Five years ago this May when I opened the Drapers Arms with Ben Maschler we were very lucky to have Karl Goward as our head chef. Karl had been head chef at St John Bread & Wine so he brought great ‘chops’ to his cooking, credibility to the pub and experience to the kitchen. Mostly when I say lucky though I mean he brought calm, professionalism, great organisational skills, planning – a personality that could help get a new business off the ground without meltdowns, chaos, pan throwing, chef branding or tantrums. Lucky indeed.
At the end of our first year when Karl and Ben decided to head off and try other challenges I looked around the kitchen to see if there was someone who could take the business into the second phase of consolidation and development. One face shone out…literally shone out. James de Jong was not the sous chef or the junior sous… I’m not even sure if he was the most senior CdP but his sunny personality, can do, creative approach and general demeanour made him stand out as the person I thought I would enjoy working with and for the last four years I have enjoyed having him as head chef enormously. Although he turned green when I asked him if he would like the job that was a reflection of his modesty and seriousness of intent – wonderful characteristics I think in a leader.
In the last four years James has led a team which has cooked for 1,000s of people – including creating memorable occasions for numerous weddings and other important days; retained the Bib Gourmand the Karl obtained for us in the first year; built on the established foundations of the approach to food with his own style to strengthen the distinctive identity of the pub; helped us to 19th place nationally in the Morning Advertiser’s list of top gastropubs (I’d like to be higher!); been rated as the top London pub in the Scotch Egg Challenge for the last two years; shared his kitchen with Henry Harris, Jackson Boxer, Andrew Clarke, Tom Oldroyd, Gizzi Erskine, Raymond Blanc and James Ramsden. He has done all this with calm, maturity that belies his years and the respect of everyone that has worked with him. Understandably he has caught the eye of other restaurateurs and, equally understandably for someone young, talented and ambitious he has felt the call to move and seek new challenges and experiences. He does so with my thanks and very best wishes.
What that means is that at five years old we are now looking for someone who is excited to be head chef here and to take us on to hopefully, higher levels still. I hope that this is a great place to work and that the opportunity is attractive – the broad brush is that the head chef and I discuss the approach, philosophy and targets and then he or she runs the kitchen and writes the menu. The core values and approach will remain the same and there are a few ‘signature’ Drapers things that I’d need a lot of talking out of, but as I muse through sleepless nights I come up with the following thoughts, we:
- cook seasonal, British, honest and authentic food
- use fresh, high quality ingredients that we buy from suppliers who we believe provide the best produce at prices that help us to be great but affordable
- seek to be generous to our guests
- hope to be great because we want to send people away having added pleasure to their lives as an end in itself
- have aspirations and ambitions not pretensions – if that isn’t too pretentious
- use interesting ingredients, are contemporary and stay in touch with new ingredients and techniques without chasing fashions – this week we have had wild garlic and asparagus because they’ve been great, nduja because it brings thrilling, rich depth and warmth and sweetbreads and ox-heart as we use and adore the whole animal, but we haven’t found a place for kimchi yet and that’s been around for a while now
- work 6 shifts and encourage the team to have the time to enjoy life
- work as a team and treat each other with consideration and respect
- have a searing determination to be better because if this is what we are going to do with our one life then we don’t want to waste it being mediocre
If you like the sound of that and you think you might be the person to take us to the next level then I would love to hear from you.