The Dorchester Grill at the Dorchester Hotel is one of the most prestigious restaurants in London. The Grill restaurant has become an institution in the London restaurant scene having first opened in 1931. Over the years it has undergone many changes, while staying true to its roots as a traditional British Grill.
Brian Hughson has been the head chef at the Grill since early 2009, he’s 20 years of experience in the best kitchens in London have earned him a world class reputation. Over the course of his career BH has worked for Marco Pierre White at Mirabelle, The Belvedere and Wheelers of St James, for Gordon Ramsey at the Savoy Grill and Gary Rhodes at W1 in the Cumberland Hotel, just to name a few.
I was lucky enough to work for him at the Grill and consider him to be a great source of inspiration and a mentor. I can say without doubt that I have never worked for such a skilled and talented chef who makes cooking and presenting dishes look effortless.
During the course of our interview we got on to the subject of kitchen operations and management. BH has a refreshing and forward looking approach towards these topics. He believes in nurturing a positive working environment in the kitchen and avoiding the stereotypical harsh treatment of kitchen staff. As he puts it our role(as chefs) is critical in delivering a positive guest experience, however we aren’t saving lives here, the level of stress and pressure put on kitchen staff is far too great in some establishments. Having been there and worked in those environments, he sees how not everyone is built for it. He talked about how particular chefs use a strategy of ‘breaking’ their staff only to rebuild them in their own style, but he has seen many chefs who have been through this process and have not been able to handle it.
BH believes in giving his team opportunities which allow them to grow, and entrusts them with a higher degree of responsibility than most would. In turn he is rewarded with a loyal team that not only respect him for his experience and obvious skills but his humane and down to earth approach.
I called Brian up full of enthusiasm about the articles I would be writing about top chefs in London and he was good enough to sit down with me for the following interview.
Why did you become a chef?
I have always loved food, and as for a career I wanted a job that offered diversity. Becoming a chef brought together all the elements I wanted in a job. I started my working life at the Rolls Royce factory while going to college in the evenings to study to become a chef. It was hard work but it meant I was pursuing my ambitions.
What was your first big break?
15 years ago I made the decision to leave Manchester (where I was working at the time) and come down to London, I landed a job with Gary Rhodes and that was the beginning of my journey to where I am today. It was a major milestone in my personal and professional life.
Who has been your biggest influence?
I have been fortunate to work with some of the top chefs in London (these include: Gordon Ramsey, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Richard Corrigan and Marcus Warring), each of which have their own unique styles in the kitchen. I have drawn inspiration from them all. When you work as a chef as long as I have you end up developing your own style which is based on all the experience and inspiration you gain when working with the best in their field.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Apart from becoming the Head Chef at the Dorchester Grill, I would have to say it was while I was Head Chef at W1 (Gary Rhoads’s fine dining restaurant at the Cumberland Hotel ) where we were awarded a Michelin Star after just 7 months of being open.
What’s your biggest nightmare to date?
(he laughs) Well as you know kitchens can be a tough place to work at the best of times, but I’d have to say one of the biggest challenges I have faced was during the launch of Vinopolis. It was a large restaurant (seated 200) and had a very small kitchen! So there were many challenges with the strategic and operational elements of launching the restaurant. But we did receive a Bib Gourmand award, so it all worked out!
Why did you decide to focus on British Cuisine?
I was classically French trained and spent many years cooking food in that style. However as a chef you are always aware of issues such as cooking in accordance with seasonality and cooking the food that you have a genuine passion for. In the UK we have some world class produce and a large repertoire of classic dishes which have only been made popular within the past 15 years or so. As Head Chef of the Dorchester Grill, I have been given the opportunity to take the best British produce and turn it into refined modern dishes.
What is your signature dish?
Scallops dusted with curry salt, a sardine pie, cauliflower cous cous , cauliflower puree and confit lemon.
We have seen many trends in London’s fine dining scene over the past 20 years, what are your predictions for the future?
Well trends are trends and they always come round in cycles, so there could be a return to retro (classic) dishes that are updated with new innovations in the kitchen. We are definitely seeing more demanding guests with greater expectations and a growing interest in issues such as sustainability and other environmental related issues. All this challenges chefs and I genuinely believe that is a good thing as it drives us to continuously work harder to satisfy guests who are paying a premium prices in London restaurants.
Who are the most memorable people you have cooked for?
Top of the list would have to be one of my all time heroes; HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) who I have cooked for on several occasions including his 60TH birthday. Other than that I have cooked for a long list of celebrities including Madonna and top chefs like Alain Ducasse who was just in the restaurant a few days ago.