Chef Q&A: Nick Grieves, The Patricia

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Image of Chef, Nick Grieves, cooking in kitchen
Despite a stealth opening over Christmas, this Jesmond bistro from the man behind Durham’s Garden House Inn is already drawing national attention. The chef-proprietor talks gimmicks, the politics of pleasure, and turning up for work in massive trousers
‘I turned up as the guy with all the gear and no idea. I’d got some big chef trousers that were too baggy, I looked like a right idiot. The other chefs probably thought, ‘What’s this guy doing?’

The Patricia’s named after your grandma – is she a good cook?

Yeah! She’s a good cook. She still doesn’t know, actually, that it’s called The Patricia. I used to go to this pub after work in London, and I was super-down about working for someone else. I had some money, but not a load, and she said, ‘I’ll help you.’ Out of the blue. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘I’ll transfer the money.’ And then I went straight back up north to look for this place.

You were at the Garden House Inn before that. 

So I started the Garden House, I was the owner – me and a friend of mine and our two fathers. We started in 2011 and I was there for four and a half years by the time we finished. We split up with our partners, my friend and his dad, and then it was just me and my dad. I’d never been a chef before; I just ran it as a business at first, and then I ended up being in the kitchen by mistake. It was an accident, really. We didn’t have anyone. I really loved cooking – I went in one day and I never left. 

So why move on?

It got to a point where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do food-wise. We had to run two menus, a bar menu and à la carte menu, and my heart was in the à la carte. The bar menu was almost a side thing just for business. And then struggles with working with a parent took its toll, and it was a case of, ‘Either me or you.’ So I moved to London and started working at a restaurant called Fera, Simon Rogan’s restaurant, and then went to the River Café. I just wanted to learn a bit more formally, by eating out and reading books. A lot of people in restaurants are like, ‘This is how it should be done.’ I can just do whatever I want now, I don’t need someone else to tell me how to do it. 

You just wandered into the kitchen?

Yeah! As I say, there was me and my friend and we just ran the business and front of house – I’d worked as a waiter throughout university, so I knew how that worked. And then one day we just didn’t have enough staff and I was like, ‘Oh I’ll come in and give you a hand.’ I had an idea of what I wanted from the kitchen, and I thought if I go in, I can try and say, ‘This is what we need to do.’ And I just loved it. It’s one of those things: when you find something that’s your passion, it’s not working. I love being here. I haven’t left the kitchen since.

What was your first shift like?

I turned up as the guy with all the gear and no idea. I’d got some big chef trousers that were too baggy, I looked like a right idiot. The other chefs probably thought, ‘What’s this guy doing?’ But they couldn’t say anything because I paid their wages, you know.

If you learned by eating out, what was a formative meal you had?

At that time I was trying to eat at places that were well above me – I ate at this place called 41 Degrees in Barcelona, it was Albert Adria’s restaurant. It was after elBulli closed, and it was a small, 12-cover restaurant, 40 courses – it was amazing. But at the restaurant I have now, the whole outlook on food is different. It’s more about simplicity and good quality produce and whatnot. 

What did you get out of those London kitchens?

You can pick up different techniques or whatever, but you can read about techniques, your friends can show you techniques. That’s not the big deal: the big deal for me was more how a restaurant business should be run. A big thing I learned at River Café was how to look after your staff properly and reinvest in them. Before, the Garden House used to try and pay people the very minimum; here at The Patricia I like to think we pay quite well and have lots of perks. At River Café we used to get all sorts of perks: if you worked there a long time, they’d take you away on holiday to Italy to watch the pressings of the olive oil. 

One of the quotes chefs pass around on Twitter is that Anthony Bourdain one: ‘As a chef I’m not your dietitian or your ethicist; I’m in the pleasure business.’ Do you feel that way?

You go to a restaurant to have fun. I’ve gone to these one or two-star restaurants and it’s like, ‘Oh, how great – he can make a potato taste like an orange.’ That has a place, for sure, but day-to-day, or week-by-week, it’s about pleasure. Why else would you go to a restaurant?

There’s a very conscious absence of a gimmick at The Patricia.

Yeah. We don’t want to buy into any kind of concept restaurant. Concept restaurants are great, but what we want to do here is more about comfort, and pleasure, and fun, and great stuff on the plate.

What aspects of your character are in the place?

I’d say what this place is should be a reflection of me – though I don’t like to say me, we’re a team and we do everything together; without them, I’m nothing. We built the place ourselves as well, we didn’t have any contractors in. I spent two months on my own just doing it, then I had the boys who work here come in and we painted, we stripped the floors, we stained the chairs, we tiled the walls. Nothing here isn’t us. 

 

The Patricia

139 Jesmond Road, Newcastle NE2 1JY

0191 281 4443

www.the-patricia.com

 

 

Nibbles

Cooking heroes? Ruth Rogers from The River Café.

Essential cookbook? Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson.

Favourite bit of kitchen tech? My MBN Space-Combi oven. It’s a great little oven – I ended up treating myself to it. It’s a really small, really powerful oven because we don’t have a very big kitchen.

One thing that always puts you of a restaurant? Powders. I’m over powders. 

Guilty pleasure? McDonalds McChicken sandwiches. McDonalds is good, man! Whoever says it isn’t is lying.

Last supper? Any meal at Lyle’s in London. 

Published in: April 2017

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