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AUGUSTUS RESTAURANT: INTERVIEW WITH HEAD CHEF RICHARD GUEST

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AUGUSTUS RESTAURANT
TAUNTON, SOMERSET

Tucked away on a quiet courtyard in Somerset’s county town, you will find a gem of a restaurant unobtrusively going about its business, allowing it’s excellent food, reputation and service do the talking.

Chef Richard Guest, formerly of The Castle Hotel, together with his wife and front of house Cedric Chirossel, have created an intimate bistro full of warmth and character. Serving dishes using carefully sourced local seasonal ingredients where possible, you will find delightfully complex flavours, with a refreshingly no fuss attitude. In the words of Richard ‘People come here because the food is good, and Cedric treats them very well, it’s as simple as that’.

We caught up with Richard, whilst preparing for another busy service and asked him a few questions…

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ABOUT BEING A CHEF

At what point in your life did you decide to become a chef?

I wanted to go into service to be a butler or something like that. It’s not the easiest thing to get into but it would turn out that I really wanted to work in kitchens. That is why, in general, the idea was in my head and that is what I ended up doing.

I come from a working class background and didn’t really have any interest in food, so I think that my interest in kitchens was due to my first job as a pot-washer before I left school. That, and I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so that’s what I did!  I enjoyed being a part of the culinary underbelly as it were. Kitchens are always full of renegades which I found alluring; but I’ve never wanted to do anything else and I’ve never done anything else. I’m institutionalised!

Tell us how your career unfolded?

I did a YTS [Youth Training Scheme] under Margaret Thatcher from 15 – 18,  then like most chefs in their forties, I watched Marco Pierre White in Take 6 Cooks. I moved to London and got a job at the Savoy Hotel and was there for 3 years. I then went to work for Jean-Christophe Novelli at the Four Seasons hotel who had just taken over from Bruno Loubet. I worked for Jean-Christophe for donkeys years, 3 years at the Four Seasons and then I helped him open up his 1st restaurant, Maison Novelli. That was my 1st head chef’s job and a really invaluable experience. I absolutely loved it, ran it as my own restaurant.

Jean-Christophe then wanted to open up a new restaurant in the countryside with me as the head chef. So, I up sticks and moved to Hampshire and unfortunately, it all fell through. At this point, during the 3 months that this happened, the prices of houses in London had gone up and I couldn’t afford to move back. I made the decision to move to Somerset with my wife, who is from here. Right when I moved down, Kit Chapman, owner of The Castle Hotel, was looking for a head chef and I got the job. I was at The Castle for 11 years and then I got out of bed one day and remembered that I had left school to open up my own restaurant and still hadn’t done it.  I think a lot of chefs do that, they want to open up their own restaurants but get stuck as employees and forget why they became chefs. I don’t know any chefs that don’t have the dream of owning a small independent restaurant. It’s a shame really!

I realised it was a good plan then and it is a good plan now and that’s how Augustus Restaurant was born.

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ABOUT THE RESTAURANT

Describe the experience of setting up your own restaurant?

We opened up Augustus on a really low-budget and had to do a lot of hard work fixing up the space. We painted the walls, tiled the bathrooms and a whole lot more. The first 6 months there was only myself and Cedric Chirrose, then Jamie our sous chef joined us. It was intense!

We have been open for 4 years now and have more staff including my wife.

And why did you name your restaurant Augustus?

It was always going to be called Augustus. When I was 16 I decided that I wanted to name my future restaurant after Roald Dahl’s character, the fat kid in Willy Wonka!

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ABOUT THE FOOD

Do you source as much local produce as possible for each restaurant and does this have a big impact on the menu?

Yes! We source 95% of our produce locally apart from our sundries which can’t be grown in the UK, like lemons and limes.  I only have a small normal fridge, no storage or giant walk-in fridge, so all our produce has to be bought daily and fresh.

Our vegetables are supplied by local growers, our beef and some pork come from our local butcher who is just down the road. He also lets me hang my lamb in his fridge which I get from my brother-in-law who owns a farm nearby. I take all of his bones to make stock which saves them being thrown into the waste. We have a nice little eco-system going on.

I buy most of my pork, some vegetables and eggs from Pitney Farm Shop. Rob Waldon has a wonderful thing going on at that farm, I’ve been trading with him for over 10 years.

We buy our fish and seafood from our local Fishmonger, Bowditch. They’re probably one of the only Fishmongers in the South West who go to the fish market and bid for the freshest fish just off the boat. Everyone else just buys off the internet.

For us it is a community thing – we spend our money in our community by supporting our local businesses, keeping the money in this area.

We don’t pretend, we don’t make it up like many restaurants these days do. It gets my cob up how chain restaurants claim to use locally produced produce and charge £6 for a Sunday Roast: There is no way you can buy good English meat for that price. You either do it and be a part of a community, supporting each other and actually make the effort to find local farmers and growers and use their produce, or you don’t! Just make your profit out of using overseas produce which were bought on ridiculously low margins and keep your mouth shut!

Which season do you look forward to the most for its ingredients?

They all have their merits, don’t they?  You look at winter, even though it’s bleak, there are loads of nice ingredients like the brassicas and wild meat. Summer can be really expensive as you overdose on mountains of great seasonal fruit and vegetables. Wastage is more of a problem in summer.

Ironically, we have a more varied menu in winter because people are more willing to try different dishes like duck liver and gizzards. We find it sells more easily in the winter.

Do you have a “signature dish”?

We have 2 dishes that never come off the menu:

Duck Rillette with Cornichons and Sourdough
We steam it so it retains its moisture and crisps up the skin. It’s like a confit and is our best seller.

Brown and Forrest Smoked Eel with Scrambled Duck Egg
We get a few  questions about the ethics of eels but we only ever buy British eels as they are strictly regulated here unlike the eel from Eastern Europe.

What is your favourite meal to cook at home?

Risotto.

You can find Richard’s hearty Cox’s Apple & Crackling Risotto with Rib End Pork Chop recipe here »

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