Having burst onto the London dining scene with two restaurants in a relatively short time, Bistro du Vin in Clerkenwell (our review here) and Soho, Bistro du Vin are now firmly established in town. Calling the foodie shots and managing the quality control for these and the entire Hotel du Vin chain is Group Executive Chef, Keith Shearer.
How did you get into cooking as a career? What in your background led to your being a chef?
I left school at 16 and went to Telford College to start a two year caterering course. I started working in various hotels around Edinburgh, before going to south of France (Pergignon) and working in some local brasseries. I did that for six months and then started working in Gragendairoch hotel in Ballater, Scotland, 3* Michelin red M restaurant for 13 months. I then left to work in the recently refurbished Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, in all the restaurant and banqueting over a two and a half year period. This was a huge learning curve, not just on how to cook but also how to get organised. I left the Balmoral and went to work at the Regent/Four Seasons hotel, now the Landmark in London, worked there for 6 months before going back to Edinburgh and joining Malmaison, that was over 15 years ago. I have also been responsible for the Hotel du Vin kitchens for the last seven years.
So, what exactly does a Group Executive Chef do?
My main responsibilities are to create an understanding of what the HDV food culture and food philosophy is. I educate the chefs about the standards that they need to achieve. I work to make sure that all the chefs, from HC to commi, know what our style is and what our values are regarding to the food, how to work with our the suppliers, how to define and implement the buying principles, the kitchen etiquette, the working procedures and how to deliver within our budgets. We have a very strong development culture, where half of our 30 head chefs are internally promoted. Training and development has a huge priority in our company, where we work with our people and development team to ensure that we are focused on the training needs of our kitchen team.
How do your Clerkenwell and Soho locations differ? And what are their different needs?
Both bistros have been designed to have great simple food, a discerning wine offering and unfussy service. Clerkenwell has our meat maturation room where we can age all our beef to our own exact standards. This gives us much greater control over the quality of the beef we can offer our guests. In Soho we have built our own cheese and charcutière room. We have created this, in collaboration with "Le Cave du Fromage" (our cheese supplier), to introduce a more bespoke and discerning cheese and charcutière offering. We have over 80 cheeses and 25 different hams, salamis, saucisson, terrines and confits. I feel that for Soho, we need to be aware that we have more tourist as our guests; so menus and prices need to be designed to meet this need. It also means guests can be more transient. Clerkenwell tends to have a lot more return customers and has already created its own group of regulars. They need recognition of their loyalty!
With a name like Bistro du Vin, having a stellar wine list is obviously a big part of what your restaurants aim to do best. How closely do you work with your wine buyer(s) and sommeliers? And how does a focus on wine affect your menues?
The chefs work closely with the sommeliers to create wine matching or special wine dinners. We have great relationships with lots of wine makers and are frequently doing dinners to show case new vintages or new producers looking to promote their wine. The sommeliers always have an input on the menus, in terms of recommendations and training. We all know that we are working in Bistro du Vin, and have to make sure that we all support one another in trying to deliver a great dinning experience.
What kind of experience do you think customers are looking for when they decide to visit a Bistro du Vin?
I feel they want great unfussy food - bistro classics like dressed crab, oysters, steak tartare, sole bonne famme, king scallop Mornay, all made from the best food available. Chefs who can show restraint with the food preparation and allow the great produce to be the star. We are not about making chefs' ego food! The wine should be relaxed but sophisticated. You know you have someone who is passionate about wine and knows his subject, but will not bore the ears off you showing you it. Service needs to be friendly and unobtrusive, professional and efficient, And above all, we need to deliver great value for money.
Where do you like to go when dining out in London? Where do you shop for your home kitchen?
The places that I like are Koffman's at the Berkeley, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, Bar Boulud, Le Caprice and Pizza East.
For home shopping there is nothing better than farmers' markets. Meeting like minded people who love what they do. It always makes everything taste better knowing that a lot love and care has gone into producing those products.
Bistro du Vin is located at 38-42 St John St, EC1M 4AY and 36 Dean Street, W1D 4PS.