Chef Interview with Grady Atkins, Paysan, Cardiff
Business Name | Paysan
Hello and thank you for being our Behind The Pass guinea pig!
Paysan and Plat Paysan have been running for six months or so now, but we know your life in food has already taken you far and wide. So tell us: what was your first experience of cooking?
My earliest memory in a kitchen? That would be burning a Kinder egg, trying to melt it over the stove when I was 13!
That’s not the most promising of starts! So, who inspired you to persevere and become a Chef?
My first stepfather. He was a raging alcoholic but a trained chef- and a hell of a cook.
Tell us about your first steps into the industry, then.
I started washing dishes when I was 14 at the only fancy restaurant in Sheffield. I did my apprenticeship in London, at what is now The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
That’s a name with some prestige- it hosts Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Bar Boulud these days!
It was before all that, when it was still called The Hyde Park Hotel; they had Marco Pierre White about a year after I left, which was where he won his third Michelin star. It had one French and one Italian restaurant, which was very unusual for the 80s.
And after that?
I worked in Paris, Sicily, Boston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong… I’m not that bothered about looking back and going into too much detail, but some highlights were Hotel Meurice Paris, (now under the supervision of Alain Ducasse), The Ritz Carlton in Boston, Peninsula Beverley Hills and Hong Kong.
That’s a remarkable rollcall of cities and a hell of a palette of influences! Were any more important than others- were you more influenced by any particular region or style?
The local seasons, really, which I follow very closely. That’s what drives my menus. However, I have chosen the country cooking of France at the moment for Paysan.
If customers had to describe their dining experience with you in only three words, what would they be?
‘I’m coming back’. That’s all I wish for, the desire to try more.
When you come home from work, what do you like to cook?
Mainly grilled veg, lots of grains- and copious amounts of pork!
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Dairylea cheese. It’s immense. Honestly- I made a brûlée out of it for the tasting menu at Le Gallois. Oh and salad cream- I have been known to use it as an espuma back in the day for gazpacho.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s easy. Passing on knowledge is by far the most rewarding aspect of my career. By far.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever had about your food?
Well, I’ve had a long career but the food being compared to the classic great French chefs over the years is always nice.
What do you enjoy most about being a Chef?
I’m not. A ‘Chef’ that is. I don’t like being ‘a Chef’- which is why I retired. I’m just a cook and want to spend my days cooking, not fucking around on a computer doing rotas for 40 people!
What advice would you give to any young person keen to start in the industry?
Don’t worry about what others are doing. Do what you do sincerely and to the best of your ability. Always study, learn and be humble. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, turn fear into focus, latch onto something you enjoy and find a culinary family. Don’t worry about accolades, they won’t make you happy. Worry about your guests.
We were talking to another Chef recently who refuses to work with certain products (foie gras, live crustaceans, etc). Are there any you won’t use?
I don’t have any hard and fast exceptions like that- but my only rule is that I won’t use anything where I can’t trace its origin.
Can you sum up what a life in food has given you?
What has a life in food given me? I have almost let it destroy me as a restaurant owner, previously working 100 hours a week, but now I’m way through the other side it keeps me engaged, excited and at peace.
It has also given me the chance to experience other cultures through living and working alongside them. That’s been better experience than the work. Living and eating together- it gives you a different perspective. For example- a typical staff meal Hong Kong, always served with rice, was ‘chicken arseholes’ (Parsons noses) or braised chicken feet.
The French also impressed me with their ability to smoke and eat veal head at the same time. Never forget that. Genius.