Renowned Scottish Chef, Paul Tamburrini, asked Ellis Mack to come dine with him at his new restaurant, Bistro Deluxe by Paul Tamburrini, at the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh. Here are just some of the many juicy excerpts from our interview about food, music and the importance of recruiting and retaining the ideal restaurant team.
Q: Hi Paul, first and foremost, tell us a little bit about yourself, your journey and how you ended up at the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel today.
A: Well I’ve been speaking with MacDonald Hotels & Resorts for the best part of the year and they approached me to do a joint venture with them. After a certain period of time, we got together and this is the result of it. They’ve given me full autonomy over the front and back of the house. They left me to source out everything from the crockery, glassware, uniforms, to the branding and I have to say they’ve been amazing. Much of it is still the honeymoon period but we get on absolutely amazing. We managed to get our Restaurant Manager Peter on board and we have hired a fantastic team all around.
Q: When and where do you feel most creative? How do you come up with a new dish?
A: I like to follow the food trends on Instagram, Twitter or seeing who’s doing what. I love house music. There’s a big connection between music and food. Sometimes when I listen to house music I get ideas. If I’ve had a challenging day, I drive home, put my house music on to switch off and that inspires me most.
Q: What’s one of your favourite house artists then?
A: I’m going to be very biased. My cousin is a DJ at sub-club Dominic Capello. He goes all over the world. I love house music from Germany and Chicago and all over.
Q: So what made you develop a French/Scottish fusion menu? Although we’ve also seen some Spanish and other influences looking at the menu today.
A: The world has become a smaller place. It doesn’t have to just be French. It can be different parts of Europe and wherever. I buy books from all over the world. You get inspired by different styles. It can be New York, France or further afield. I think there’s no rules. It can be a simple steak or something more technical but the execution and the detail have to be the same. Even if the guys are doing a Tamburrini carbonara or a finger sandwich, no one turns a blind eye to quality. It’s all about quality to me.
Q: You were trained in classical cooking. These days there’s a lot less rules and structure. Have you found it an interesting progression going from the discipline that comes with the difficult training to the really letting things go style of cooking?A: It’s important for chefs especially to feel creative. When I first started out in my career everything had to be done this way or that way. It was classic French. There was no creativity. There was no inspiration. Now it’s changed. It’s quite rock and roll now. I think that’s helping the industry boom which it has done over the last 10 or so years. So much so, there’s not enough staff to sustain it. I know that I benefit from having to be creative. I love the fact that there aren’t any set rules.
Q: Before the launch of the restaurant, you had mentioned in The Caterer that you were excited to recruit top talent in terms of a progressive and forward-thinking staff and restaurant environment. What did you mean by that?
A: I want the guys to be happy at work. Whether it is the guys in the kitchen or Peter’s guys out front. I want them to be happy and express themselves and not to be slaves to the business. I want them to feel part of it and not just a number. I think we are living in difficult times when hiring high-quality staffs just now so I want everyone to be happy and feel appreciated really more than anything else. We want to push the food, the service. We’ve got some amazing guys at the bar. For them to feel inspired, encouraged.
Q: It’s really important that at least sometimes your staff can introduce their creativity to the restaurant and menu. They might offer a different perspective so it is good to have that forward-thinking approach. Is it true that most people feel suppressed when working in the kitchen?
A: It’s always been like that, but if you don’t understand that and where the industry is going you won’t have anyone working with you. Peter recommended a brilliant pastry girl, Julia. She’s amazing and is in her early stages of her career, but she is ambitious. I’ve said to her that she can have a say in part of the menu. Maybe before I would not have done that, but she bought into that upon accepting the position here. This job is difficult enough, so I want people to feel like they’re not just picking a box of spinach or they’re just picking up their pay packet. I’m more than lucky to be working with this team we’ve built together.
Q: There was an article in a hospitality publication about agency chefs. The strapline was “agency chefs: kitchen heroes or mercenary zeroes.” Paul’s already touched on how difficult it is to find talent, especially for the kitchen and also for the front of the house, but mainly for the kitchen. Are agency chefs kitchen heroes or mercenaries?
A by Peter: I think it’s the same with most agencies and the same with employees in fact. The fact is sometimes you need that bit of help sourcing talent. Sometimes you find rough diamonds and sometimes you find zeroes. Personally, I know some chefs who have worked the hours and done the time and they just want a little bit of a sabbatical before their next project. They go to an agency because they can dictate their hours and have a little bit of personal time. I think it depends on the individual. Of course, the better of proven agencies can recruit more of the heroes and the worse agencies have more of the zeroes.
Q: How did you find your Restaurant Manager, Peter?
A: This man (points to Simon from Ellis Mack). I’ve known Chris Black (also from Ellis Mack) for a couple of years and he put me in touch with Simon. I said to Simon we are looking for a restaurant manager with Michelin star experience, 5* holiday experience. He popped over quite a few CVs, but I didn’t want to speak to anyone apart from Peter and here we are. We’ve made a good team so far. Peter’s got full autonomy of the restaurant and we get on brilliantly. We have similar backgrounds and we both want the same thing.
Q: Now for some fun questions. You were talking about cookbooks earlier. What’s one of the best ones you’ve ever read or a number of them if you can’t choose just one?
A: Cookbooks? There’s a few that stand out. One of my favourite books is by Michel Bras. It’s kind of old, 10 or 12 years or older than that. It’s stunning. It’s not dated at all. I love Sergio Herman. He’s also a three-star Michelin winner from Holland. A bit rock and roll. He’s a bit crazy. His food’s just amazing. I’ve got loads and loads of books, but those are the two books that really jump out at me. There are no rules.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
A: Go for it. Throw everything into it. Express yourself. You have to put the hours in like everything in life. I would just tell them to go for it and give it you’re all. See where it takes you. Just be super creative.
Q: What’s one recipe you tried to create and you regret the most?
A: There’s a few. (laughs) Sometimes when I try to do something simple I have problems executing it. I try to put arms and lengths on it. Not now, but in the past, you over think things and try to be a bit too clever. I remember I got a recipe from a three star in France for a chicken Caesar salad and I tried to execute it, but it was too technical.
Q: What’s your guilty food pleasure?
A When I’m off I cook comfort stuff like beef ragu. I cook a lot of pasta in the house. My last meal would be a crackin’ beef ragu.
Q: Views on current food trends? Likes and dislikes? Is Instagram a source of inspiration?
A: I can appreciate everything more now. From street food to more technical stuff. I think I like everything really. I can get things more.
Q: If you’re hanging out with Gordon Ramsay what are you doing and where are you going?
A: He’s amazing. I admire him. I admire him for what he has achieved in the industry and being a TV star in America. I suppose we would go to a few clubs in London. I’m not sure if he would be up for it. I would go to a three star and get him to dissect it for me. That would be really interesting to get his thoughts. Not just in London but in Holland. (Ellis Mack: Take him on an international trip then) Yes, but he will have to pay for it.
Bistro Deluxe by Paul Tamburrini is located at:
MacDonald Holyrood Hotel, 81 Holyrood, Edinburgh EH8 8AU, Scotland.
To reserve a table please visit their website or phone +44 131 550 4500.