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Everyone needs to eat

From his early days in Barnsley, northern England to working with Raymond Blanc, the executive chef at the Anassa hotel has been around the world’s kitchens. NAN MACKENZIE meets a man trying to keep it local

In the 1990s the media started to tell us that cooking was the new rock n roll and that chefs were the new pin ups, the demi gods of the demi glace. Two decades later we still seem to be obsessed by cooks and their ability to create kitchen alchemy, combining ingredients to form something more delectable than the sum of their parts.

Executive chef at The Anassa hotel in Paphos David Goodridge is one such demi god, the man responsible for the culinary character and standard within what is now accepted as being the most exclusive hotel in Cyprus. We meet on the morning the hotel officially opened for the season and although early for the appointment were told by a very nice receptionist that David would be with us shortly, leaving me feeling a bit like a soufflé that might suddenly sink if the man failed to materialise. Then in he walks – a tall, good looking man pristine in chef whites. Almost immediately it is clear here is a man who possesses an innate determination and a rock solid sense of self, someone who may offer a ready smile and a delightfully easy manner but who is not especially concerned by such trifles. Neither is this a man who would be late for anything as his timing would, like his cooking, be executed with impeccable precision.

So, how come a young lad who started out from Barnsley College in England’s Yorkshire now boasts a CV that reads like a road map for any aspiring chef to follow, reflecting a massive level of commitment to learning his craft? Goodridge is rightly both proud and deeply grateful for all the help he received along the way.

“As a teenager I confess to first wanting to be a rock star (after a Formula One racing driver) but regardless of my still amateur guitar skills, I knew the world of show business might not be exactly the thing for me, nor indeed would it be a route out of Barnsley. I did however know the one basic fact of life was that everyone needs to eat and as I also wanted to travel the idea was to learn to cook so I could combine both. I enrolled at the local college where I was fortunate to come under the wing of food lecturer Herve Marchand, a truly wonderful man and a great teacher – he seemed to see something in me that even I didn’t see and as a result of his tutoring my love for cooking was cultivated, nurtured and reached a level where I was voted student of the year for three successive years.” In between taking college courses Goodridge worked nights at Restaurant Peano in his home town where Chef Michael Peano boasted one Michelin star plus three AA rosettes, allowing him to realise very early on the need to always be at the top of one’s game even if at the time that was merely through helping to prepare hot and cold starters.

Through Marchand, Goodridge was recommended to his friend and celebrity chef Raymond Blanc and so, at the tender age of 18, was able to say goodbye to Barnsley and travel south to Oxford where he joined the kitchen brigade at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, which then held two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes, over eight years learning everything he could starting as a commis pastry chef going on to run a kitchen brigade of 44 and acting as Chef de Cuisine. On this learning curve did he ever really let the side down by making a monumental kitchen blunder? “I did, and that’s how we all must learn,” he says but this lesson was played out in front of hundreds.

“It happened when Raymond Blanc and I were on stage at one of his popular live culinary classes. There we stood resplendent in our chef whites, in front of us a packed auditorium eager to see, hear and learn from the master how to create lobster bisque and this is the bit that still sends a small shiver down my spine. I as his trusty assistant tipped the makings for the bisque into the blender but omitted to double check the security of the lid before flicking the ‘on’ switch. The end result? All on stage were instantly dowsed to resemble actors from a horror movie. Ever the true professional, Raymond Blanc was cool about it and after casually wiping particles of lobster from his eyes and nose, apologised, telling our audience ‘even we professionals can sometimes make messy mistakes’”.

The time spent working with Blanc was invaluable experience and allowed Goodridge to then take up an offer from Koyama Hirohisa, one of Japan’s most respected chefs, and it was in Tokyo that he began to learn new techniques and understand the very different kitchen culture between east and west. It wasn’t until he was head hunted by The Peninsula Hong Kong, where he had full operational control as Chef de Cuisine within the famed Gaddis Restaurant, that he experienced the cause and effect of different cultural attitudes within a kitchen.

“I have always believed and continue to do so that the respect my staff give me is through the quality of their work, so it’s rare to hear shouting in my kitchen, and if there is a problem, I prefer to take the person aside and make sure he or she knows how the problem arose and what needed to be done to correct it. In Hong Kong for example if you shouted or even lightly criticised a member of the kitchen staff in front of everyone then that person might not show up for work for days. That staff member had effectively ‘lost face’ in the eyes of his contemporaries so one had to tread very carefully if you wanted to keep a full and happy working kitchen brigade”.

I manage to get sight of the Anassa menus for the new season and it is clear that the food being created backstage is indeed exceptional, being shot through with a consistent thread of quite elegant quirkiness while a large amount of the basic ingredients used are sourced locally.

“We have bee keepers in the region who supply the Anassa with organic raw honey, most of the vegetables are sourced locally from people we know and trust, fruits cultivated in the region of Polis and Latchi are made into our breakfast jams, preserves and chutneys, the halloumi is made locally, although we are in the process of getting a licence to make our own plus yogurt and anari cheese. We grow all our own herbs and these are used also in teas as well as in our dishes. Flying in foodstuffs such as wild salmon, smoked trout or premium beef and the like is a must but we are always conscious that if we can make it ourselves then we do, so bread is baked three times a day and there is a night baker who has every possible baked delicacy ready for the morning breakfast tables.”

As his own talent was nutured, Goodridge now finds himself on the other side of the fence. “I would not be here enjoying the work at the Anassa without those two mentors in my life, both Marchand and Blanc took huge amount of time and trouble to train me and they did it well, I in turn must honour that tradition of mentoring as best I can, and when I spot some young man or woman with that raw talent then I can help shape it, in fact we should all be doing this as we owe it to the young people coming up the line.”

And it turns out despite how many episodes of Masterchef you have watched, those who are likely to go far are pretty easy to spot. “I can tell by their body language, the way they speak and the passion and enthusiasm they reflect, these are the people we want at our sides and in front of a stove ,and although it is a terrifically hard job with long hours and very little time off for socialising, you sacrifice a lot when you embark on this life, that’s why you do really have to love what you do and are always willing to learn, then you will have a career that is both immensely satisfying and really worth something.”

Goodridge still has family back in Barnsley and from his conversation its clear his mother is very proud of his success although she prefers to cook for him when he comes home. “My mother had to suffer me mucking about in her kitchen for years and yes, then I was a messy cook, sauce up the walls stuff stuck to the ceiling every pan and dish used, her memory of that time is keen so she prefers these days to do the cooking”.

But who would he cook for and dine with given the luxury of choice? “Sir Alex Ferguson stayed at the Anassa just a few weeks before I arrived to take up the job so I was a bit upset about that, as I would loved to have met him”. In terms of those he has cooked for, the Queen Mother was a standout. “I cooked for her several times, her favourite food was fish, especially Turbot, she was always so nice and loved to have a chat about food.” But if the pan were to be put on the other foot as it were, Goodridge would enjoy a bit of home cooking. “My mother’s Sunday lunch is the best, it holds great memories plus it’s real comfort food, the other would be in Japan eating Sushi at a restaurant in Roppongi Hills.”

And out of the kitchen how does a Manchester United fan in Cyprus entertain himself? “I still try and play guitar, love skiing, anything to do with the sea, scuba and when I have time I like to walk my two Jack Russell dogs. Of course I love my motorbike and ride it to work every day and am taking delivery of a new bike next month, a Ducati, which I am excited about”.

David Goodridge seems like a good guy, a talented chef and obviously a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but it is clear he also believes in giving back and any young cook working in his kitchen who aspires to being a ‘star’ and is willing to work his socks, apron, clogs and hat off is certainly in the right place at the Anassa.

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