Having gained experience with some of London’s biggest chefs, including working alongside Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place and Heston Blumenthal at his esteemed Fat Duck restaurant, Dominic is following his own culinary path with his gastropub in the heart of leafy Berkshire.
What made you want to become a chef?
My parents owned a hotel so I grew up in the hotel business, surrounded by amazing chefs from a young age. My family’s hotel was Michelin-starred and we had chefs like Gary Rhodes working with us. So food and cooking was always in the blood.
It wasn’t until I went travelling and ended up in Australia that I actually started working in a professional kitchen. That’s when it all clicked. I started off washing dishes, then to the larder section and then on to different restaurants where I learned more of the technical elements.
So I worked my way around Australia and New Zealand, and one of the chefs there had worked with Marco Pierre White and suggested I went back to the UK and did the whole thing properly. So that was my introduction into the professional kitchens of London.
I loved the creativity, the people and the restaurant life in London. This job isn’t for everybody – but if you’re creative and love learning how to make good food, it’s such a rewarding career.
How did you progress from London kitchens to owning The Beehive?
Working in lots of restaurants meant I got some great insights into different types of food. And then, after I’d got this education in London, I went to work with Heston Blumenthal. Working at The Fat Duck was one of the most memorable experiences of my career. We were working really hard and pushing things forward, but in a great team and loving what we were doing.
I was at The Fat Duck for 18 months, but I was working long hours and felt I needed to get back into working in London and having a more balanced life. So I got my first sous chef job at Kensington Place with Rowley Leigh, and that was the most brilliant learning opportunity for my career. We had a fridge full of beautiful ingredients, and I was coming up with nine different dishes on a daily basis. That allowed me to be creative and develop my style.
Then two years later, I got a call from Heston to say he was opening a pub and did I want to run it. So I became head chef at The Hind’s Head in Bray and we turned it into a real foodie destination. I learned loads, and that lead to me moving to a local pub, The Royal Oak, who needed a chef. I went there to help out, stayed eight years and won a Michelin star.
But after eight years, I was still feeling like I wanted my own pub, and The Beehive became available. It was local to where we live, so I took it on and we’ve been here for coming up to five years now – and thoroughly enjoying it!
Do you love running your own business?
I have my own ideas and I like to express myself rather than following trends or someone else’s lead, so the natural progression was always to get my own place. Once you have your own business, it’s not just about cooking – it’s about the pictures you hang on the wall, the ambience you want to create, the staff you employ.
As an independent, you want to add your own personality to the place and for people to enjoy what you do – that, in a nutshell, is the restaurant business.
People need to walk in through the door and know that the owner loves what they’re doing. That’s very important.
What does a ‘normal’ day at work look like for you?
We’ll usually start at 7.30am in the morning, get all our deliveries checked and put away and then start cranking up the ovens and getting all of our individual sections ready for the day.
The first job is to make the bread, then everyone starts their ‘mise en place’ and we’ll sit down around 11.00am to have some lunch as a team. After that, we’ll brief everyone on today’s specials and it’s into a busy lunch service at 12 o’clock, with an à la carte and a set lunch menu.
Lunch service will usually finish around 2.30pm, then it’s more prep and maybe a break. The big jobs, like making parfaits or fish soups, will be left to the afternoon when you’ve got more time.
Dinner starts from 6 o’clock with anything between 20 to 60 covers on a weekday evening. Service will finish at 9.30pm and then it’s about cleaning down and making sure the kitchen is left spick and span. I’ll get the next day’s menus outlined, do the final checks and then it’s time to go home, usually between 10 or 11 o’clock.
How does your menu evolve over the year?
We have a seasonal à la carte menu and we have signature dishes on that menu that don’t tend to change. When you take those favourites off, customers do miss them. So, for us, those signature products are our rabbit lasagne, the venison, our parfaits etc. A year-round dish that sells well is our fish & chips – we’re a pub and that’s a lunchtime dish people want.
We’ll have daily specials too and those will change as I speak to my suppliers throughout the day around what ingredients are available. For me, it’s all about the ingredients. I have my classic dishes throughout the year, that I love, and that will come onto the menu as the seasonal ingredients become available.
As far as inspiration goes, you might eat something new, or read about a new technique and want to try doing that yourself. Or, sometimes, an idea for a new dish will just pop into your head and you rush to the kitchen to try it out. You cook things, you try them, you pull them apart and then you fix the little things you didn’t like – and, suddenly, you’ve got a really good new dish.
How did you get introduced to the CHEF range of professional stocks?
I’d met Poul Gorell, who developed the CHEF All Natural Stocks, a few years back and I loved the process, the fact that the stock is pure, that they use fresh ingredients and how they reduce the stock down – but this was early days for the product.
Later on, we tried a few samples and the quality was really high. So we looked at the labour costs of making the stock ourselves and we looked at the costs of buying in the CHEF stocks instead. If you want to make your own stock then you need buy a bratt pan or large stock pot – and this can be a huge expense and a piece of kit taking up a whole corner of your kitchen. So, for a smaller kitchen like ours, it made sense to get these CHEF stocks in.
We use the pre-prepared stock for a huge amount of stuff. They’re the base to most of our sauces and we’re trying more of the products that Nestlé Professional are bringing to the market too. The key products we use are the chicken and the veal stocks, and the shellfish stock is good if you want to make a little bouillabaisse.
These stocks make life in the kitchen that little bit easier – which is always going to be helpful from a space, time and workload perspective.
We can make beautiful sauces with natural ingredients. So, for me, the CHEF All Natural Stocks range of stocks really do work.
Do you have plans to grow The Beehive?
I kind of like that the pub is gradually evolving organically over time. Sometimes, when you achieve everything really quick you can end up getting bored. So I’ve got lots of goals and targets still left to set. I enjoy what we’re doing at The Beehive.
One day it would be nice to have some rooms at the pub. Having accommodation would be great and a good way to grow the business. I’d love to achieve a Michelin star for my own pub one day, of course. So I’ll keep doing what we do, making beautiful food, building and training a happy team and moving forward.
There’s a lot more to achieve at The Beehive and I’ve got great ambitions to do more!
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