Five minutes with...chef Richard Bainbridge
PUBLISHED: 07:30 20 June 2020
Chef Richard Bainbridge shares how he’s adapted his busines during the coronavirus outbreak
Richard Bainbridge began his career with the Roux brothers, putting down roots in his home county of Norfolk in the noughties as Morston Hall’s head chef. In 2015 he and wife Katja opened Benedicts in Norwich - one of the top 100 restaurants in the UK, with 3 AA Rosettes. Richard has appeared on, and been a judge of BBC 2’s Great British Menu, is a regular columnist and has a monthly radio slot on Chrissie Jackson’s BBC Radio Norfolk show. Here he talks to Gina Long MBE.
What’s the impact of Covid-19 on your business and how are you adapting?
We were dumbfounded. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. But having taken a good look at our business, we started back up again, offering ‘ready meals’. The support from customers has been phenomenal. We receive great photos from customers getting dressed up and pretending they are at a restaurant. People do want to support the small independent restaurants and cafes because they know we are all struggling. We will open again when we can, once we deem it’s safe and viable to do so. Until then we will continue with our tasty oven-ready meals to give our customers a break from cooking and serve up a restaurant quality meal.
What advice can you give to our readers during these Covid-19 times?
Looking back, I think many of us got carried away with ‘work hard, play hard, work harder and spend loads of money’. It’s great to see many people taking the time to produce a lot more from their homes.
I think it’s very similar to the 80s. Growing up, we walked together as families, and I see many people doing this in lockdown.
I hope it continues as the new normal.
We have to try and take it on as a positive of moving forward in a better healthier way of life, for both our minds as well as our bodies.
What is your connection to East Anglia?
Born and bred in Norfolk, I left and travelled the world for nearly 10 years, going from America to Ireland to New Zealand, living in London too for a short time. But I knew when I wanted to settle down and have a family, this was where I wanted to be.
What is your East Anglian Heaven, i.e. what do you love most about East Anglia?
I think what makes East Anglia unique is the characters and warmth of the people. We are a tribe, we stick together, we work together and we support each other, it’s something very important to me. It’s where I wanted to open my business and for it to be a part of that fabric. There are also so many amazing things to do - I love to go to Weybourne beach on bike rides with my wife and daughters.
What is your East Anglian Hell, i.e. what you hate most about living here?
I live very close to the coast in north Norfolk and just to get out of the county takes me at least an hour and a half, which can be a bind when you work in London quite a bit, which I do. My wife is from Germany, historically we have travelled abroad often, so the time it takes to leave here can be very frustrating!
What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
I love the House in the Clouds in Thorpeness, Suffolk - that always makes me smile. My business is in Norwich and something that always takes my breath away and makes me look twice is the castle in Norwich.
What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
I’ve been going to Latitude Festival since it started. I now take my children, along with performing in their cookery theatre.
It puts East Anglia on the map at a national level, along with hosting megastar musicians, writers and poets and comedians. I look forward to it every year.
What is your specialist Mastermind subject?
I would probably say cookery books from the last 20 to 30 years, which is quite boring, and my wife says the same thing. I own about 1,000.
What is always in your fridge?
We always have organic milk and butter from Fen Farm in Bungay. It’s great on fresh baked bread from the fantastic independent bakeries that are now popping up throughout the region.
What’s your simple philosophy of life?
My philosophy that I have written on the wall in the restaurant for the staff to see at all times is ‘small achievable goals’. I knew from a very young age, I had dyslexia, that I was going to struggle in whatever I wanted to do in life. In the 80s and 90s, dyslexia wasn’t taken as seriously as it is nowadays. From about the age of 13 my big ultimate goal was to open my own restaurant, I knew I needed to have small goals along the way to get where I wanted to be. That is something I live by now and I teach my children. For instance, when I started as a pot washer in a pub at 13, my small achievable goal was to be able to serve the desserts and then my next goal was to serve the meats at the steak night and so on. Then I wanted to be able to work in a 1 Michelin starred restaurant, then a 2 Michelin starred restaurant and ultimately a 3 Michelin starred restaurant. They were all goals I achieved, with lots of hard work behind them.
What’s your favourite film?
James Bond movies are something I get very giddy and excited to sit down and watch. Also, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Mary Poppins. I love those 60s/70s children’s musicals, they always fill me with the joys of my childhood, along with enjoying them with my children now.
What was your first job?
I got a paper round at the age of 11. I lied about my age so I could start working. I went on to work at a local vet at about the age of 12. By the time I was 14 I had about four jobs. I also worked in a fruit and veg shop. The real ‘first job’, that made me decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, was at 13, when I started washing up in the pub where my mum did the books, and my sister worked behind the bar.
What is your most treasured possession?
My children. Also I have a book that was given to me by Michel Roux Sr, from The Waterside Inn where I worked for four years. He gave me the book just before I opened Benedicts and he wrote inside it, saying ‘that I was one of the best boys that he had in his history of owning The Waterside Inn’. That is something that I hold very dear to my heart. Unfortunately, he passed away just before lockdown, and it hit me quite hard.
Who do you admire most?
My wife Katja. In the way that she runs our home and brings up our two beautiful daughters while allowing me to do my dream job. She also looks after the finances and the business side of things, which gives me the time to be creative and play out my dream daily. I admire how she can hold everything together and be at the top of her game in every aspect.
What is your biggest indulgence?
I love ice cream, my whole family loves ice cream. A Mr Whippy by the sea would be my last meal if it got to that point.
What do you like most about yourself?
I am hard working. When I get focused on the job in hand, I try not to get influenced by people. I keep my head down because I feel that I need to prove myself to myself and other people every day, which keeps me working very hard.
What’s your worst character trait?
I can be quite lazy. Because I work 18 hours a day and I can be very busy, the minute I can relax, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than on my sofa watching the television. However, it doesn’t happen as much as I would like it to!
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
We try to go camping in East Anglia every year. We tend to go away for a weekend or four days, camping in Suffolk or Norfolk. I want our children to know, appreciate, and understand where they come from. I immensely enjoy Austria too. I love being in the mountains, going hiking with my wife and children.
Best day of your life?
Obviously the cliché of my children being born. I would also say, meeting my wife in a car park in a youth hostel in Greymouth New Zealand is a day that has changed my life forever. So even though working in amazing restaurants, winning Great British Menu and owning my restaurant are all great, none of those things would have been achieved without meeting my wife-to-be when I was 23.
What’s your favourite breakfast?
I love slow-roasted tomatoes on buttered sourdough. We try to have this once a week. We will get some cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt, cracked white pepper and sugar, a little bit of thyme, turn the oven on at 120C and put them in for about 1.5 hours. Then, just toast some sourdough from a local baker, spread with a little salted butter, and put the tomatoes on top...
What’s your favourite tipple?
I love beer, and we have an amazing array of microbreweries. I also love that we are so good at making alcohol in East Anglia. From The English Whisky Co to the independent breweries and the gin makers. I do love a pale ale and English sparkling wine. I think Nyetimber is something really special.
What’s your hidden talent?
I can always make people laugh, it is my superpower.
What’s your earliest memory?
Being with my mum and my sister having a roast dinner. My mum would cook a roast chicken on a Sunday, we would wheel the TV round to the table and watch EastEnders omnibus whilst eating our roast. Then we would dance to rock and roll music with my mum teaching me how to jive in the kitchen, while we washed up afterwards. It’s something I remember and treasure greatly.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I can go into showmanship mode very easily, do jazz hands in the restaurant, go and do cookery demonstrations, write articles and one thing or another. Deep down, I am quite a shy person and can sometimes find some things difficult to do.
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
The minute anyone tells me I ‘can’t do it’, there’s something inside me that needs to prove them wrong. Growing up with dyslexia, I heard that a lot.
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
What I want to say most is thank you. Thank you to all the people who have ever taken the time to come to our restaurant, and try our food. Independent businesses, not just restaurants, in East Anglia need the people around us to support us, to enable us to achieve our goals and our dreams. Without those people we don’t have a business, I don’t have a restaurant.
Please continue to support independent businesses across East Anglia because we need you more than ever to maintain our livelihoods, as well as achieving our goals and for us to be able to employ our staff. I look forward to greeting you in the near future at Benedicts, as well as encouraging you to go to other independent restaurants, cafes and producers over the next few months. I like to wave the flag for East Anglian produce. Keep supporting, keep waving the flag, and we can do this together.
If you live in Suffolk or Norfolk and are adapting your business during Covid-19 times, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe
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