to stay there. Winston Churchill used to stay there. I was like, this has gotta be the place to go, right? And it’s got a Michelin star, this — wow — Michelin star. Now, obviously, when you go there, they've got this small kitchen, which is actually in the basement, next to the snooker room, which is the very small restaurant for the Michelin, and you go in and the head chef, he’d call you in and then he would say, “Okay, so you want to work for me?” And you're like, “Yeah, yeah.” And Ron Maxfield was his name — again, another incredible figure. He said, “You want to work for me?” And you're like, “Yeah”, and he goes, “Okay”. So he puts you down in the Michelin kitchen, where they work for dinner, Tuesday to Saturday only, and it's like 25 people. And it's just idyllic, it's calm. They were treated like rockstars among the rest of the kitchen. And they could walk around and cherry-pick ingredients from the rest of the ingredients, you know? “Oh, baby carrots, I'll come and take… oh, they look nice. I'll have six, the best six you've got.” So they were like the gods, they came in at two o'clock every day, suntanned. The head chef was like, “Hey, guys, what have you been up to today?” “Well, you know, we've been playing football and then we went to the gym and then now we're here, chef.” “Great, lads. Well, you've got 15 covers tonight.” And we're on the meat section or the veg section, just looking ill and dead and we've been working crazy hours. And then after a week he says, “Is that what you want?” And you're like, “Yeah, it's exactly what I want.” “Cool. So you need to come into the main kitchen and work your nuts off for a year. And if you’re good enough — if you’re good enough — you can get down there.” I was like, “Okay, cool.” So then I started and I worked there for in total, I think, four years. After a year I got into the Michelin. Loved that feeling of, you know, “this is special”. And then he gave me sous-chef. So I came out of the kitchen, out of the Michelin kitchen, back up to the main kitchen, where basically I was employed to shout. That was my role, shouting. It wasn't abuse. It was just like being a manager on a football pitch, at the side. He's always shouting, he's not abusive, but he's shouting. You know, “Are we ready for lunch? Are we ready in the staff canteen for the staff food? Are we ready? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” And if I wasn't shouting, he come out of the office sometimes and go, “Gary, I can't hear you.” You know, it was just like a football manager. It was crazy. I spent four years there and then I felt that it was time to shake things up, and I went and worked for a friend of mine, which was a complete disaster. I mean, a complete disaster. But, you know what, it got me out of my comfort zone. So then I'm in this position where I'm looking around and it was at that point, I said to a friend of mine, “I'm looking around for a job”. He goes, “I've heard a couple of crazy things”, and I ended up going for an interview with Heston at The Fat Duck. And I remember distinctly — the whole interview process, I could talk for an hour about that process — but basically, I can remember meeting him and then I worked with him for a day, then we sat in this office upstairs, which is like a complete … imagine if you took Albert Einstein, Alain Ducasse and maybe the Troisgros brothers, and then you shook it up and just spread it out onto a table, right? That's what this office was like. And I'm like, “Hmm”. And he talked to me for about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. I didn't understand what he was saying. I mean, he's talking to me about food and I’ve just come from Michelin and I've spent, at that point, a good stint in my life in high-class hotels, and there's this guy that I've never really heard of — rumours that he was friends with Marco [Pierre White], you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah — and I've never heard of this guy and yet he's talking about things like petit salé, andouillettes, jus gras, pig's ear reduction and I'm just sitting there going, “Hmm, yeah. That’s fantastic. Yeah, of course. Yeah. I agree.” But I hadn’t got a fucking clue what he's talking about. I remember leaving that meeting and going home, and the next day I came back to work another day, and I said to my girlfriend, now my wife, “I have to work for this guy because I have no clue what he's on about. I need to know what he knows.” So I took the job and we were like three in the kitchen. It was ridiculous, you know. And everyone there was a proper pirate. I mean, non-educated. I was the first educated guide ever employed and I walked in and I'm just like, “Okay, well, we can't do that. And we can't do that. And we can't do that. We shouldn't be doing that. And that's definitely not legal.” And he's like, “Okay, well, I didn't know this.” You know, he's just worked randomly in kitchens. And then we started this most amazing relationship which went on for nearly 10 years, which was phenomenal.
Superb: Remind me what you came in as.
Garrey: I came in as head chef. There were a couple of other guys there, but no one with any real experience at the time.
Superb: And that was the run when it started getting Michelin stars?
Garrey Dylan Dawson: Yeah, when I joined we had nothing. I missed, I think, about the first six to eight months. Something like that, you know? So when I went, he had a couple of bodies in the kitchen, but you know, nothing really crazy. And then I joined and then it took, I think, about two, three years before we got our first star and then we got a second star and then we got a third in 2004, I believe. And yeah, we went through all the emotions of TV, doing filming for that, Discovery Channel. Suddenly people that I'd been watching all my life on TV suddenly came into the restaurant, and were talking to us like we're normal, you know? Funnily enough, the day I met Heston, I said I'll take the job, but I also said to him, “Heston, I have an interview at the Manoir [aux Quat’ Saisons], with Raymond Blanc”, which I'd already said yes to and I thought the right thing to do was to continue with that, just so I knew 100%. Heston said, “Hey, go for it. I understand.” I went to the Manoir. Funnily enough, I had the most bizarre interview with Raymond Blanc. I remember it to this day. It was the most passionate, insanely beautiful interview I've ever had. We sat in his office, and then he showed me around. We walked through the gardens and there were some ladies having afternoon tea at a table with an umbrella. And then one of the umbrellas was slightly skewed and without missing a beat, he ran away from me, grabbed the umbrella and was like, “Oh no, ladies. This is a mistake, non.” And he's pulling this umbrella and it's just getting worse, and then he leaves it completely wonky, upside down, with spilled tea. And the ladies are like, “Oh my god, it’s Raymond Blanc.” And then we walked away and he was like, “That is it. That was it. That was the thing.” And you see a gardener come running over to put it back correctly. I think at that moment, I realized that guest interaction is critical. Guests want to feel the passion from the guy. It doesn't matter if it's the best interaction, but it's the interaction. And then we sat in his office, Raymond Blanc’s office, and he's got this fruit bowl. And this is Raymond Blanc, one of the godfathers of cooking, and he had this bowl of peaches on his table. And you can imagine it was one young chef’s job to choose the best six peaches, and he grabs this peach and he looks at it and he bites into it. And there's juice all down the table and he's looking at me, he goes, “Gary, is there enough English food to make a language?” And this is Raymond Blanc. And I'm just sitting there going, “Huh?” “This peach is a language. Look at it.” I remember leaving there thinking, “Wow. The guy is crazy. In a good way, in a good way. But what am I going to learn here?” I could see in the kitchen, there were 20 people, and I'm coming in — what am I going to learn here? Or I work for this guy called Heston, where I'm next to him. I'm working right next to this guy and can take everything he's got and hopefully give something back. So I took the job with Heston, which honestly, people thought I was crazy when I said I was going to work for Heston. They're like, “Who?” So I started working for him and I worked with him for nine, 10 years. Did all the things with the TV and all that stuff that we did, which was brilliant, a real learning curve. But in that process, I was also learning that because the kitchen was open, I realized that interacting with the guests was the best thing ever. So then I started looking beyond. I’d sometimes come out in the kitchen and look beyond and make sure that what we were doing — and this was something that Heston was equally engaged with — and that was we would spend ages, and this is where I think a lot of chefs fall down, is you could spend ages, developing something, put on a plate and from a kitchen point of view: perfect. At that one minute: perfect. And then you give it to a waiter and it could be that the construction of a dish could be precarious — it's ridiculous, it's like an Eiffel Tower of something — and you put it in front of the waiter and you go “Perfect”. And then they walk two yards and it falls over. And then they come back and they either get shouted at or abused or whatever. You know, this was what kitchens did back then. So what happened next time? He didn't come back. It would fall over and he’d just put it in front of you. Who loses out? The guests. So you have to think, how do we interact with the front of house? And then how do they interact with the guest? And the guest is the most important thing that we’ve got here. So therefore I started looking beyond — how do we make sure that the food that we put on the plate has two or three minutes or maybe four minutes, depending on the dish, of longevity before it gets to the guests. And when we put it on a plate, like a piece of fish, it's going to continue cooking for another three or four minutes. And then obviously back then there was no Instagram and all that stuff, but people would sit there and go, “Well, what have you got? I've got the fish. Oh, you got that? Yeah.” Talk and then start to eat.
So every time we took a dish and we made it, we put it on a plate, we sent it and practiced this. We'd put it on the pass. “No, wait.” And the restaurant manager at the time, whoever that may be, he’d take it to the restaurant and put it on an empty table. You know, middle of the day, on a Monday probably, no one in the restaurant. He’d put it on the table and sit there and look at it and just pretend to talk and then we'd eat it. “Oh, it's over-cooked. Ah, okay, shit. Back we go again, right?” Take it back. Another 30 seconds, a minute. You know, everything was so calculated to how we can get it to you. And that's when I realised that everything is important. It's not just about food. It's about the chair you’re sitting on, it's the table, it's the curtains, it's what's in your eye line, it's what's behind you, it's what your wife's going to be looking at, what's going to be distracting her when you talk, you know, blah, blah, blah. It’s very, very important, the whole dynamic. Working with Heston, we learnt about music in the room, what kind of music you should have, you know? And if you think about restaurants, in fast-food chains, the music is quite uptempo, if there is any, but nowadays it's not so many, but it used to be a bit more uptempo, and a restaurant is very much more relaxed. These are very conscious decisions made by the people, the restaurateurs, that built these franchises or whatever. So we started to learn this. The chair that you're sitting on has got to be so comfortable. But again, when you go to the fast-food chains, the chairs are not so comfortable because they don't want you to stick around — “eat, out, get out, all right”? So these are things I started to learn and that was the transition between when I thought about not leaving the kitchen, but doing more than just the kitchen, because I’d cooked then for years, at that point, and obviously I was working with someone who's incredibly passionate and we’d achieved so many great things, but I was realising that there are some amazing cooks out there. Sat Bains and Claude Bosi, these guys are just legends, right? And will always be legends. And when you look at some of these guys, you go, “Hmm, know your limitations, Gary. Know your limitations and move on. Complete the picture.” Which is why then, we had a small brasserie, Heston and I, with a couple of other partners, one of them was the football player, Lee Dixon. And it was a brasserie on the River Thames and we were running it at the same time as the Duck, and it was good and it was bad, it was up, it was down. We had staffing issues like everybody else, but it was a super-cool environment. And it meant that we learned a different side to the Duck. And then when, when my first son was born, it was like, “Shit, this is totally different. I've got to rethink my life here.” You know what it's like. It changes you. So I said to Heston, “Listen, this little restaurant we have down the road, I want it, so whatever we need to do to make that happen, make it happen.” So we did that. I took over. Heston came out and then I ran it with the other guys that we were already in partnership with, for the next four years. And then learned even more about people — visibility, running a restaurant, running staff, all the crap that goes wrong when you run staff, internet, connections, credit card machines, all that crap. And then my second son was born and again, it was like, “Hang on a minute. Change again, right? Shit. I need to do something different.” Now, my wife, being Danish, she never said we need to move to Denmark. It had been playing on my mind that we should go at some point. The Danes have an amazing relationship with work and family life. And I just said it out loud one day, I was like, “Maybe it's time we should go to Denmark. Just try.” And she's like, “Are you sure?” And I'm like, “Yeah.” And there were obviously some great chefs in Denmark, but this is 12 years ago, 13 years ago. It wasn't as crazy as it is now. So I'm like, “Yeah, I really want to go. Why not? Yeah, let's do it.” It took a little while to figure out what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I had a few interviews with some people that are established here in Denmark. To be honest, it became very quickly known to me that they wanted Garrey Fat Duck. They didn't want me. They wanted to know what I knew. And maybe that's normal. Listen, if I was a mechanic for Ferrari, and then I had this geezer come in and he said he'd been working for McLaren and he was winning the championship, I'd probably want to know why and how. So it's probably quite normal, but they weren’t always that open about it. So I was like, “I'm not sure if that's right.” Then there was a friend of mine who said, “There’s a brilliant hotel that’s going to reopen, it’s been closed for a while, it's been refurbished, they need a head chef.” And I'm thinking, “Okay, well, I've been sort of semi out of the kitchen for a few years but maybe I should go back in the kitchen.” So I did that just for a year. But the funny thing is, while I was there, I got an email and I wasn't in a rut, but it was a big hotel and there was a lot of crap that went with it.
Lots of meetings, lots of people sitting around and going, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I'm sitting there going, “Why am I sat here? I want to be in the kitchen, I want to work with these boys?” And I’d go into office and answer the hundred emails that came every day about rubbish. And then one of them just said, “Call me.” And I deleted it. A couple of days later, I got another email that said, “Please call me.” I deleted that as well. And then I'm carrying on, and then I got another email saying, “You really should call me.” I called the number. It turns out it was the guy I work for now, Flemming Skoubou. And he's like, “I've got a cool project and I'd like you to come and have a look at it.” “Oh, right. Okay.” So literally the next morning I met with him and his brief was really small. It was like, “I want to have a great restaurant. I want it to be one of the best. How are we going to do it?” I went, “Interesting, really cool. Well, I need to see the restaurant.” I didn't know where I was going, I didn't have any clue. And that's when he said, “Okay, west coast, Henne Kirkeby Kro. Go and have a look.” So I went out there and it was this long drive to the west coast, from where I lived, and it was like, “Oh my God, the most idyllic, beautiful, cottage restaurant on the roadside.” It was everything you could possibly imagine. And I’ve got to say, I went in there thinking, I've just come from one of the best restaurants in the world. You know, I'll buy Riedel glasses and I'll get some Ercuis cutlery and I'll get some Limoges crockery. Let’s buy all this amazing stuff, lift it instantly and then we'll just suddenly become great. When I walked in the door, they had everything already. It was just like, “Oh my God. Oh, hang on. Is that — ? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have got this. Plus you had things like Royal Copenhagen. You know, beautiful Danish quality. And I’m lik, “Hmm. This could actually be really challenging.” I’ll tell you what the biggest thing I did in the early stage was. The biggest thing I did was brought the kitchen and the front of house together. Because they weren't talking. They were this classic, “Kitchen’s always right, the front house are always idiots.” You know, restaurants — “you guys are a bunch of idiots”, even though they don't mean it, even though they actually love each other, there's always this, “Well, you're in front of the guests, so you must be wrong and I'm in the kitchen and I'm always right.” So I had to bring these, these, these two elements together and make us one, and that's what we did quite successfully and I really liked that. Fast forward a couple of years, to 2012, I got called to a meeting by Flemming Skoubou and Simon Skoubou, his son, where we sat at a table and I had all these notes, but I didn't know what we're going to talk about. And they looked at me, they just said, “We need to make a change. And I'm like, “Hmm. Yep. Okay.” And I'm thinking, you know, that millisecond where you're thinking, “That's me, I'm out”. And I was really loving what we were doing because there were no boundaries. It was just doing the best we could. And I said, “Okay, what have you got in mind?” And they said, “We need another chef.” And I was like, “Oh”. And obviously this threw me. I’m like, “Cool. Yeah. Okay. Hmm. That's interesting.” “Yeah, listen, we've gone too Nordic.” The food was very Nordic. There were probably 10, 12 chefs in the kitchen, tweezers everywhere. It was, you know, silence. I mean, silence. If you turned around and banged a cupboard, everyone was like, “Shhh.” It was horrendous in that sense. I’d come from a kitchen where we played music. Heston and I, we got shut down by the neighbours because we're seeing Neil Diamond at the top of our lungs at stupid o'clock in the morning. It was so loud, this is a true story, we were singing “Sweet Caroline” and a neighbour complained. They tried to ring the kitchen phone, which bear in mind was just here, next to us, but we couldn't hear it. He came out of his house around the corner, he came in the front door, he came in the kitchen and pressed stop on the CD machines. And we're like, “What's your problem?” He goes, “I've been trying to tell you it's really loud and I can hear you singing five doors down.” So we loved music and we played music all the time and it was part of what we did, so to have this kitchen that was silent was killing me. Anyway, in this conversation with Flemming and Simon, they said, “So what do you think?” Now this was also, if I remember rightly, January and we’d closed — back then I think we closed in October or November — and we were due to open in March, and then they suddenly say, “Yeah, we need new head chef. What do you think?” And I only had one person in my mind. It was beautiful, but at the same time, hit and miss. I had no idea if this would work. And they said, “Okay, what are you thinking?” And I said, “Well, Paul Cunningham is the guy I want to work with.” And they went, “What do you mean, Paul from The Paul?” I went, “Yeah, the restaurant, the non-egotistically named restaurant in Copenhagen called The Paul.” And they were like, “But you know, Paul?” And I went, “Yeah, I know Paul.” Now the reason I knew Paul is because when we thought about moving to Denmark, my wife being Danish, she was in recruitment, so she was very active on, you know, “if you want to do something, this is how you do it”. So she just got on the phone and called Paul up: “Hi, you don't know me. My name is Helle Dawson. I'm married to Gary Dawson and he works at the Fat Duck. We want to move to Denmark. Is it easy? Is it difficult? How should we do that?” Then when I moved to Denmark, we started texting and ringing each other. And we talked a lot. So when I called him and just said, “Hey, Paul, I've just left a meeting. What are you doing?” And he was like, “Oh, I don't know. Thought about writing a book. Thought I might do some photography too.” I said, “The restaurant is closed, right?” He went, “Yeah.” Because he had just suffered a blood clot in his shoulder and was recovering from that. So at that point he said: “Stress, I'm quitting The Paul.” So he left. So he was doing nothing and I sort of knew this. I said, “Okay, listen, we've got this amazing project come and see what we're doing. No strings attached. Just come and see what we're doing.” And he said okay. I walked back into the meeting with the family and I said, “Listen, guys, I've just spoke to Paul. He's up for a meeting. So let's get together.” So I took him, first of all, to our island. I say our, because it's theirs. But, you know, I feel I have a little bit of ownership. So we have this island, a privately owned island in Denmark, where we have game and it's the most amazingly architecturally, naturistic beautiful place. It's incredible. I took him there. First I showed him around. Now, I'm not kidding you, it's nothing like Buckingham Palace, but if I threw you into the middle of Buckingham Palace and showed you round, you’d be like, “Oh my god.” So I showed him around and he was like, “Oh my God.” I said, “Right, now let's get in the car and let's go to the restaurant.” Now it’s an hour and a half away, we jumped in the car and we spoke for an hour and a half and the more time we actually spent together, we realised the more alike we are. We looked up to the same chefs growing up, we worked in the same way, we had the same taste about food. You know, food being food. We loved things like foie gras. We loved caviar. All these things we loved. Back then I called it dirty cooking, roasting butter and basting and finishing. And it was great. It was proper old-school cooking, as opposed to everything being too clean and plain, right? So then we got to the restaurant, showed him around the restaurant. Now he'd come from The Paul. Now obviously The Paul was a beautiful building on the outside, but from my understanding, and I've seen it afterwards, the kitchen was pretty crappy and he couldn't do it 100 percent the way he wanted to do it. So when he came to the west coast, I showed him the kitchen and he went, “Wow, the kitchen's amazing”. I said, “Yeah, but this is just to make breakfast. We've got another kitchen on the other side.” And then I took him and he was just overwhelmed but in a good way. And I think he could see potential in all of this. Then he went away and we talked about it again. He came back with his team, the guys that he used to work with. Now, Paul has an amazing following of chefs, who have gone on to do their own things now. But back then when he was in Copenhagen, he just had to say, “Guys, I'm going to the other end of the country. Who's coming?” “We will, yeah. We'll come.” So they came over, we showed them around. Like, “Great, let's do it.” And I think within three or four weeks, we opened for the season. And that was 2012 and then obviously, as you can tell, from there to where we are today, two stars in the Michelin guide, I think we've done quite a lot. But I think the biggest thing that we're doing is just championing real food. Paul's cooking doesn't require the most amazingly perfect baby carrots or everything to be the same. You know, Paul's food is a bit ugly in that sense. You know, it's beautifully ugly. And so I think we've got something there on the west coast that is just unique and that's one of the most beautiful things about Paul. He is unique. We work together so well. He brings energy. He brings class. And this is the beautiful thing that chefs should listen to and learn — and I don't think a lot of them do — and that is in the morning, you can have a menu, you can have a dish, you can have a sauce, you can have a garnish, but the important thing here is that every single day it changes. Now, if you've got a set recipe that never moves, that's fine because it'll be great every day. However, there's certain days when it should be amazing. And it should change in accordance with many factors. Now I've always put this down to the weather, but it's more than that. But basically imagine: Paul leaves his little house on the side of the restaurant and it's probably about a five minutes — Paul walks pretty slowly so it's about five minutes, at a good pace, maybe three — but the point is, in that three minutes, he will walk from his house and he will go past the sheep and he will go through the garden past the orchard where the flowers are, and he'll go past the bees, and he might divert, if it's a beautiful day, to take a picture up in the garden and you can see beyond into the meadow. And then he will swing around a little bit and then end up coming back down towards the restaurant. Now, in all those moments, he's absorbing the temperature, he's absorbing the feel, he’s absorbing the nature, and what will happen is, when he walks in the kitchen on that given day, he might turn around to the boys and say, “We’re going to lighten the sauce a bit today”, or “We're going to add a bit more. It's a bit cold outside. We need a little extra butter. We're going to take it down a little bit, with a knob of butter. And then because we do that, we're just going to add a bit more salt. We just need to make it more punchy.” On a summer's day, “We're going to lighten it a bit, a bit more acidity. A little bit more lemon juice in there, or apple cider, whatever.” It's that daily adjustment that makes the difference. Why is that little bit of spice, that little bit of magic. You can't run a kitchen like: bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump. And that's what he does phenomenally well. And if that means that he walks in one day and he just says, “Nah, I’ve just seen the apple trees and all the apples are falling off. The bees are just eating all the apples and it's just a bit miserable outside, we're not going to apple crumble today”, then that's what he does, that's how he operates. And that is magical, absolutely magical. I was talking to another friend of mine — we have some crazy conversations, and we spent a few hours on the phone the other day — and we were talking about how being rigid to your thoughts, being stuck in the procedure, having these steps that are concreted in every day, because you're trying to keep a feeling, keep an award, keep a Michelin star, keep all these things that you've got because you're too afraid to lose them — he was like, “When we do this and we create an environment where everything's written down, we lose creativity, we lose a feeling. It's no longer an art, it's just a process. It's a thing. And that's sad, right?” Now we've all been part of that. This is Heston I'm talking about. We talk a lot about this and how in his mind, the things that he's been doing, he doesn't always agree with. The Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Many fancy pantsy restaurants have got these regimes where no one can go wrong because what's important is consistency. Consistency is great for winning awards, but it's boring as hell for people that work there. And when I was younger cooking, the sous-chef on any given day could say, “Hey guys, today, fuck the chickens didn't come in. So we're going to change it. We’re going to do pigeon” or “We're going to change the sauce up because we didn't get the chicken wings in to make the sauce for the chicken, so we can change it up here.” And that was what was expected of a chef, to change things. When I was younger, there’d be a knock on the back door, and then the guy would come in and go, “Ah, hello, I'm selling truffles” and you’d go, “Brilliant, fuck, what are we going to do today? Truffles, guys, we're going to … just do a new dish with some truffles on it, doesn't matter.” That's gone, right? If I order over the phone a pristine little baby fish this big, or monkfish this big, and a cod this big, and then in the morning when it doesn't arrive, everyone goes, “Oh my God. Oh no, what we can do now?” It's horrible. That for me is lost. Now I don't go out and eat at Michelin restaurants very often anymore because of that. I like to go somewhere where I can look at a plate and I can see that the guy in the kitchen there is either having a bad day or a good day, he's struggling or he's happy or sad. You can feel it on the plate. Now I don't care if I go somewhere and my steak is slightly over-cooked, but if I can still feel that it's got that little bit of seasoning on it, if it's seasoned correctly, and there’s a bit of love. If I can see that I get a steak, beautiful ribeye, and it's been roasted, it's crispy on the outside, a little bit over-cooked, but it’s got thyme, it's got rosemary, it's got garlic, the guy's taken confit garlic that he roasted and smushed it over the top, and I eat that steak and taste it and go, “This guy was thinking about it, he cared about it. Is it over cooked? Might be. But do I really care? No. Because I can taste his passion. I can taste his love for what he’s doing. The rest of it will come later. But anyone can pick up a book now and get a water bath and a thermometer and cook a steak perfectly to medium rare. But it doesn't mean it's seasoned. It doesn't mean it's finished correctly. That's what is so goddamn annoying about cooking today, you know, and that's what we've been talking about — how and what we should do next to make food fun and interesting. And this is what Paul does hands down. And this is what we do as a group on the west coast. This is something that is — it’s not controversial, but what's important to me is that Henne on the west coast is not about one person. It's not about Paul. It's not about me. It's not about the family that owns the place. It's about everybody. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has a feeling. Everybody has an eye. And everybody should be a part of that. And it's because everybody has this, that we can create something that's a little bit different. On any given day, something can go completely left or right. No problem. It’s how we deal with it. And we try to give people the tools in Henne, the restaurant staff, the kitchen, the gardener, the lady who does the flowers, we try to give everybody the tools to make a decision for themselves, knowing the fact that they can actually do it and no one's going to go, “Well, that's not like it was yesterday. What the hell is that?” Everything can change on a given day and I think we're losing that a little bit in the industry, unfortunately.
Superb: It’s fascinating to hear how you empower everyone in that way, but I’m also interested in how you’ve brought all your years of experience in the kitchen to bear on both the front and back of house teams.
Garrey: A very simple example is, the previous chef to Paul used to love folding napkins really quite high and then on top of that would be the most precarious little caviar tin which had a caviar dish in there that was compiled of a hundred million pieces of stuff, and then it was balanced on top of this napkin and then a waiter had to carry two of these into the restaurant and there was always a mistake, something always fell off. And I think it was someone like me that could come and say, “Guys, listen, this just doesn't work. I'm just saying, you can't do this. I mean, who's suffering? You're going to have to replate the dish. They're going to have to carry it again.” Everyone was a little bit scared of the kitchen. And so I had to be in a position where I could say to the kitchen, “Think differently about this, guys. Let's change the fucking napkin. If you want to do the dish the way you're doing the dish, no problem. But let's change the way we present it.” And I had to say to the front of house as well, “Guys, listen, you cannot be afraid of the kitchen. We're in this together. If one of them is not working, then it's not going to work for everyone.” I've never had any kind of routine in my life. Don't get me wrong. It's not like every Wednesday we get together at nine o'clock to drink coffee, have croissants and discuss the week ahead. No, but it’d just be when we needed to, as often as we needed to, it could be five minutes here, 10 minutes there, I tried to get people together a little bit, the leaders, and say, “Listen, guys, you’ve got to agree that if he says this, he means it out of love and passion, not because he thinks you're an idiot.” And so slowly but surely, people started to understand that there's one goal here and that's to give the customer at the table the best experience. Paul has a good saying. “Happy cooks, happy food”. And that's true. Then that happy food gets taken out to a guest. Now a guest has to be happy. Now the food can be the best in the world, but the most important thing is we have to read the situation. Because we've got to make sure that happy food gets to the table and makes guests happy. But we've got to read the situation. We've got to then look at every single… I am not a waiter — and this is where the waiters get really quite frustrated with me — because when I go to a table, I'm not going to go to the right of the guest and put it down if it's awkward. If it's two guests sitting like this, I'll just go in and go. “There you go. Chicken.” And smile. And I’ll look at the situation. Do they want to hear more? Do they want to see more? What kind of people are they? When I walk to the table, do they look at me, waiting? “What's he going to say?” In which case I’ll give a bit more. If they're still holding hands when I walk up to the table and go to lean in and they're still holding hands and they're still talking, they don't want to hear what I've got to say. Keep it short and sweet. So I put it down and I go, “Chicken” and walk away. And if they want to hear more in the next course, then we'll explain more. But we got to read the situation. And that was where the front of house had to be more comfortable with the kitchen so they knew that when they went to the table to the guests, they weren't going to get called out by the chef saying, “Did you present it correctly?” Who cares? Who cares? It's about presenting it in the best way for the guests, the ones that sit there and look at you, and you want to go, “Well, this is a chicken that was raised by Jeff. Now Jeff loves his chickens. “And you can tell them the whole bloody story, no big deal. But you’ve got to read the guest. And that's where I think I brought to Henne from my kitchen experience to the guest experience was bringing the two together that everyone was happy. So they could communicate to the guests in the best possible way, you know.
Superb: How do you think you’ve changed in what, 20, 25 years in the business?
Garrey: I think what I've tried to realise over the years is that the most important thing we have is people. And what I try to do, which is a bit ironic considering we've been talking for about an hour and I’ve probably done about an hour and 10 of that, but you need to listen, right? And you need to try and make the environment the best it can be. Because when people leave or people move on or things change, you can put your hand on your heart and know that you've done the best you can for yourself and for them.
Superb: And is there anything you once believed about the world of restaurants that you've since changed your mind about?
Garrey: Oh, that's a good question. Well, I believed that it was just about food on a plate. That was it. And I believed that kitchens were a brutal place and that's changed. It’s not, it doesn't have to be, and it's not just about the food on the plate. It's about everything. And as we talked about that comes from the people. So I honestly probably felt, when I was younger, the front of house were just plate carriers. And now I know they're not. They’re the absolute critical link between the kitchen and the front.
Superb: Now I can’t let you go without hearing about your time on Ready Steady Cook, which I grew up watching, of course. I mean, it’s one of the OGs of food TV, isn’t it?
Garrey: I loved it. Absolutely loved it. It was actually Heston I have to thank for that because he was approached by an agency, a management agency, and they said, “Listen, we're looking for new up and coming talent. Who do you know, anybody?” And he was like “Yeah, I know somebody”. And I had just finished with him and gone to the other restaurant that we had together. It was cool. So he was like, “Yeah, go and see Gary.” I met with these people. They said, “Yeah, come along.” And I’ve got to tell you, at the time, I often thought of Ready, Steady, Cook as a bit of a joke, being from a Michelin background. I thought, “Well, this could be cool. Now I've got my own restaurant, this’ll bring publicity.” I could see that from all the years with Heston, a little thing on the TV brings huge amounts of people. That can mean the difference between survival and dying. So I thought it could be quite cool and maybe it will lead on to something else. So I said, thinking it would be quite easy, to the team. “Yeah. Okay. I can do Ready, Steady, Cook. I'll do that.” They said, “Okay, let's have an interview.” So I had to go for an interview at the studios where they literally gave me a bag of ingredients like they do on the show. I'm in the studio of Ready, Steady, Cook with an empty audience and the cameras and there's the woman who runs the show, she just gives me a big bag of ingredients and says, “There you go”. Click, off you go, 20 minutes, do it. Now I had a little assistant with me who would have been my guest, helping me out. And I had to come up with four or five dishes in 20 minutes. And that was my interview and I've got to say, I was like, “Holy shit, this is hard.” And it was hard. And then I realised that what I thought was a bit of a joke is actually fucking difficult. This is real, you know? I learnt a lot in that period of time. I learned how to say things in a nice way. I learned how to interact a little bit with the guest again, which is what I was doing anyway, but you had that sort of — the little difference between connecting with these old ladies on the front row, who were sitting there knitting, looking at what you're doing and you connect with them, makes the difference between winning and losing, which goes back to what we're talking about today in the restaurant, you know. If we can connect with our guests, it's the difference between winning and losing, So it was fun. I had a lot of laughs doing it and it was real. That's the important thing. It was real.
Superb: Final question then. Tell me about the upcoming season at Henne.
Garrey: We're doing things slightly differently this year. We've had to change the way our roles are slightly in the restaurant because of situations that are out of our control. It's difficult to explain but basically, Paul has not been well in the last couple of years. The good news is, he's better than ever. But we have to look after him. So we are sort of relying more on his creative content and creative input than his physical input. The head chef under Paul, Paul Proffitt, who's been like a complete rock in the kitchen, who — let’s face, most great chefs, Heston had me, Sat has got his guys there, Claude has a great head chef, they have a great guy behind him — and under Paul has been Paul. Paul Proffitt, and that's what we are sort of progressing, that [Paul] senior can have much more of a vocal input than a physical one. We're not going to lose any of the charm from Paul because he's still going to be there when I want him to sit and shoot the breeze with me. Some of the best conversations we ever have are when we sit and drink tea at the front of the restaurant, just shooting the breeze, and out of a great conversation comes great ideas. I need that from Paul and that's where we are going to change things [and be] a little bit different. So spring in Henne is going to be light, it's going to be fun, it's going to be tasty. That's it.
That was Garrey Dylan Dawson, the general manager at Henne Kirkeby Kro.
And that’s also all we’ve got time for this month.
In next month’s episode, we go back to school to find out how Noma’s MAD Academy is changing the world — one restaurant at a time.
Deborah Mattsson-Clarke: “One of the nicest quotes we had was from a woman who said that she came in in the morning thinking that this was a luxury and she left at the end of the day thinking this is essential.”
The Recipe is written, produced and hosted by me, James Clasper, for Superb.
Many thanks again for listening and see you next time.