He was originally set on joining the Army, you know?I’m sure he would have made a bloody good armourer with his attention to detail, but my oh my, what a loss to creativity and the culinary world that would have been. For all our sakes, thank the Lord he took that pot-wash job at Le Petit Canard aged 13.Serendipity is a funny old thing. He takes a job at an unassuming restaurant in rural Dorset, and behind those doors lay a cosmopolitan world of food & drink that opens his eyes beyond village life. Here’s a kid getting schooled in the ways modern American cuisine, from Alice Waters to Charlie Trotter, in a small West Country village. Taken on eating trips to France, Sweden and the US. Quite the education. He moved from pot-wash to the stove, and in the process fell well and truly down the rabbit hole. Of course the day he left school, he started full-time.Still though it wasn’t all right place, right time. Being ‘into food’ was a lot tougher in those days. There was no social media back then. No Chef’s Table. No bottomless well of recipes and tutorials on the internet to hone your skills. If you wanted to understand the upper echelon of Michelin chefs, you either read the cookbook or ate at their restaurant. So that’s what he did, voraciously. While Sir Brad was watching Sean smash out TT’s in the Tour, Ash would have been nose-deep in Larousse Gastronomique or cutting out recipes from Food Illustrated. The young lad saved up his pennies to dine with his heroes - Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire, Marco Pierre White at The Restaurant, Michael Caines at Gidley Park. “I’ve always been the type of person, that I when I get into something, I really go for it”. Evidently.
Double shift after double shift. 6 days on. 1 day off to rest. With a biblical work ethic like that, you’ll rack up your 10,000hrs pretty quickly. But you do these things when there’s a palpable sense of creating magic, whether it’s in a kitchen or on the bike. Not everyone has it in them, and Ash says “not many could hack it”, but that’s how things were back then.When you think about it, the world of molecular gastronomy it isn’t so different from marginal gains. Swap milliseconds for milligrams. Change your power meters and wattage, for refractometers and sugar %. The purists disparage both for a lack of intuitive flair. “You're taking all the heart out of it” they moan. But we all know both are better for it. Elevating the disciplines to new heights through fine-tuned precision and fractional betterment, all in the team pursuit of perfection.At the cutting edge of the movement is where Ash cut his teeth, taking the helm as Head Chef in 2003. The intersection of flavour driven science and storytelling creativity manifesting itself as something astoundingly innovative. Creating something theatrical we’d not yet seen here on this Island known for pork pies and pasties. Acknowledgment followed. 3 Michelin Stars. World’s Best Restaurant by World’s 50 Best. Not that he shouts about it though. A humble chap is our Ash, quietly shaping British gastronomy forever at the right hand of Heston.
Messi probably wouldn’t have broken Gurd Muller’s calendar year goal record without all those assists from Xavi and Iniesta. Serena might not have won all those Grand Slams without Venus snapping at her heels from childhood. And Sir Brad certainly had a good supporting cast with Cav and Froome in 2012. Heston rightly casts a large shadow, but eventually it came time for Ash to step out from it. Like Froome, his years as the Fat Duck’s domestique-in-waiting were done, but when he took the lead, instead of looking forward to overtake, he looked back.When asked what dish sums his up philosophy towards food best, he tells us: “There is a no one dish. More a group of ideas. A movement. One that makes me very proud, and in a way, patriotic”. Redefining British cooking in as literal a way as Ash did at Dinner, takes a deeply curious and talented mind. Delving through the history books to find antiquated recipes at the foundations of British cooking, and executing it to a 2 Michelin Star level is no walk in the park. But the notion of finding the genesis of idea, and applying modernity to it is what has come to define him. Looking to the past, in order to create the future.
Which does tend to sum his style up quite nicely. Complexity in technique, simplicity on the plate, and rich layers of storytelling that bring a smile to your face and leave you thinking. It takes 3 cooks 2 days to tell the story of a medieval recipe called “pomme dorres”: a silky rich chicken liver and foie gras parfait, dressed in Mandarin’s clothing. It’s a cheeky moment of joy for the diner, that takes 15 hrs of work to get to the punchline, and it’s pure genius.So when you’ve got someone like Ashley on your team, it’s no wonder that a penchant for precision and storytelling seeps into how we do things round here. For him it’s never just about delivering a delicious plate of food and saying, “bon appetit”. It’s about letting the diner understand how what sits in front of them came to be. And it’s those added layers of depth and meaning that take it from just a nice dinner to an unforgettable experience.And we’re most definitely in the business of unforgettable experiences.We’re glad to have you on board, Ash.
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