It’s often said by the great and good that starting at the bottom and working your way up is key to understanding your industry. ‘It’s all those little jobs that get you to the top as it helps you build the foundation and people’s respect,’ explains Pete Biggs, whose beginnings – as pot washer at his local Beefeater – are as modest as they come. Biggs is mindful of oversized egos in his trade, but to him a humble start maketh the chef.
It was in 2002, after cooking at The Complete Angler in Marlow, that the rookie Biggs began his tenure at The Vineyard in Stockcross – then under John Campbell’s watchful eye – and so began his association with the head chef Nathan Outlaw. Whilst initially it was the ‘buzz of service’ that drew him in, it was the Berkshire restaurant that ‘opened my eyes’. By 2009 he was head chef at Outlaw’s Seafood & Grill Restaurant at the St Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall. Here, he had an epiphany: ‘I remember when I first saw red mullet come into the kitchen and saw it in the sunlight and it was literally glaring red and golden. When you experience something like that as a young chef it really gets you interested in ingredients.’
In Outlaw’s opinion their enduring partnership is based on Biggs’ being committed, organised and strong. They are both believers in teamwork. Biggs is respectful of Outlaw’s influence, both as a manager and a creative, and emphasises that his boss didn’t try to turn him into a ‘mini-me’ but gave him room to develop. Outlaw has a measured and considered approach to running a kitchen – qualities that Biggs incorporated when he ran the tastefully-designed dining room at The Capital, an upmarket hotel in Knightsbridge – one of London’s most exclusive postcodes. It’s the place in London to sample Cornish seafood and holds a Michelin star and three AA rosettes. Waitrose’s The Good Food Guide praises the ‘flat-out excellent seafood’ and highlights its Best Set Lunch.
While Outlaws at The Capital carries the seafood ace’s name (he’s executive chef) and Biggs was faithful to Outlaw’s approach – fish and seafood cooked simply with great technical skill, then beautifully dressed – he was no henchman. Biggs has been by Outlaw’s side for ten years and was trusted to run the show. Outlaw makes this clear: ‘Pete’s a very, very talented cook, he deserves his own restaurant and really this is as much his restaurant as it is mine.’