The chef and owner of ACT’s Flint Dining Room & Bar and Flint in the Vines on the importance of details and the attraction of offal
I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was about 10 years old, or even younger. I’d help out with barbecues and cooking the family roast. At 12 or so I started to cook meals for my parents on their anniversary. When I was 15 and had the choice of going on at school or doing a cooking apprenticeship, it was an easy choice for me.
In those days, my inspirations were Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffman and Michael Bourdin at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, London. I started an apprenticeship there. It was a very traditional, old-fashioned kitchen. Because it was so long, you spent six months on every section and you have a real thorough training of traditional French cooking. They don’t do that anymore—there are lots of apprentices who want to be a sous chef immediately. But cooking is a marathon, not a hundred-yard sprint, my chef told me. You need to learn as much as you can.
The key thing I learnt from Michael Bourdin at the Connaught is that “good cooking is the accumulation of small details done to perfection”. That was plastered on every wall of his kitchen, and I had to look at it every day for several years. It’s true, too. It’s now on my kitchen walls. Every part of it has to be done perfectly to get a finished result.
When I was there I won a competition for Best European Apprentice Chef. The final was in France, and you were competing against 11 Euro nations. I beat the French guy by one point. I got offered jobs in France in three-star restaurants. I worked at La Maison Troisgros, where they had a lot of Asian influences, especially Japanese. So I was opened up to three-star food.
The restaurant was in a small town in the middle of the Alps, so it was amazing. Michael Troisgrois was an amazing chef. Some of his ideas were unbelievable. He had a worldwide empire, but he was at his main restaurant 90 per cent of the time, and he would jump into the kitchen and cook with you. That really inspired me. But after three years I wanted to go somewhere I didn’t have to work 110 hours a week. I wanted to get out of France and I needed a break.
I went to MG Garage. Jeremy Strode taught me a lot of stuff about running your own business. That was really the first time I got to see how to run a business.
“The key thing I learnt from Michael Bourdin at the Connaught is that ‘good cooking is the accumulation of small details done to perfection’.” Grant Kells, Chef and Owner, Flint Dining Room & Bar and Flint in the Vines
After that I went to Singapore to Raffles hotel. I went there and there was a massive learning curve. I spent two years there. At Raffles was where I learnt how to deal with staff. I was in charge of a lot of them. That’s where I learnt about the real management side.
Most chefs find that the step from chef to restaurateur is the biggest challenge. Food costs, wage costs, everything was worked out to the penny. It was learning how to manage the business, really. The first week you spent the whole time just on procedures.
I went to the US, to the Willard Hotel, next door to the White House. I was hired a week before (George) Bush (Jnr) was inaugurated. I wanted to live in the US for a while, but I also did it for the money. It was worth it. I didn’t have any money behind me so I decided to work for a few years to save up to start my own place.
The restaurant I’m in now is the one I’ve always wanted. We have a whole nose-to-tail cooking thing happening—that’s something I started to cook in my 30s. We now make our own black puddings and so on. I just started playing around with it. Jeremy Strode also cooks really good offal and stuff, so I think I got a bit of inspiration from him. I think that as I’ve got older I like to cook food I like to eat.