|Michelin Starred Chef, Author and Pub Landlord - How Does He Find The Time?|
Emma Brophy chews the fat with The Devonshire's Mark Sargeant
He’s young, incredibly successful and considered by Gordon Ramsay to be his right-hand man – Mark Sargeant has more reasons than most to be conceited but he is far from it.
We are sitting is his office over The Devonshire trying very hard to keep the interview on track and on time, but frequently veering off on tangents, such as how best to poach a whole salmon, the X-Factor, singles in sushi bars and what I cooked for my family the previous Sunday. However, somewhere in the midst of all this, I discovered some interesting facts about the man Ramsay holds in such high regard.
“I wanted to be a chef from the age of eight, apart from the week I wanted to be a hairdresser,” says Mark. “But when I told my career advisor at school he said ‘what a stupid thing to want to be.’”
“When I was 13 I started working in a local steak house washing up on Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday lunchtime and evening. Probably illegal now! But I was loaded, at £2.95 an hour I was able to buy all the great clothes and shoes and put myself through catering college using that."
“I realized that if you work really hard you can earn money through it and it was work that I enjoyed doing so why not carrying on doing it.”
Which is precisely what he did, achieving levels of acclaim most chefs only dream of: voted Young Chef of the Year in 1996 and then National Chef of the Year in 2002. He went to work for Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in October 1997 before opening Gordon Ramsay at Claridges 2001. The following year he was awarded his first Michelin star and still holds his position there as Head Chef.
So where do the pubs fit into all this? “I went to dinner with Gordon and we started talking about things and I told him I really wanted to get into opening up pubs. He got really excited about the idea and told me to speak to his father-in-law who’s his business partner. He said "It’s your project, you can sort it all out, organise the chefs and do all the menus." so it was really exciting for me.”
The Devonshire is the second of the three pubs which have opened, for the most part, to great press. “Yeah, I know we’re at the wrong end of Devonshire Road!” he smiles, “But it’s the end of my road; this is where I live. Some people come here because of Gordon’s name. They’ve been to Claridges and Hospital Road and then wonder why the food’s different here. It’s is a local pub for local people.”
“So many gastro pubs were going down the route of Spanish tapas and the like and there wasn’t really much British stuff around. But by the time it got from the point where I thought about doing it to the point of opening our first pub, there had been a resurgence in Great British old school stuff, which is great for the food but it almost looked liked we were jumping on the bandwagon a little. But it’s really important to say that we weren’t. We had this idea but took our time to find the right site.”
Mark is generous in his approval of La Trompette, Malcolm John’s Le Vacherin and his newest neighbour in Devonshire Road, Makoto, but who does he consider to be The Devonshire’s peers amongst Chiswick’s pubs? “The Swan and Carpenters Arms have got good reputations and we really like the Roebuck.” He says, “We’re definitely a pub, not a pub trying to be a restaurant. We serve pub food at pub prices although people do see us more as a food pub than a drinking pub, unlike The Narrow where the bar is always heaving.”
Ramsay has been widely criticised for spending more time behind the camera than he does in the kitchen and Mark has appeared alongside him in a number of programmes. More recently he has appeared on BBC’s hugely popular Saturday Kitchen. Is this something that he wants to do more of? “I love doing Saturday Kitchen; it’s a great programme. It’s about giving people a bit of inspiration to go out and try new things. That’s what we do; we get ideas and we shop in Turnham Green [Terrace]. You’ve got great meat from Mackens, there is the fishmongers and Mortimer and Bennett for cheese.”
“I’ve never pretended that I cook in any of the pubs. I come up with the concept of the menu, then I write the menu with the guys. It’s really important for them to have input, not be robots, we really want them to come up with ideas. We have a head chef in each pub to oversee everything and make sure standards are maintained when you’re not around, so the pubs for me are more of a business. It’s somewhere for me to get my simple ideas out, to showcase that sort of style.”
Mark has also co-written all of Ramsay’s books, from A Chef for All Seasons to the Great British Pub Food which is still in production. Doesn’t he mind being a name in small print? “I see these as my books as well. I’d rather write a book that’s more successful sales-wise and, let’s face it, that’s only going to be with Gordon’s name on it than do something on my own and sell 3,000 copies.”
“I’ve got Claridges and the books and the pubs and we do Olive and Good Food Magazine, so it makes my job really diverse which keeps me more excited and interested than if, to be honest, I just worked Monday to Friday lunch and dinner at the stove. I want more out of my life than that and luckily I’ve got it.”
I had to ask about the very public rows that Ramsay is well known for. The respect Mark has for his boss is evident: is that the secret behind the men’s unwavering relationship?
“Gordon calls me his right-hand man. I’ve worked for him for 11 years; he’s sacked me three times and is continually on my case. Over the years we’ve built up a rapport. Anything Gordon does, I help him with. We’ve got such a strong bond, like I’m part of the family.”
“But we have a line. He’s always my boss. He needs to be able to tell me when things are not going well. It’s important not to take business decisions personally.”
October 20, 2008