Nick Beardshaw, head chef, The Coach

The Staff Canteen

Nick Beardshaw is head chef at Tom Kerridge’s The Coach.

He started in the industry when he was just 11, sweeping the patio at his local pub, from there he went to college before continuing his career with two years at the Castle Hotel with Richard Guest in his home town of Taunton. This was followed by a year at Midsummer House under Daniel Clifford.

In 2010 he moved to Hand and Flowers where he progressed to senior sous before taking on his current role 10 months ago. The Staff Canteen caught up with Nick to find out how he is finding being in charge at The Coach, his thoughts on tough two star kitchens and the inspiration behind his dishes.

tom and nick the coach low res

Nick Beardshaw biography

Why did you want to be a chef?

I kind of fell into it if I’m honest. Typically, I was working in my local pub when I was 11 – sweeping up the patio on a Saturday! I went to college but I wasn’t very good at attending and I realised that it was this industry I wanted to be in. It built up from working in my local pub to working in better and better places.

How did you end up working for Tom?

I worked for Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House. Tom and Daniel are friends and I had been at Midsummer for a while and Daniel asked if anyone wanted to go and work for Tom who was desperate for chefs off the back of Great British Menu in 2010, I started at the Hand and Flowers in the September.

Working in two Michelin star kitchens

Having worked in several two star kitchens, what is the environment like?

It’s hard but that’s part of the attraction. Anyone who is going to survive at that level, you would never deal with the hours and the pressure unless you enjoyed it. A lot of chefs who exist in those environments, they thrive on it. The energy levels and the buzz of the kitchen and the running from the start of the day to the end of the day – that is what the attraction is. They are intense environments because you are working at a level of perfection that must be attained.

There is always the issue with that pressure that those kitchens can become ‘bullying’ environments to work in. What would you say to that?Dish 3B low res

I think bullying is a strong word. You’re striving for a level of perfection, that’s what it’s all about so you have to understand and be willing to take criticism. That’s all it is. It can be intense and there is shouting in these kitchens but it’s all from passion. Everyone who works in those kitchens, all the junior staff, are there to learn. The ones who survive and do well understand that’s a necessity – if you want to strive and do well you want the senior guys to understand what’s needed better than you, to tell you when you do stuff wrong and that’s part of it. You have to be thick skinned and you have to be able and willing to take criticism. But it’s a choice to work in these kitchens, it’s not done under duress and if you can’t take the criticism, you shouldn’t be there.

Dream restaurant It would be somewhere with nice views - it could be in the city or on a beach just as long as there is a beautiful view. I'd be cooking classical food with modern techniques. Dream brigade Sauce - Daniel Clifford Larder - Tom Kerridge Garnish - Richard Guest Pastry -  Jolyon d'Angibau Marco Pierre White on the pass to keep them all in line!

Working with Tom Kerridge

Did Tom approach you to take the reins at The Coach?

Yes, I remember the day because he pulled me outside and told me he was taking on another space. We had talked about the possibility of it before and he said if ‘you want it, it’s yours’. And I gratefully said yes! I was senior sous at Hand and Flowers but it’s such a big team that it’s like a head chef role anyway – so that stood me in good stead to take on The Coach.

What is Tom like to work with?

Absolutely great! The Hand and Flowers is a typical two Michelin star environment, it’s very intense but Tom is very much as you see him on the tele really. It’s a very true reflection of his personality, he’s very friendly, he likes a laugh, very professional and he really looks after his staff. I’ve never worked for anyone who looks after their staff so well.

Does Tom have much input at The Coach or is it very much you?

Before we set it up we did everything together, talked at length about what we wanted it to be and what we wanted it to feel like. Tom was there all the time when we were setting up but now it’s up and running he is gradually leaving it more and more to me. We have a very similar food ethos but I’ve worked for him for quite some time now and we share similar virtues in food.

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Nick Beardshaw's Food style

Has he influenced your style?

Very much but as does everybody you work for at length. The three main guys I’ve worked for are Tom, Daniel and Richard Guest at The Castle and all of them have had an influence. Obviously I’ve worked for Tom for the longest and I’d say he’s been the largest influence not just in cooking but the way he conducts himself and the way he looks after his staff.

Working for names like those is it hard to find and develop your own niche style?

I think I have but it’s hard. They are big influences but now I get the chance to do my own thing, I wouldn’t say it makes it harder, if anything it makes it easier because you’ve had such great influences.

So, what is the style of the dishes at The Coach?

It’s modern, British and French – we do very classical things but what we try and deliver is the most refined version. They are dishes we all know but we use modern techniques and equipment to deliver a classical result. It’s quite comforting food, so the chicken Kiev is a good example of that. Chicken Kiev and cauliflower cheese are two things we all know very well but we have tried to make it the most refined version we can. The cauliflower is not over cooked, it has a rare bit topping which is the cheese element and a cauliflower cheese puree which is the sauce element. The Kiev itself is super moist, succulent with a thin crispy panko breadcrumb on it – it’s just the most perfect version of chicken Kiev and cauliflower cheese we could do.

The menu at The Coach

Is the menu all down to you or does Tom have an input?Dish 1C low res

He pops in everyday and does at least a service a week. At the start I would show everything to Tom but now as we’ve gone on it’s accepted that I have the knowledge and understanding – if I ever put anything on there that wasn’t up to standard he’d tell me about it!

What’s it like when Tom comes to do a service at The Coach?

When he does do a service because we are an open kitchen, he gets absolutely mobbed. Everybody wants either a selfie or an autograph! So it’s hard for him to actually do service.

Which of your dishes on the menu is your favourite?

It changes because the menu changes quite a lot. It always tends to be the newer stuff that is the favourite but I would say the chicken Kiev is probably up there. There are a few things that have been on since the beginning and some of them do evolve but one which has remained unchanged is the stuffed, rotisserie quail. It will probably never change.

You said you take classic, comforting dishes and refine them but what inspires you when you create new versions?

The inspiration is things we want to eat so we have a burger on the menu but it’s a refined version; we have a steak and blue cheese pie on the menu but again its months of evolution and development to get to this point. But it literally is anything we want to eat and that appeals to us, that’s always the starting point. low res

You mentioned it can take a few months for the dish to evolve is that typical of all your dishes?

Not always. Sometimes you trial something and it will go on the menu straight away as it is. Other times you’ll try stuff and it will be a disaster so you have to keep trialling it and adjusting until you get it right. The creative side of the job is the best part of it but it’s a small percentage of everything that goes into the running of The Coach. A lot of what you do day to day is laborious stuff which you do over and over – the creative element of my job is about five per cent but it is the best part.

And do you have an ingredient you particularly enjoy working with?

I’d say fennel pollen or fennel blossom, is a particular favourite of mine. It’s the best part of the plant, it’s delicious and it’s a little bit different – something that not a lot of people will use. We use it to give a bit of fragrance to fish dishes and at the moment we are using it on a tuile for the lemon tart.

Nick Beardshaw on his role as head chef at The Coach

You’ve been head chef for 10 months now, how have you found the role?

The hardest thing has been the development of the team. You take it for granted when you work in restaurants that have been open for years that they have systems in place, infrastructure, staff in place already – with a brand new place and a brand new team, people haven’t all come rom the same background. I’m lucky, I’ve worked at a two star level for the past five years but others haven’t and getting them up to the standard and the speed you want them to work at is a challenge. But in 10 months we’ve made great progress with that and it’s rewarding seeing the guys come on.

Tom’s career has seen him become a household name being on TV and releasing a number of books – does he inspire you to achieve the same?coach-5959 low res

I don’t think it’s what you set out for as a chef. It does carry a lot of glamour but the stage I’m at I’m thinking about one step at a time. I’m trying to consolidate at The Coach, get better every day and develop and grow as a chef. They are the most important things at the moment.

Do you ever feel in the shadow of Hand and Flowers?

Not at all. We are 10 months old, the Hand and Flowers is 10 years old! They are so much further down the line and if we got even close to the standard that Hand and Flowers is at then that would be a phenomenal achievement. There’s certainly no rivalry and we operate independently but we support each other.

The Coach received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin this year, what are the plans for the future? We have never set out to chase anything. As chefs we try and get better every day and if anybody wants to give us accolades then that is great and it gives us a mark of quality.

We have never set out to chase anything. As chefs we try and get better every day and if anybody wants to give us accolades then that is great and it gives us a mark of quality.

We have never set out to chase anything. As chefs we try and get better every day and if anybody wants to give us accolades then that is great and it gives us a mark of quality.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st October 2015

Nick Beardshaw, head chef, The Coach