Ben Waugh

Ben Waugh

Ben Waugh

Having worked as part of the Gordon Ramsay Group for over ten years, in 2021 Ben Waugh decided to leave behind the world of fine dining to oversee the food at Bib Gourmand-winning pasta restaurant group, Bancone. As group executive chef, he’s now instrumental in ensuring that the menu remains consistently excellent as the business expands.

Whilst a fast-paced career in fine dining can be both exhilarating and rewarding, it can equally be all-consuming and something that chefs don’t want to be doing for their entire career. The skills developed and nurtured in such kitchens however, are unquestionably valuable and can be applied just as effectively to other styles of cookery. Ben Waugh first made a name for himself running a number of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, but changed direction in 2021, becoming the executive chef of London restaurant group Bancone, where he now applies the precision he learnt earlier in his career to elevate their pasta-focused menus.

Not all chefs come to cooking as young as Ben did, but a combination of his mum working night shifts as a nurse, meaning he’d often need to fend for himself in the evenings, and being exposed to different cuisines from a young age led him to cooking family dinners by the age of eleven. ‘It started off as me coming home hungry from school and knocking myself up a snack,’ smiles Ben, ‘but soon I was making spaghetti Bolognese for everyone. My grandmother was also an incredible cook and used to cook amazing Egyptian food like stuffed vine leaves, so I think that also inspired me.’ Ben took a job as a pot wash at Stoke by Nayland Hotel as a teenager to get a glimpse inside the a professional kitchen and quickly became enamoured, ‘I instantly loved the camaraderie, the intensity, and I never really looked back.’

Once he’d finished school, Ben enrolled on an apprenticeship which he was able to undertake at the hotel restaurant, meaning that he was able to learn on the job rather than needing to attend culinary college (‘It gave me a very real understanding of what being in the kitchen was like form the get-go’). He went on to spend five years at the hotel, completing his training there and being promoted to chef de partie, before taking up positions at the two-rosette-winning Ravenwood Hall and then a small Ipswich bistro, where he was made head chef of at the age of just twenty-two.

The fact of the matter was that it was the fine dining side of the industry that really appealed to Ben and to take his food to the next level, he felt he needed to be in London. ‘Looking back on it now, I maybe should have made the move earlier,’ he says, ‘but I was very focused on getting as much schooling as possible early on.’ Ben took a short contract cooking on a cruise ship and also travelled around Southeast Asia, but when he returned to the UK, he moved straight to the capital and was soon working in a kitchen that would sculpt him as a chef – The Savoy Grill.

‘Gordon (Ramsay) was just about to relaunch the grill when I moved,’ explains Ben, ‘and he was obviously a huge name, so I thought I’d apply. I did a trial shift at Claridge’s and next thing I knew I was part of the opening team. It felt like a very special thing to be involved in, with the pedigree of chefs in the team. I learnt so much, so quickly about meat cookery in particular, and doing things by feel. That restaurant is a cookery institution after all, and it opened my eyes to the food I liked to cook: British produce with a classic French twist.’

Arriving in 2010 as a chef de partie and leaving three years later as senior sous, Ben had firmly established himself as someone who Gordon could trust and went on to spend the next seven years working within the group under different guises. After supporting the head chefs at smaller sites including Maze and Maze Grill, he returned to the Savoy Grill as head and then executive chef, and began to be trusted more and more with menu development. ‘It felt amazing to have that freedom,’ he says, ‘and to play such an important role in the evolution of the menu.’ It was in his last role as head chef as part of the Ramsay Group at the Michelin-starred Pétrus however, where Ben was truly able to flex his fine-dining muscles. Working alongside Matt Abé, who he’d first met during a brief spell at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, he thrived cooking the ultra-refined menu. ‘Going from cooking 350 covers at the Savoy Grill to 50 at Pétrus was incredible,’ says Ben, ‘it was all about precision and detail, which I absolutely loved.’

Two years after becoming head chef of Pétrus however, Ben eventually decided that he needed to leave the world of fine dining behind to put his family first and stepped away from the Gordon Ramsay Group. ‘I was always first in and last out the door at the restaurants,’ he explains, ‘and it reached a point where my daughter was six months old and I felt like I was missing out. At the same time, I felt like I needed to spread my wings and do something new.’ Although he wanted to work somewhere where he could spending fewer evenings in the kitchen, he was still determined to grow as a chef, so when the chance to join the Bancone group – a style of restaurant he’d never been involved with before – as executive chef arose in 2021, he felt it was the perfect opportunity.

At Bancone, Ben oversees the entire food offering, ensuring that the menu remains consistently excellent whilst helping to drive the business forward. ‘What I think is special about Bancone,’ says Ben, who splits his time between the multiple sites, ‘is the fact that we’re offering high-end service and an exceptional product at casual dining prices, and that’s something that I never want to change.’ By applying the same scrutiny to Bancone’s more causal dishes as he did to one-star plates at Pétrus, Ben has helped elevate the menu to new heights, as demonstrated by dishes such as his smoked potato and egg raviolo, which took London and social media by storm soon after hitting the menu.

As the Bancone group expands, Ben’s role is now more instrumental than ever in terms of maintaining consistency, but you can be sure that his exacting standards will ensure that only perfectly executed pasta continues to leave the pass. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the world of fine dining one day, but for the moment Ben’s focus is clear: to carry on bringing exceptional pasta to the masses.