An Interview with Chef Alex Shaw
Chef Alex Shaw is group chef at the award-winning Eagle and Child in Ramsbottom. The Greater Manchester pub has received an impressive number of accolades over the years, including ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Great British Pub Awards and Best Food Pub at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. This feat is no less impressive for the fact that the ethos driving the enterprise is also to create a community pub that helps train young people who are not in education or employment.
Former winner of Manchester Food and Drink Festival Chef of the Year, Alex brings to the Eagle skills honed in Sheffield’s The Old Vicarage at a time when it held a Michelin star, as well as the renowned Volta in West Didsbury.
We ask him about what it takes to make it in the industry, how to run a successful restaurant in the north and his tips for younger chefs…
Who do you try out new flavour combinations on first?
I’ll experiment on myself first, maybe involving senior management or at home with my partner Vicky.
Do you think there has been an increase in access to top class food in the UK over the last decade?
Yes, a big increase. The whole trade has seen a shift in awareness of food, locality and quality. Restaurateurs and chefs have had to keep up with this shift, meaning an increase in the overall quality. This, in turn, has had a knock on effect, seeing a better quality in the supply of food in general, seeing better quality in the high street and supermarkets too.
What do you look for in an up-and-coming chef that makes you think they’ve got what it takes?
A desire to learn and work hard. I see too many chefs who think that they know it all after a couple of years. They’ll try to demand high wages and a position above their skills. I’m not saying that the odd prodigy doesn’t happen, but it is rare. I prefer a chef to listen and learn the basics so that they have the best grounding and understanding of how ingredients work together and the science behind it all. So if something goes wrong you understand why, and what to do differently next time.
What makes a good location for a restaurant?
An area with a level of understanding of what you are trying to do. There is a certain element of ‘build it and they will come’, but get your offer wrong, or choose the wrong building, and it won’t work. There are hundreds of things to consider, dependent on what style of food you are planning to offer. I have seen big operations fail because they had a city centre location that was just a little bit too out of the way with very little footfall. It could be something as daft as being on the wrong side of a road.
“The standard of produce available outside London is fantastic now”
What are the benefits of running a restaurant north of the Watford Gap?
The competition and costs involved in opening in London are huge, survival rates are low. Being further north, and for us in quite a rural area, means fixed costs are far lower than in the capital. We are also more of a destination restaurant that people travel to. The higher end of our industry is still concentrated in London, so it makes us stand out in our area. The standard of produce available outside of the city is fantastic now. It easily rivals the best in London. Staff are, in general, also easier to retain, therefore adding a better degree of consistency.
What do you think of the idea of a Northern Powerhouse, and how do you think it will affect the restaurant sector?
I think it would be great for the North. Investment is badly needed to regenerate areas in the North and create more jobs. Hopefully it will pull in more industry, meaning more people with disposable incomes to spend in restaurants!bu
How important do you think it is for there to be a steady influx of new talent into the industry?
Very important, more now than ever before. There is a massive shortage nationwide of talented chefs, especially at the Chef de Partie level. Even the top restaurants with big name chefs are struggling.
What advice do you have for young chefs looking to make their mark?
Listen, learn, work hard, strive for perfection and be willing to commit yourself to a wonderful, rewarding industry.
How important to you is sourcing local ingredients?
Locally sourced produce is incredibly important to us. Everything that can be is sourced within a fifty mile radius of us. We also grow as much as we can. We have a completely edible beer garden at the Eagle and Child, and our own chickens. There is also a polytunnel that we have at Heaton park. We are currently crowd funding a campaign to expand to a fruit and nut orchard at Heaton park too.
Interview courtesy of russums-shop.co.uk