Much excitement currently surrounds Cardiff’s Park House, with the recent announcement of their new consultant chef, Roger Jones, Michelin star chef from The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. Coming up later this week is an exclusive blog interview with Roger, but earlier this week I caught up with head chef, Jonathan Edwards, to find out what it’s like working with Roger, who else inspires his cooking, and what he thinks about social media and food bloggers!
Tell me about the journey you’ve been on since you first decided to become a chef, ending up now at the Park House.
I’ve always been into food, the family’s always been into food. It’s always been a family occasion so my father and uncles have always taken me shooting and fishing. My mother’s a keen baker, she decorates cakes, and food’s always been around me so it wasn’t really surprising that I wanted to be a Chef. I wasn’t very good at anything academic at school, but I’ve always been good at cooking, so it was a natural choice. I went to Bridgend College. I did my basics there and had just been looking for the right place, and the Park House ticks all the boxes really. The produce we use! I’d never used such good quality produce before and it’s a shame really that there’s not more of it around.
How long have you been at the Park House?
I’ve been here currently for 2 months. I did work here previously for 2 years when it was a private members’ club but I wanted to spread my wings and gain experience. Because it was a private members’ club, it was a bit restrictive and I wanted to get out there and get into a busier kitchen. Park House has always been my first love and now we’re open to the public I decided to come back and really push myself. With Park House owner Adam Pledger linking up with Michelin chef Roger Jones, I have a chance to do something really special and lasting.
Have you worked in other places locally or have you been further afield?
No, I’m a Bridgend boy and my family’s quite important to me, so I’ve always stuck around, not done the London thing.
I have been lucky to work in some great places with some amazing chefs. I started out in Coast Restaurant in Porthcawl, which was an exceptional little restaurant that taught me so much and set me on the right path. I then worked in various places in Bridgend and the Vale before working at the Park House Club, then moved to Coed Y Mwstwr, before coming back to Park House! Over that period I did placements to gain experience and develop myself most notably at Le Gallois and more recently at Roger’s Michelin star restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.
For me Park House is the place now and I’m happy and excited to be here.
You’re self taught. What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of that to going down the more formal classical training route?
I think the disadvantage is that you haven’t got the discipline and some things can be a bit hit and miss, but I think you learn from that. Being self-taught I think you just go out and find it, there’s more than one way to reach the final product. No disrespect to classically trained chefs at all, but I don’t find that I’m stuck in a box. I take on lots of different things, rather than just one way of thinking. I think it just opens your mind a little bit more.
What’s your favourite local produce to use?
Local, it’s very hard. I wish there were a few more good suppliers. My favourite supplier locally would probably be JT Morgan at Cardiff Market. Their stuff is superb and they always go out of their way to help you. We’ve gone along the route that we want to get more local suppliers on board, but haven’t found what we’re looking for yet. We’re looking for free range and all that kind of thing, that’s what we want to go for.
What produce are you currently enjoying using?
We are getting amazing lobsters at the moment from Danny in Little Haven, Pembroke. They are delicious and show what world-class produce Wales has. Meat wise I am in love with our beef, which is a special breed called Highland Shorthorn X – I just couldn’t live without it! The fact that it’s such a consistently excellent product means that you can be really creative and let the product do the talking whilst having 100% confidence in what you’re doing.
I really believe in what we’re using at the moment and believe this shows in the dishes we serve.
You’re being mentored by Roger Jones, the consultant chef. How does that work in practice?
I catch up with him a few times a month, depending on what we’ve got on. All of us individually have gone up to his restaurant, watched how he does service, how he prepares certain things and see what he uses in season. We talk or email every single day about various things. I’m like a sponge, I take in everything he tells me, and he’s so enthusiastic with us, it’s really easy to work with him. I think it works, what we’ve got going! He’s going to be with us all week this week, he does demonstrations, and it’s not just me he’s mentoring, it’s the whole team. He’s very good as a teacher – you don’t even notice he’s there teaching you, he just seems to be there in the kitchen with you working, and all of a sudden you’ve picked up endless amounts of knowledge. It’s really good!
What’s been your biggest learning from him so far?
The produce – everything is about the quality of the produce. You shouldn’t really have to mess about with the food. His spicing – it’s quite complex, and we’ve learnt that from him. That and just trying to be a bit more ‘clean’ with the flavours.
Who would you say your other influences and inspirations are?
Thomas Keller from the French Laundry. What he’s doing, and what he’s contributed to the industry is amazing. More close to home, I’ve always admired Marco – I love the classical way he cooks. There are a few Australian chefs I’m watching – I’m very interested in what they’re doing.
Now that you’re settled at the Park House and you’ve got Roger on board, what’s the vision for the place?
Firstly, we want to have happy customers who come back again and again. If we can do that then we want to achieve a three AA rosettes level. It will not be easy but we’re aiming to do that. I don’t think it’s unreachable. I think Cardiff needs it! And then hopefully, the sky’s the limit. I’d love to get to that level. I’m not going to be arrogant and say I’m going to get it, but I’m going to work damn hard to try and get it! For a restaurant to succeed in this day and age it is important to get recognition in the form of awards as it really does bring people through the doors.
What’s your favourite thing on the menu?
I love the Lobster Tarka Dahl – I absolutely love that! As a starter, I love the caramelised Kelmscott Pork with Chilli Squid. For dessert, I’d go for the Coconut Pannacotta with the Mojito Sorbet. We’ve had some rave reviews about that one, and it’s probably my favourite!
Where else do you enjoy eating in the area?
To be honest, I don’t get a chance to go out that often! The boys went to Pier 64 and came back raving about that, so I’m quite keen to try. I Twitter with them, we’re doing a Bombay Sapphire gin evening and I think they’re coming out to that, and it’s quite important to me to see what other people are doing, but I’m so busy, with being a family guy and a chef, it’s hard to go out. I need to go out more!
Do you cook at home?
It’s very much the day job. I don’t work a Sunday, but I do try to get a roast on the go. If I get an evening off, perhaps I’ll do a bit of baking with the kids. It all depends on what I’ve got on, really, but I try and make the Sunday roast a regular thing, it’s what I grew up with, and I think it’s important, a chance to chat about your weekend and things.
You’re on Twitter. How do you think social media helps restaurants and food businesses – or is it unhelpful?
I think it’s amazing! I’ve only been on Twitter for about 2 months. I’ve had Facebook for years, but Twitter is amazing. It causes so much awareness. I’ve met suppliers from it, and local restaurants are even tweeting to ask about what I’m doing. It’s massive! You can also get feedback – we had one of the guys from the Apprentice in the other day, and he complained about something or other, so I went out to see him and we chatted and he was fine – he blogged then, what he thought was good and what he thought was bad, and sent me a message on Twitter, so that’s valuable.
What do you think about food bloggers?
It can work either way. In particular, Trip Advisor can be very harmful for a business. You have one bad night – which is always going to happen, and then it’s on there for life and it really upsets me seeing that. I don’t see it very often, but I’ve seen it on other places and you think “it’s a good place, why has it happened?” It can be helpful, though – if I see anything negative, I try and learn from it and try and improve. I had a good review the other day and I was so happy with it, I thought the hard work is starting to pay off. It’s good to know what’s going on! But what I don’t tend to see is people going back and saying whether it’s improved. You should give people a second chance, and with food bloggers you don’t always see that happening.
You’re aspiring to the three rosettes in the longer term. In the shorter term, you’ve got a lot of exciting things going on over the next few weeks. What’s going on?
Yes, we’ve got the chef week with Roger this week, with gourmet evenings, menu launches and a ladies’ charity lunch. There’s always so much going on – it’s all on our website! Looking forward to July 16th, there’s a big charity chefs’ event for Ty Hafan with 3 Welsh Michelin chefs cooking at the Park House so that’s very exciting to see. Park House is doing the desserts – we’re doing a chocolate platter for 60 covers, so it should be pretty good!
With thanks to Jon for his time and for being a pleasure to interview. I’m off to the Park House later this week to sample some of his delicious dishes and produce for myself. Watch this space to find out how I get on!