Name: Jesse Dunford Wood
Pub Company: Parlour, in Kensal Green NW10
Job title: Chef and Owner
Tell us about your career path:
My love affair with food started in a restaurant in Edinburgh washing pots – and then I progressed to cooking. I stepped off the deep end when I was 21 and worked as an apprentice at a 2 Michelin Star Hotel, Gidleigh Park, in Devon for 3 years which really kick-started my career.
Following that, I moved to Australia and worked with the chef Mark Best at his place, Marque, which had a really modern and innovative take on French cuisine. Then I decided to move to Chicago and worked with the legendary chef Charlie Trotter before going to New York, changing things up a bit and working as a waiter at a bustling brasserie called Balthazar.
When home finally called, I came back and cooked at the famous Kensington Place with Rowley Leigh. I then had an opportunity to be the Chef at the National Gallery’s National Dining Rooms with Oliver Peyton from the Great British Menu.
I’d dreamt long and hard about running my own place, I knew I was ready, and finally the opportunity came along and the Mall Tavern was born. It was my first pub chef job and a great success. Soon after I opened another place called the Parlour and here I am today – with my family, living above a pub, as an independent operator.
What is a typical day in your role like?
I cook, I check, I tweet and Instagram, I say my hellos to people, I check again, I taste, I listen, I serve, I entertain, I teach, I meet, I greet, I analyse, I count, I project, I worry, I smile, I say my good nights and I sleep.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your role?
There are so many aspects to my role, but at the end of the day, a chef feeds people and the satisfaction of showing people a good time and watching them enjoy what we create is incredibly rewarding. Every day is great fun and no two days are the same – there are always struggles, but the energy and passion in the kitchen far out weigh them – and we always get there in the end.
What do you love about being a pub chef?
I love the openness of it. Pubs are open to everyone, the banker sits next to the pensioner, who sits next to the family on holiday from Taiwan and they are all there for different reasons – we meet so many different people. For some people we’re a watering hole, some come for brunch, or our amazing lunch menu, and others have heard about our ‘Chef’s Table’ – where you’re basically sitting with us in the kitchen! We’re versatile and cook a wide range of food, from traditional pub grub to fine dining – I love the balance of where we are.
If you could give one good reason why a young person should become a pub chef what would it be?
There are brilliant opportunities in pubs for chefs, whether you are new to the trade or a veteran like me. Pubs are changing and developing all the time, and you can be a part of that. There is room for everyone who really wants it and there’s every opportunity to be the best. Pubs want you to succeed, because with your success comes theirs.
What do you think the pub sector has to offer young people?
There is excellent opportunity for career progression that comes with being a pub chef, if the attitude is right and the commitment is shown. There are apprenticeships, which are a great way to gain qualifications – especially if you’re not fond of the traditional idea of ‘studying’. You learn from your team everyday and they learn from you. It’s a great environment to be a part of – you have to work together and it makes for an incredibly inspirational surrounding. Your colleagues are your friends – and it’s not everyone who can say that! It is a massively challenging job, and very multi-skilled. We work long hours, but oh, what fun it is!
What are the most important skills that a young person needs to have to succeed as a pub chef?
Versatility! And if you can multi-task, be creative, organised, disciplined, positive, self-motivated, technically sound (science plays a big part in the kitchen) and consistent – it helps! Most of all you need to work well with customers and your staff. Teamwork and clarity of direction are very important. These things all come with time though; I don’t think I had any idea I’d be here when I was starting out.
What are your career plans for the future?
I’d like to open a couple more pubs and try my hand at writing too – I love it, especially if I can write about cooking. The great thing about being a chef is that there is always somewhere to go, something to learn, more ideas to have and ways of bettering my profession and myself.