On his return to the UK he started work at St. Mary’s Axe (The Gherkin), working under head chef Brian Hughson, both ultimately under Richard Corrigan, who was culinary director. He says: ‘We had a fantastic team there, everyone was from a Michelin background. We were producing some amazing food, and obviously it was a fantastic opportunity to be in an iconic building. It was nice to get a balance of Richard Corrigan’s humble food and Brian’s willingness to keep it British, but to push the level of detail, the cleanness of the food and to use modernist techniques as well, which for me was another direction change.’
When Hughson left to join Gary Rhodes’ flagship restaurant, Rhodes W1 at The Cumberland, he offered Paul Welburn the sous chef position. Here he cooked classical French cuisine with British inflection. A typical meal would open with dishes such as English carrot mousse with orange, coriander and salted walnuts, followed by Monkfish with chicken wing, salsify, char-grilled leeks and jus gras, and finally, a whimsical deconstructed piña colada. The restaurant went on to achieve a Michelin star and three AA rosettes within eight months of opening, with Paul Welburn moving up to the head chef position three months after these awards, at the age of twenty-six. He told us: ‘It really gave me the chance to develop myself and get my name out there – to make people realise that it’s not just Gary Rhodes, that there was a chef there as well. Gary was very much into that, pushing me forward. He made sure any reviewer or guide coming in knew that I was at the helm – someone in the background doing all the hard work. That’s what I respect about Gary, he’s not someone who’s about themselves, he’s famous because of his team. I also made my own fantastic team, many of which have followed me since I left there.’ In 2012, Gary Rhodes ended his contract with the hotel, with Paul Welburn completely taking over the helm.
He held the restaurant’s accolades for the full five years he was there, until he left in 2013 to join contract caterer, Searcys. In his role as executive chef for the organisation, he oversaw several openings around the country while work was completed on Tonic and Remedy, his new restaurant. In 2014 he appeared on Great British Menu. He told us: ‘For me, it was the most exciting, amazing thing – even up there with earning the star. It was a very proud moment for my family and my region, and also for the chefs who trained me. It also felt like all my hard work had paid off – finally I had a chance to showcase what these people had given to me and give it back.’ His main course for the D-Day brief, ‘Blackout Beef’ with beef rib, beef heart, carrot and bone marrow, was awarded a perfect 10/10 by veteran judge Phil Howard.
In 2015, he returned to London to head another Searcys enterprise, Tonic and Remedy, located in the M by Montcalm hotel in Hoxton. Here, Paul Welburn created a menu for the bar and restaurant that focused on herbs, spices and wine – a concept inspired by the area’s apothecary history. He told us: ‘I was involved in the planning, the designing, creating the kitchen, the team building and helping develop the concept – after I left W1 this was the one project that really appealed to me.’ Dishes such as Crispy pig’s head with apple salad, and Gooseberry pudding with yoghurt and blueberry offered an updated, but gently nostalgic, take on traditional British dishes. Plates such as Lemongrass-smoked cod, mussels, sea vegetables and cucumber ketchup showcase the herbal remedies and flavours of old.
Wherever possible the dishes highlighted the best of British seasonal produce – both farmed and foraged – something important to Paul Welburn’s identity as a chef – ‘my big thing’ as he describes it. The intoxicating cocktail selection, crafted by head bartender Jeremy Pascal, matched the food beautifully, with drinks such as Lady Marmalade with pink grapefruit marmalade, and Patience & Thyme with gin, fresh herbs and smoked egg completing the innovative menu.
Aching for a slight change of pace, and more freedom in the kitchen, Paul moved out of London to the West Sussex countryside, taking the reins of The Leconfield restaurant in Petworth in October 2015. A much smaller venue, it provided him a unique opportunity to overhaul the menu and really put his stamp on the kitchen.
He says he has always pushed himself, always tried to achieve his highest potential – to be the best that he can be. But this is not at the expense of those around him. Helping, teaching and supporting his team, as chefs such as Gary Rhodes did for him, is a key part of his working practices. For both himself, and his team, the drive and work ethic exhibited by Paul Welburn stays true to the life philosophy his father tried to instil: ‘What you put in, you get out.’