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Glynn Purnell Interview

Glynn Purnell, for his interview with Warwickshire Living

Glynn Purnell, for his interview with Warwickshire Living

Glynn Purnell, Birmingham Michelin Chef, shares some of his passions and secrets to success

Chefs have become more and more famous. It may be pushing it geographically, but we can claim some early fame for the Heart of England, with Raymond Blanc starting out in a little row of shops in north Oxford; Shaun Hill over in Ludlow, and Gordon
Ramsay, who still speaks fondly of his youth in Stratford Upon-Avon. (He studied at Stratford College, and his mum worked as a cleaner at the old Cobweb Café). Television accelerated the fame of the Celebrity Chef. Now those who make their living by food are so famous, they are known simply by their first names: Delia; Nigella; Heston, Jamie.
A really good young chef can count onmedia coverage, a TV programme, and maybe a book about their restaurant and food philosophy. The upside is we seem to have got past the days of huge personalities, silly money and multiple restaurant openings.While successful young chefs are smart about knowing the worth of their name, they seem to be going back to where it all began – cooking.

One such is Glynn Purnell, who won Birmingham’s first ever Michelin star at Jessica’s, in Edgbaston. He went on to win another star at his eponymous restaurant, Purnell’s, in the business heart of the city. Today, Glynn Purnell is one of Birmingham’s favourite sons. With his dark, slightly don’t-mess-with-me looks, he has become something of a pin-up, and is known as ‘the Yummy Brummie’.
Glynn Purnell  is a local boy, and proud of it. Although he now lives in rural north Warwickshire, close to the Belfry, Purnell grew up on a big council estate on the edge of Solihull.His parents first met in a Birmingham curry house. From an early age, young Glynn experimented with food, adding curry powder and onions to his beans on toast.
“It wasn’t the most glamorous upbringing, but it was a good one,” says Purnell. “Dad was a hard-working man. One minute he’d be working every hour God sent, the next he’d be laid off. That made an impression on me. Money was tight, so mum didn’t go out and buy much. We had lots of home-cooked food: traditional stuff, like pork belly, smoked haddock and poached eggs, fried cods roe, and – my favourite – ham in parsley sauce”
The food Purnell has made his name with traces its roots back to his mother’s cooking, only his smoked haddock comes in a light-as-air foam, served with curry oil. “I always put on the plate what I like to eat,” he says.

“I don’t set out to do unusual or obscure stuff. I like lots of English ideas – solid, tasty food that puts a smile on peoples’ faces. I go for food that’s different from what you might normally eat. So I don’t put chicken on the menu, because you can have that at home. But would you have the time or energy for slow-cooked back shank of baby pig cooked with vanilla for 14 hours?”
Glynn Purnell is a familiar face on Great British Menu, and feted for his Michelin Stars, but he worked his way up. When he was 14, he did work experience at the Metropole Hotel, by the NEC.On leaving school, he returned there as an apprentice. He started out flipping burgers, and learned his way around the restaurant and hotel business. In 1996, he joined Andreas Antona at Simpson’s in Kenilworth. Aside from instilling an enduring affection for the countryside round Kenilworth and Leamington, his time at Simpson’s, and later working under Claude Bosi, at the Hibiscus in Ludlow, formed him as a chef. Purnell went on to win Birmingham’s first Michelin star in 2005 at Jessica’s, and when that closed, he won another at Purnell’s.
“For me, the most important thing running a restaurant is quality – but even more than that, it’s consistency. Obviously it’s difficult keeping the star. It’s much harder keeping a Michelin star than winning one, but if you’re brilliant on a Tuesday night with 10 people in, then it’s not so great on the Saturday, that’s no good. The hardest thing
isn’t getting people into a restaurant, but getting them to come back. It’s not about selling that first bottle of wine, but the second – that’s why consistency is really important”
He is clear-eyed about running a restaurant – however starry – in the present economic climate. “It’s tough, with rises in VAT, grain, meat and fish. It’s all driven by fuel
prices, and we’re all getting the knock on. I try not to lower the prices. The only thing I’ve done in the last 12 months is put the VAT on. At the same time, I have 25-30 people,
and have to pay the rent. I’m doing a lot of juggling. If a certain meat goes through the roof in price, I find something else.”
“My two great aims are to get people in the door, and to be accessible. I don’t want to out price the average person. I’m a very average person, so that’s really
important tome. It matters to methat we do a lunch menu for under £30.

“I’m sometimes quite shocked by who comes to the restaurant. There will be a loved-up couple of 18 year olds, who’ve been saving up for six months to come; a
chap with 30 Grand of Rolex on his wrist, ordering his double Tanqueray gin and tonic; Mrs Jones from round the corner, and a couple of high-flying solicitors. People
come from Oxford, and we’ve even had foodies come down specially from Scotland. It’s very diverse.

“For me, the biggest thing is pleasing people. It’s great to have a full restaurant, to hear the buzz, and see people enjoying your food. It’s very interesting, because it’s
completely different, day by day. Sometimes I’ll go out and it’s just booming: all you hear is a roar of laughter and clinking glasses. Other times, people are still enjoying
themselves, but it’s much quieter. The atmosphere changes constantly.”
Glynn Purnell doesn’t do half-hearted. He once said: “When young chefs tell me they’re tired, I say I’ve been tired ever since 1991, the day I decided to become a
chef.” But there is a sense he is putting things into perspective. He takes great pleasure from his family life. He has three children – Oliver (aged 6), Esme (aged 3) and weeks-old Vincent. He says: “I do sit them on the side with a blunt knife and they hack away at a potato. I’d like the children to be able to cook and I’d love one of them to take on one of my restaurants one day. This is a very hard industry, so I’d make sure they got the biggest leg-up.” His children famously prefer their mother’s Spaghetti Bolgnese to their father’s.
“I’m not around much , so what I like best is spending time at home. We’ll go to the park, take the dog for a walk, have a pub lunch, or I’ll put a chicken on about 12, then
it’s a bit of telly, and a play in the garden . It’s difficult, but I manage to take my daughter and son to school every day.”

“This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. I don’t take anything for granted. I wake up every morning thinking how can I do this better? Obviously I have to pay my bills, but I’m lucky. Lots
of people dread going to work, but have to. If I stopped enjoying this, I’d probably stop, although I don’t know what else I’d do. I can’t change a plug or do anything practical.
If you need a tyre changing, or wallpaper hung, I’m not your man. I prefer the creative to the practical.”
As for the future, he likes the idea of a country restaurant. “It really tempts me. I’d love to have somewhere like Le Manoir, in our fantastic countryside. We’re
landlocked, but it’s beautiful.” Glynn Purnell once said he wouldn’t want his headstone to read ‘He never missed a service’. He also said he wouldn’t object to ‘Yummy
Brummie’. What would he consider now? He laughs. “I’d just like: ‘His food put a smile on peoples’ faces’.”


Visit Glynn Purnells Restaurant Birmingham website

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