The family bookshelves bore classic cookbooks by legends such as Robert Carrier – the chef whose books launched a million dinner parties – and Andy Waters was raised on Carrier’s delicious stews and casseroles, that his mum made from rough cuts of meat. Dreaming of becoming a chef from an early age, he too turned his hand to Carrier’s creations. In charge of the kitchen when his aunt and her husband came round for dinner, he produced tournedos Rossini for his family – although he admits to not really knowing where beef came from at the time. He told us: ‘They all thought it was fantastic, but they would say that because I was twelve.’
An education at Halesowen Food College followed – one of the few options for students who were not academically gifted in the 1980s. He told us: ‘That’s the reason I got into cooking, because I was rubbish at school. I wasn’t interested. I was okay, an average kid, but it was a time when if you couldn’t do anything else, you went into catering.’
After college, Andy Waters travelled to Lyon, France, for a stint working with nouvelle-cuisine pioneer and French food icon, Paul Bocuse. Many years later, he still cites Bocuse as the best chef he has ever worked with. He told us: ‘I think it’s just his stature in the kitchen, his discipline in the kitchen, and his actual schooling that he does throughout the world to inspire … He’s like your father, your college teacher and employer all in one go.’
His first real job was at a restaurant in Bournemouth, working alongside Jean-Christophe Novelli, who was heading the pastry section. He then went on to work at The Plough and Harrow in Edgbaston, followed by several years working at Simpsons in Birmingham, the Michelin-starred restaurant headed by Andreas Antona. In 2001 he took up the head chef position at The Bay Tree in Edgbaston, to see if he had what it takes to open his own restaurant.
Cornish crab and prawns with harissa, Roast breast of Gressingham duck with damson-onion confit and port gravy, and a superlative Deep-fried banana with peanut butter ice cream and almond biscuits. The Guardian at the time said of the food: ‘It aspires to pleasure, not wonder, and it delivers that with aplomb. It concentrates on letting high-class raw materials speak their piece without fancy business getting in the way.’ After just six months, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, which it held for the next four years, and was named Restaurant of the Year in the Harden’s guide. The restaurant moved to Brindleyplace in Birmingham in 2008, with Andy Waters continuing to head the kitchen, and was awarded Best Restaurant in the Midlands in the 2012 Good Food Guide.