The job of a head chef is tough in any kitchen, but to hold the position at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant for four years is probably one of the hardest things to do in the industry. Steven Doherty managed it, turning him into one of the greatest chefs of his generation, but nowadays he’s better known for his simple, unfussy cooking in the heart of the Lake District, celebrating local produce and classic British dishes.
Steven joined Albert Roux’s iconic Le Gavroche in 1978 as a commis chef, working his way up to becoming Albert’s sous chef in 1982. When the head chef position became available he went for it, and Steven became the first Briton in history to run a three-starred restaurant. He was in charge for four years, maintaining the incredibly high standards needed, until Michel Roux Jr took over from him in 1988.
‘It was hard work, it was driven and you had to deliver every single day at every single service; at that level you can’t allow failure,’ says Steven. ‘I suppose I was a bit disappointed when Michel Roux Jr took over from me and if he hadn’t come back I might still be there to this day, but the move actually opened up all sorts of doors for my career.’
His first opportunity came from Albert, who made Steven group executive chef for all his restaurants and operations. ‘It was an extremely rewarding and interesting part of my career, working with some amazing people and gaining a grounding I’d never get anywhere else,’ he says. ‘I suppose I technically went down a rung in terms of cheffing but went up two or three from a learning perspective. The job was more managerial but I was still always in the kitchen.’ In 1993 he went on to open the Grand Hotel in Amsterdam for Albert and stayed there for two years, until a yearning to do something different took him to the north of England.
‘I saw an advert for The Brown Horse, in Winster, to become a partner in the business, so I went for it,’ explains Steven. ‘At that time the big pub groups were being broken up so there was a lot of interest in the industry. I was there for eighteen months and it was incredibly successful. I suppose The Brown Horse was the first gastropub in the Lake District – prior to that, there wasn’t much going on apart from the usual pub stuff.’ He was soon winning all sorts of awards for his food, which combined high quality with relaxed, country pub surroundings. While these are quite a common sight these days, Steven was one of the first to run a pub in this way.