The Chef House caught up with Reece Calvert after his competition win two weeks ago:
Q) First of all, congrats mate! How were you feeling when you won?
Thank you very much, I honestly couldn’t believe it. It is such an amazing feeling to know that all of the hard work I had put in had paid off. I had quite a few family members there and they were all so happy and proud, my colleagues were also there and they were all very happy for me. Hearing my name called was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.
Q: I bet it was! Were you confident going in to the competition? What did you do, preparation wise?
Going into the competition I wasn’t that confident because I only applied two weeks previously and at that point I had never prepped or even cooked a rabbit before. By the point of the competition I was confident I had two good dishes which could hopefully help me compete for the top three places.
Q) Who showed you how to use the rabbit?
Dave Kennedy, the executive chef at Pleased To Meet You, showed me how to prep a rabbit, then the next I had a go for myself. When I got confident it was a case of prepping faster and neater. Practising my knife skills was also a key part which unfortunately on the day didn’t go as well at the start: the nerves really hit me badly.
Q: Well your winning dishes looked superb and they obviously tasted as good as they looked. Where did the ideas for them come from? Was there a brief or did you have free reign to cook whatever you wanted?
Thank you, yes, the only brief was that we had to cook rabbit for the main course and apple for the dessert, other than that we had free reign on garnish and what you wanted to do with the rabbit and apple.
The ideas came from myself, help from my colleagues and trial and error. Suggestions were put forward, if they were good I would trial them and then came up with a dish from that. My dessert changed a lot, my main course not so much. For my main course I knew I wanted to do three components of rabbit so I started with that. The garnish had to be local and seasonal, so I looked at what was in season and what went with rabbit and that narrowed down the options and it went from there.
Q) So past jobs have obviously influenced your cooking style today. You’ve already mentioned Dave Kennedy at Pleased To Meet You. Where have you worked so far?
Everywhere I have worked so far I have always tried to learn as much as I can because everywhere you work, everyone works differently.
I started my career at Newcastle College as an apprentice for one year and I learnt so much. I had never really cooked anything before and I started picking it up quickly which made me start to love it.
I then moved onto Slaley Hall, I’d say that was my first real job as a chef. I learnt so much from the chefs there and about how service ran since you could do up to 300 covers on a night. However, it was quite far for me to travel everyday and sometimes I had to sleep on a friends floor or even in my car! That’s when I knew I had to move on and after a few trials in a few places I decided that Six at the Baltic was the best place for my next move.
Q: A brilliant restaurant. What made you pick Six?
Six was a very easy choice for me as it is local, has a very good reputation and the chefs were very welcoming when I did one weekend of agency work there. I was at Six for one and a half years and I moved around all the sections so that I could learn as much as I could. I took notes and recipes for the future.
Q: Where did you move after Six?
Well at that point I wanted to travel and decided to do a ski season in the French Alps in Val D’Isere, working for Fish and Pips, a small chalet company who offered fully catered chalets. That was my biggest challenge yet as I had never worked by myself before, I usually always had somebody with me to guide me. It proved an amazing experience; I made up my own menus, budgeting and did all of the orders. It was a successful four months for me and after heading back to Six for a month once I was home I then decided it was time for a change.
Q: That sounds like an amazing experience. Where can people find you this present day?
Now I’m at Pleased to Meet You. The main reason I joined the team is because we are opening a new restaurant next door which will be a new challenge. Another reason is that I will be working for two very good experienced chefs: Dave Kennedy (executive chef) and Neil Jefferson (head chef). Working alongside these chefs can only benefit me in the future and make me a better chef.
Q) Absolutely! I’m sure it’s only going to improve your natural ability. Looking into the future, are there any particular restaurants you’d love to get some experience in?
Well firstly, with me winning this competition, one of the prizes was a stage at Le Manoir in Oxford. I can’t wait to go there and learn from the chefs. Another place would have to be the Fat Duck, but there are so many places, I just hope I’m lucky enough to work in a few of the amazing restaurants the UK has to offer.
Working in other countries has also interested me, learning different styles of food other countries have to offer would be something I would love to experience.
Q) Some people talk about having a ‘food dream’. What’s your ‘food dream’? Do you have one?
I will be at Pleased To Meet You for some time yet and I’m looking forward to this challenge but in the future, I would like experience in a Michelin starred restaurant and want to work with some of the best chefs in the UK. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always wanted to travel around the world, working in different restaurants, experiencing different cultures and different ways of cooking. ‘The dream’ though, has to be to open up my own successful restaurant and hopefully more.
Q: Well hopefully you get there one day. Having close family and friends in the industry I know how testing a job being a chef is, especially for young people such as yourself. I think you’ll agree that it’s good to see hard work rewarded through competitions like this. Do you have any advice for new/young chefs? Have you ever been given any advice that you’d like to pass on now?
It is hard at times, like you might have to miss a family wedding or friends birthday. You do get to do most things you want to do, though. If you work hard you get benefits. I think that’s the best advice I can give any chef, work hard and you will get the rewards. The two weeks previous to the competition I worked a lot of hours, sometimes 19 hours a day, but winning the competition made everything worth it. If you aim high enough you will get there.
Q) Well all the best in the future Reece, The Chef House will be keeping an eye out for anything else you’re involved in.
Thanks mate, I will keep The Chef House up to date with all my progress, the stages and future competitions. Could I also just take this opportunity to thank everybody at Pleased To Meet You for their help and support and to also previous chefs from my past because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.