I've known I wanted to be a chef since I was ten years old. We grew up in pubs and my mum used to do lovely steak and ale pies; she showed me how to make them. And then, from my early teens, I used to come back from school and make the dinner for the family – I just enjoyed it. It all started from pleasing people with something I had created but the professional side is very different – it's strict and involves lots of hard work; there’s nothing glamorous about it. Fortunately though, I loved it.
I’ve always wanted my own place. In December 2015, I said to my wife Rhiain: "We’ve just got to do it, I’ve got to leave my job and go for it." I took the risk and handed in my notice as head chef at Mallory Court in Royal Leamington Spa, put the crowdfunding together and luckily it was successful for us. I was worried beforehand, naturally. I was the main breadwinner at home and I was leaving a decent-paying job. I had a mortgage, a child and a baby on the way at the time. It was a big risk to take, but nobody was going to do it for me, I just had to take that leap. It would have been one of those things that if I hadn't done it, I would have regretted it. It’s better to regret something you have done instead of something you haven’t, isn’t it? Luckily, after I launched the crownfunding campaign, it took just 33 days to raise the £102,334 we needed.
The food scene is really exciting at the moment. It’s different now from when I started cooking 15 years ago. Back then if there was a great supplier, the old way was to keep them to yourself. Now, I have some really small one-man-band suppliers and if I didn’t share those with my peers then that supplier could potentially go bust and we would lose that great product. There’s a lot more sharing these days and it’s really being pushed on by the youngsters.
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Our menu at Salt is made up of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. The food is about purity of flavour, made with pure, delicious ingredients that are not manipulated. Salt is the purest ingredient of all, and, for me, it’s the most important. Hence the name of the restaurant, I wanted something that was very punchy, one word, one syllable.
My philosophy is to not worry about the food that’s on the plate, but to worry about how it gets to the plate. It’s the best advice I’ve had and it really stuck with me. The end plate is just a small percentage of the journey it’s taken from the farmer, the producer, how it’s delivered, how it’s prepared, the philosophy behind it, to being cooked and plated, which is such a minor part of it. I say it to young chefs now. It’s not about a fancy little plate at the end, that’s the easiest part. It’s the journey it takes. It’s easy to make something look good, but you can’t hide flavours.
We were very surprised and totally flattered to be awarded Best New Entry in The Good Food Guide. It is a huge honour but I wasn’t focused on winning the 'Best New Entry' award, or being in the Good Food Guide at all, it came to us as a byproduct of just doing the best we can in terms of food and service and what we offer. My aim is to produce the best food we possibly can and make the customers as happy as we can with food I want to produce and believe in. And if you do a good job, everything will come from that.
PAUL FOSTER is head chef and owner at Salt in Stratford-Upon-Avon. He recently won The Good Food Guide’s Best New Entry award; salt-restaurant.co.uk
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