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As a young man Gary Jones applied himself completely to the task of becoming a world-class chef. Hailing from Merseyside, he did a two-year catering course at Carlett Park on the Wirral while spending his evenings and weekends working in various small restaurants in the area.
His first notable kitchen role was working in a small restaurant in Rickmansworth, one of only three people in the kitchen. The limited staff meant that he learned every aspect of their food production – an experience he says he enjoyed immensely – and he left there with a solid skill base and good overall knowledge of the workings of the kitchen.
Realising that to be a truly great cook he would need to train at a great restaurant, he headed to London. His next position was at the Mountbatten Hotel in Covent Garden, where he trained under a purely classical head chef. Still displaying enormous drive and dedication to hard work, he filled his free time by taking shifts at The Waterside Inn, then run by legendary French brothers Albert and Michel Roux. He was quickly offered a chef de partie position at the Waterside, but out of regard for his current head chef, he stayed on until he had completed a respectable 18 months at the hotel.
As a 21-year-old, he found the Waterside’s kitchen tough going, but working his way through the brigade he achieved his aim – chef de partie on the sauce section, the most coveted position in the kitchen. Having met the challenge he set himself at the Waterside, he decided it was time to move on and after contacting Raymond Blanc about a role at his legendary eatery, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, he had secured a position.In 1990, a year to the day after taking over the sauce section at the Waterside, he began his new job at Le Manoir, as chef de partie. Within three months he was offered the role of sous chef, but not having worked on every section in the kitchen, he turned it down. In typically devoted fashion, he wanted to be sure of knowing every single last detail before taking such a position in a kitchen with Michael Caines, Aaron Patterson and Clive Fretwell at the stoves. After a year of dedicated graft, he accepted.
Keen to continue moving onwards and upwards in his career, and conscious that Clive Fretwell (then head chef) was unlikely to move from his position at Le Manoir, Gary Jones decided to look for another job. Richard Branson part-owned Le Manoir at the time, and a position came up on Necker Island, his private, luxury resort island. Having impressed Branson with his success in training young chefs at Le Manoir, he took an executive chef teaching role on the Island, arriving in the early 1990s.
Adapted to local supplies and the more relaxed style of cooking on the island, typical dishes celebrated the local abundance – grilled tuna teriyaki with fresh coriander, for example, or barbecued lobster to be enjoyed on the beach. A short constancy in the Maldives followed, but Gary Jones was now reflecting on what it was that he wanted to achieve in life. The UK and the possibility of earning his own Michelin star beckoned.
In 1996 he returned to a position at Homewood Park in Bath and by 1998 he had earnt his first Michelin star and four AA rosettes. From that point on he was a highly sought after chef and was soon asked to head the kitchen at Waldo’s, the renowned restaurant of Cliveden, a luxury country house hotel in Berkshire. Cooking dishes such as Pan-fried calves’ liver with pancetta, ceps, garlic mash and a red wine jus, Gary Jones was awarded his second star, another four AA rosettes and 8/10 in the Good Food Guide.
One day, Raymond Blanc came to dinner at Waldo’s. Before he’d even got to the main course, he was out of his chair and complementing Gary Jones on the quality of his food – from then on Blanc was set on tempting back his old employee. Gary Jones needed little persuasion, and in 1999 he was appointed executive head chef of Le Manoir, a happy return for this incredibly talented and dedicated chef.
More than 15 years later Gary Jones still runs the kitchen at Le Manoir, every year retaining the two Michelin stars that the restaurant has held for the past 30 years and earning the maximum five AA rosettes. Together with owner Raymond Blanc and his team, he strives to achieve the very best at the restaurant, to make enjoyment of the food a complete and divine experience with every detail and component flawlessly executed. Classical technique is, unsurprisingly, still at the heart of Gary Jones’ cooking.
Dishes at Le Manoir are famed for their fresh, direct flavours, with Gary Jones saying of his food: “I don’t believe our food is overplayed. I believe that it’s natural, it’s respectful and it tastes of what it is – we treat it as simply as we possibly can. And we’re just taking the pure essence of that product and putting it back into the plate.” Your meal at Le Manoir could begin with a canapé of Sea urchin with scrambled eggs and ossetra caviar, followed by a starter of Ceviche of scallop and tuna, Seville orange, ginger confit and fennel. Mains could take in Five preparations of hare with pickled wild mushrooms, baby leeks, quince and red wine essence, or Wagyu beef fillet with braised beef heart and oxtail, horseradish ravioli, shallots and barley. Desserts at Le Manoir, famed for their gorgeous aromas as well as their incomparable flavours, include seasonal delights such as Mulled wine fruits with cinnamon ice cream and pain d’epice.
The exceptional, Soil Association-certified kitchen garden at Le Manoir is what Gary Jones describes as “our secret weapon”. He works closely with the resident garden team when developing his hugely seasonal menus, using the singingly fresh organic produce at the very peak of its perfection. Describing how the garden meets plate at Le Manoir, Jay Rayner writes in The Guardian: “Veal kidneys, a blush of taffeta pink at their heart, come with half the contents of the allium section – baby leeks roasted just so, the soft hit of onion so many ways – all brought together by a red-wine sauce that has me mopping (with their own sourdough) at the plate until the glaze risks wearing thin.”
For items that cannot be grown on the premises, he visits suppliers at their boat, farm or production facility, checking credentials and fostering strong relationships to ensure that the ingredients used are always as good as they can be in terms of quality, seasonality, sustainability and animal welfare. The AA notes how the menus: “reflect the superb supply lines that have been developed over the years by Raymond and Gary Jones, his long-serving right-hand man at the stoves.”
Teaching has always been at the heart of any role that Gary Jones takes on. At Le Manoir, he oversees a 30-month development programme for young chefs, not only taking them through every section of the kitchen, but also filling in any gaps with dedicated training courses. On finishing the course, students come out the other end a ‘complete chef’, ready to move into the management side of running a kitchen.
The impression he has left on countless young chefs over his long career has been immense. Paul Foster (The Dining Room at Mallory Court) says: “It was a fantastic experience and helped shape me into the chef I am today. I can still hear Gary Jones voice in my head.” Agnar Sverisson (Texture) describes how supportive Gary Jones was when he was working there whilst trying to set up his own business. Steve Love tells the Caterer: “He puts the emphasis on developing chefs. I learnt so much from watching him. People skills for one thing – I only ever saw him lose it twice and, yes, he still kept that pencil behind his ear.” Gary Jones has also had a hand in the training of Adam Simmonds, Chris Horridge, Will Holland (Coast) and Dave Watts (Kings Head Hotel), to name but a few.
Gary Jones has been cooking at the very top of his profession for many years. But having always strived for excellence, even perfection, during his time working as a chef he is still aiming higher. When asked what gets him out of bed in the morning, his answer is 10/10 in the Good Food Guide.
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