Jobs: What does it take to become a top chef in Norfolk

Chef Richard Bainbridge hard at work. Photo: Katja Bainbridge

Chef Richard Bainbridge hard at work. Photo: Katja Bainbridge - Credit: Archant

Richard Bainbridge, chef and owner of Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts Street in Norwich, explains how he went from washing up in a pub to working in Michelin-starred restaurants.

Chef Richard Bainbridge hard at work. Photo: Katja Bainbridge

Chef Richard Bainbridge hard at work. Photo: Katja Bainbridge - Credit: Archant

Name: Richard Bainbridge

Age: 34

Job title and employer: Owner and Chef at Benedicts

Describe a standard day working as a chef: It's amazing. I work with like minded people and we just try and do the best we possibly can each day. Some days are definitely longer than others, but when you're passionate about something, you don't mind putting in the hard work.

How I got my job: With this career, it all comes down to experience. I first started at the Bull in Hellesdon as a wash up when I was 13, and from the first moment I walked into the kitchen I knew that was where I belonged. I became a second chef by the time I was 15 and then aged 17 I started looking into the Good Food Guide and sent copies of my CV out to the top Restaurants in the country. I was lucky enough to get replies back from some of the best ones, so I went off and worked for ten years in restaurants all over the world, in places such as London, Dublin, America and New Zealand. I've always known what I wanted to do, but sometimes I can't believe how far I've come, I haven't really stopped to look back at it all properly yet.

The most enjoyable part of what I do is: Being able to work alongside like minded people, who never want to stop learning. I also enjoy making people happy, as without happy guests I would not get to do what I love.

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The most challenging part of what I do is: Keeping people happy is not only one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, it's also one of the hardest parts as everyone is different and has different tastes. I find that often people want their food to taste exactly how 'mummy used to make it' and it can be difficult to compete with that, so everyday is a tightrope walk. Plus I have to make sure my staff are happy. I think if they are happy, then we are half way there in making the guests happy.

What main skills and qualities do you think a person needs to possess in order to be a successful chef? I truly believe the key to being successful in this career is commitment. I did not look up for 15 years and I still don't! But for me this is still the greatest industry in the world and I am just as passionate about cooking now, as I was at 13 years old.

What advice would you give to others looking to pursue a career as a chef? The best thing I could say to someone who wanted to pursue a career as a chef would be to work hard, be a sponge and soak up as much as possible from everyone around you. Also don't rush into wanting to become a head chef or a chef off the telly. As I say to all the guys who work at Benedicts, it's all about setting small achievable goals, for example, you may want to be able to pick spinach quicker, or you might want to travel with your job, or work for the best restaurant. Set your goals and then go out and achieve them, you can do it!

What's the best piece advice you've ever been given? I've been given some great advice over the years but there are three things that my mentors have said that have stuck with me. Galton Blackiston once told me: 'the quicker you do the rubbish jobs, the quicker you get to do the good stuff', which has always inspired me to work harder and faster so that I could move on to the next thing, while Michel Roux Snr said: 'food always needs to be yum yum' and 'treat and care your food and ingredients like you would a woman'. Obviously both of those were said in a fantastically thick French accent!

Where do you find your inspiration? I would imagine that coming up with new dishes is a lot like writing. Some days inspiration will strike thick and fast to the point where neither I, nor Ashley, my sous chef who tries to piece everything together for me, can keep up. Other days or weeks I can search and search for ideas but I won't come up with anything. Most of the time my inspiration can come from anywhere, it could be a smell, a memory, something I hear someone talking about on the bus, or what I find and see when out with my family walking on a Sunday, but one thing I do know is that it all has to come from the heart.

You've worked in restaurants all over the world, how do you think working in Norfolk compares? For me I really felt I needed to leave Norfolk to discover what the food and chefs of the world had to offer, but all the time I was away I always knew I wanted to come back and show everybody what I had learnt along the way. Plus we have some of the most amazing produce in the world here, and being a Norfolk boy through and through, I wanted to showcase it in the best way I knew how.

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