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Michelin Chef Richard Turner, Turners Restaurant, Birmingham

Chef Richard Turners of Turners Restaurant, Birmingham

Chef Richard Turners of Turners Restaurant, Birmingham

Michelin Chef Patron Richard Turner, Turners Restaurant, Harborne, Birmingham – Q&A by ETM (c) 2011

Chef Richard Turner professes to be the customer focused Michelin Chef who focuses more on flavour than gimmicks. Though a water bath has been spotted in his bijou kitchen located at the rear of his equally bijou, but stylish restaurant on Harborne High Street, Richard prefers to air towards the more traditional methods of cooking to help him create the depth for flavour he so often reaps his praise for.

Midlands born, an largely unknown bit of trivia is that Richard’s Grandfather was the driver of the Birds custard Rolls Royce, so food has always been linked to the Turner family but arguably at opposite ends of the scale, Richard preferred to go the respected chef route, and has been a passionate chef for over 20 years.

“To me it’s all about the flavour on the plate, which ultimately comes from quality ingredients, and respect in the kitchen” comments Richard. We caught up with Richard to find out a little more behind his ethos.

What was it that decided you wanted to become a chef?

Well, my grandparents worked for the Bird family, who made Birds Custard.  My grandfather drove their yellow Rolls Royce (after all, it was Birds custard) and my grandmother was their cook, so I suppose cooking was in my blood. But I always wanted to cook.

Where did you train to be a chef?

When I was still at school I started washing up in Thrales restaurant in Tamworth Street, Lichfield that was then owned by a guy called James Thomas.  He was a bit like Keith Floyd, and would sit down to a plate of oysters and a bottle of Chablis.  James was one of the old style restaurateurs, he used to buy langoustines, oysters and we would prep’ whole sides of lamb.  One day he asked if I would like to have a go in the kitchen, and that was my start.  Then when I was 17 I went to Burton College one day a week on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) doing a two year City & Guilds course.  I earned £25  week for the first year and then £32 a week for the second.  At the end we had a practical cookery exam, they put us in a kitchen and told us we had three hours to produce a starter, main course and dessert. If you succeeded you passed, if you didn’t you failed.  I passed.

Where was your first cheffing job?

Altogether I stayed at Thrales for nine years and then went on to a place in Four Oaks and was there for four years. I have always worked in and around Birmingham and opened up here in 2007 , winning my Michelin macaroon –  the correct name for the so-called stars – in January 2009.

Which chef has inspired you the most?

Two, the first is Simon Smith who still owns Thrales and then the most successful chef of my generation – Marco Pierre White.  When Simon bought the restaurant from Jeremy, around 1999, everyone thought that I was going to be the one that would cause the most problems, as I was constantly asking questions, and they all thought that I would be the first one to be let go; but actually I was the one that stayed the longest.

And Marco Pierre; well you couldn’t have started cooking when I did and not be inspired by him.  When I went to college there was a group of 18 to 20 of us, of which 15 were there because they hadn’t got enough GHCEs to do anything else and the options open to them were to be a chef, a builder, a car mechanic or a hairdresser.  I always wanted to become a chef and once I had got that seed into my head I wanted to be the best.  Marco made it seem that it wasn’t a second rate job.

British cooking is going through an enormous change; which aspect of these changes interests you the most?

I must question that, is there a revolution?.  What interests me the most is that people are becoming more interested in food.  I don’t think that we are as advanced as we would like to think we are.  As a classically trained chef it pains me to say this, but France is no longer the universal benchmark that it once was, they do still definitely live to eat while we only eat to live.

As a chef what gives you the biggest ‘kick’ from your job?

Satisfied customers and empty plates.  Walking out of the kitchen and knowing that you have done as good as you could do.  We have the smallest waste bag in the area were the plates come back for washing up.  You pick it up at the end of the night and its light.  It’s nice to feel appreciated by people and when someone comes up to you and says, ‘That’s the nicest meal I have ever had’, well it gives you a real kick, doesn’t it?

What are you main criteria when selecting suppliers?

Giving me what I want, when I want it.  And if they don’t, then they have to rectify it very quickly if they want to keep on supplying me.  As a chef I have keep my suppliers on their toes, but then I am fortunate with in getting my meats from  Aubrey Allan of Coventry who supply quite the finest home-bred beef and lamb to top restaurants across the country.  Peter Allan is an institution among discerning chefs.  At the same time Chris Connolly, who supplies our wines, understands our triple need for service, quality and price.

I am a firm believer that you should use produce when it is in season, and at its best. As a Michelin starred restaurant we are at the cutting edge of cooking and our suppliers have to work with us to make sure that we have both the first and the last.

How would you describe your style of cooking?

Since I was classically trained it has to be Classical.  But today our sauces are lighter, not so full of butter and cream. and we make both traditional veal and fresh chicken stock.

When you get home at night …What do you cook for yourself?

Pizza, chefs eat notoriously badly.  Although at the moment we are making a conscious effort to cook during the day so we have something to eat, yesterday it was burger and chips – but fresh burgers made in the kitchen from fresh meat.

How important is eating out to you?

To me it is massively important, because I need to know what other people are doing, to experience different dishes, sauces and so-called ‘cheffy twists’. You can pick ideas up, and at the same time loose some prejudices.  As a chef-patron I am fortunate in being able to go where I please, but when I was working in an hotel I had an allowance of a couple of hundred quid a month to eat out, and I always took one of the lads from the kitchen with me.

In London it is usually The Square in Bruton Street. Philip Howard is a similar cook to me, combining technical excellence with the purest of classical traditions.  If you want to know what is in season you only have to look at his menu. There are also some great Midlands restaurants including  Simpsons Restaurant just up the road from Turners, Andreas Antona is a great influence in the region, as is his Exec Chef Luke Tipping and Adam Bennett, Andy Waters of Edmunds, and the up and coming chefs of Matt Davies who were all from the Plough & Harrow  kitchens many years back -No to forget Glyn Purnell who is doing great things at his restaurant to put the region on the map.

What is your favourite ‘comfort food’?

Bangers & Mash, proper meat filled sausages and Joël Robuchon ‘heart attack’ mash made with butter and cream with those wonderful Ratta potatoes, when they are in season.

What are your ambitions?

That’s simple, to get a bigger restaurant and a second Michelin macaroon.  And then a third one – those are my ambitions!

Do you have a signature dish?
Yes, as long as my name is over the door and I am cooking, all the dishes on my menu are my signature dishes. But if by a signature dish you mean the one that is most popular, then it has to be my chocolate tart.

Thank you Richard Turner. For more information view his Turners Restaurant Birmingham Website

Chef Patron Richard Turner at work

Chef Patron Richard Turner at work

Turners Restaurant Birmingham

Turners Restaurant Birmingham

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