CHEFS

Everything These Michelin-Starred Chefs Learned from Working at The Fat Duck

James Lowe of Lyle’s in London and Danish chef Theis Brydegaard share how starting out at Heston's three Michelin-starred restaurant shaped their cooking careers.

by Daisy Meager
08 September 2016, 5:29pm

Before I can begin my interview with James Lowe of Lyle's, a modern British restaurant in London, and Theis Brydegaard of Eldorado, a fusion restaurant in Copenhagen, Brydegaard shows me a picture on his phone.

"Did you see who was in last night?" he asks.

Lowe turns to Brydegaard and says: "I bet you've been stopping everyone on the street and showing them that."

I look at the screen and there, next to a visibly excited Brydegaard, is Jamie Oliver.

"Yeah, I thought it was going to be a joint selfie but they handed me the camera to take the picture," Lowe says to me. "It's fine! I don't care."

READ MORE: The Art of Pasta Extruding with Mitch Orr and James Lowe

I'm speaking with the two chefs in the dining room of Lyle's ahead of the second and final Guest Series dinner they will cook together tonight.

When I mention how the pair first came to meet, when both were working at The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal's three Michelin-starred restaurant in Berkshire, another picture is pulled up on Brydegaard's phone.

Fat Duck A-team 2005

A photo posted by Theis Brydegaard (@theis_eldorado) on

It shows a fresh-faced Lowe and Brydegaard posing as the "Fat Duck A-team" in 2005.

I suggest they try and recreate the photo tonight. Lowe laughs: "I don't know that's a good idea now."

The Fat Duck is where the two chefs' friendship, which clearly remains today (despite their mock anger at having to be interviewed together), started. It's also what drew them both to a life in the kitchen.

"I saw Heston's show, Kitchen Chemistry, on the Discovery Channel and wrote to him once a week for four or five months for a job," Brydegaard explains. "Eventually, he let me come for a two-week trial and then I got to stay."

james-lowe-theis-brydegaard-prep

Danish chef Theis Brydegaard and James Lowe of Lyle's in London. All photos by the author.

Lowe has a similar story of persistence.

"I just went to The Fat Duck for one day's work experience and at the end of the day, the head chef thanked me and wished me good luck," he says. "I said I wanted to come back and the head chef said there wasn't really space, but I just came back the next day. That happened for a while before they gave me a job."

Lowe explains that while The Fat Duck used to only get eight covers or so on a Friday evening, things changed overnight when the place was voted number one in the World's Best 50 Restaurants awards.

"We had dishes like crab ice cream and people didn't want to eat it," explains Lowe. "But within a day, we were booked up two months in advance for lunch and dinner, and it's been like that ever since. It was a tiny kitchen so they built these sheds out the back as prep stations."

Before The Fat Duck shot to fame and began attracting chefs from all over the world, Denmark-born Brydegaard was the only non-Brit in the kitchen.

"When I started at The Fat Duck, I thought it was really hard work. I was the first foreigner and everyone else was British so no one felt sorry for me," he explains. "It was a lot of hours and I was used to doing—maybe double of what I used to do in Denmark. It was a lot of getting used to but it was amazing."

james-lowe-theis-brydegaard-plums

Plums used for Brydegaard's special guest dinner at Lyle's.

Both Brydegaard and Lowe still talk about the labour-intensive processes behind the food at The Fat Duck.

Brydegaard says: "There'd be something like snail butter which would take weeks to make and then you'd finish it, and two days later you'd start again. There was never any rest!"

It wasn't just culinary skills that grew under Blumenthal.

"When I think back to The Fat Duck, I don't think I learned that much about cooking. But mise en place-wise and how to run a section, it was probably the most beneficial," says Brydegaard.

Lowe agrees: "You see this a curve of how a restaurant accelerates. Some things took five days to make which is fine when you're doing 200 people a week. But when that quadruples, all of a sudden there aren't enough hours in the day."

james-lowe-theis-brydegaard-greengaes

Greengages.

He continues: "It taught you how to think ahead. It's how you have to work when you run a kitchen. You think, 'Right, when a pig or cow goes to slaughter, in two months' time, I have those middles, and in three months' time, I have the legs.' You've got the bigger picture in your head."

After a year together at The Fat Duck, Brydegaard moved back to Denmark to begin the road to Eldorado, his current restaurant. (I don't use this pun in front of him.)

For the last four years, Brydegaard was a partner and head chef of Nordic fine dining restaurant Kadeau, earning a Michelin star. In November of last year, he left to open Eldorado, a fusion bistro, as a separate arm to the Kadeau group.

RECIPE: Theis Brydegaard's Onion Bhajis

"I was getting really, really tired of doing Michelin. Really tired," he explains, with a sly side smile to Lowe, who earned a Michelin star at Lyle's earlier this year. "I thought it was the perfect way to stay in the Kadeau family but do something different."

james-lowe-theis-brydegaard-chatting
Ingredients like kimchi and mochi, as well as dishes including daal and bagna cauda creep onto Eldorado's menu. Brydegaard tells me that when he's guest cheffing abroad, pickles and ferments often make their way into his suitcase.

I ask whether he's had any run-ins with customs.

"Usually we're OK because we check what we can bring before we fly," he says. "But once we just snuck some extra stuff in. Luckily no one checked the bags."

And how come it's taken Brydegaard so long to bring his pickle-packed suitcase to London?

"I asked Theis ages ago but I don't think the place was worth enough," jokes Lowe.

"I said to James—when you get the Michelin star, I'll come along," says Brydegaard.

"He's joking but it's true."

I take it as my cue to leave when the pair start comparing tonight's dinner to the Take That reunion.

Secretly, though, I really do hope they recreate that A-team picture.