Paul Ainsworth

Paul Ainsworth

Paul Ainsworth

Paul Ainsworth’s playful, brilliantly creative dishes showcase the best produce that Cornwall has to offer, crafted with the accomplished technical skill he learnt while training with Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Now considered one of the greatest chefs in Britain in his own right, he combines influences from his childhood with flavours from around the world to create his own, very regional, Cornish cuisine.

Paul Ainsworth grew up in a guesthouse that his parents run in Southampton. He says: “From a very early age I watched my parents welcoming customers into our home. It was extremely busy every morning from 6am when the breakfast shift began until very late at night.” His parents both cooked and through them he was exposed to two very different cuisines. His dad focused on hearty, traditional, British meals – “the biggest portions you’d ever seen” – such as shepherd’s pie and corned beef hash. Whereas his mum, who was from the Seychelles, made Creole dishes that featured fish, vegetables and spices, cooked with a little more flair. He says: “I was a very well fed child!”

Instilled with a strong sense of the value of hard work and earning your own money, he says: “At the age of twelve I had four paper rounds, two shifts at a newsagent, five night shifts in a fruit and veg merchants, and a job selling pretty tacky household goods from a catalogue in which I made a percentage of everything I sold. I also put in some work at the guesthouse – sweeping the drive, cleaning the windows and washing cars … Looking back I loved the idea of completing a task and getting a result, and to this day I enjoy the business side as much as I do the cooking.”

After leaving school he studied catering and hospitality, working shifts as a waiter at The Star Hotel as he studied. When Gary Rhodes, who knew his tutor, came to the college seeking chefs he “absolutely jumped at the chance”, spending two years working under him at Rhodes in the Square. He speaks extremely highly of his time with Rhodes, telling Great British Food magazine: “Gary was incredible. People don’t realise how good he is – they saw the spiky haired guy on TV, but in the kitchen he was like no one else. He was one of those rare chefs that don’t just tinker with existing dishes, but actually invent new ones.”

Three years at Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road followed, before he moved on to his other legendary establishment, Pétrus, working under head chef Marcus Wareing. He tells the same interview: “Gordon Ramsay taught me discipline and respect, and his kitchen was where I really learned skills and worked with the best produce available. And Marcus was an incredible craftsman; everything was perfectly polished and refined, from the way the chefs looked to the way the dishes were presented.”

In 2006 he followed Marcus Wareing to The Berkeley, but shortly after met Derek Mapp – the backer who would go on to help fund the restaurant Paul Ainsworth opened with two friends in Padstow, Cornwall – Number 6. He says Mapp “played an influential role outside the kitchen as my business partner, friend and mentor.”

He bought out his friends in 2009, but this move came as the recession hit, forcing him to completely change how things were done in the restaurant. Gone were the canapés, tasting menus and oppressive table service – a process of stripping back that continues today, and one which he credits with securing his success. Changing the restaurant name to Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, after three years at the helm he was really settling into his own unique style of cooking. In typically understated fashion, he says of his food: “The style of what I cook is playful, keeping it natural … from the vegetables to the fish, it’s all prepared in a simple way – but they’re great ingredients.”

Oysters form a key part of the menu at his restaurant. Taking full advantage of the amazing bounty available on the doorstep, they are sourced from Porthilly, barely a mile away. In his version, they are lightly fried in a panko crumb, then topped with a fennel-lime salad and a thin slice of cured Cornish pork. The Independent describes this dish as “exquisite – a succulent squelch of chewy mollusc which has absorbed the flavours of an English garden and contrasts sharply with the spicy pig”.

Smoked eel is always present in some form or another, and other signature dishes include delicate starters such as Torched Cornish mackerel with celeriac remoulade and Bird liver parfait with pickled cauliflower, cucumber and shallot “piccalilli”. Fish is not the sole focus of the menu, however, and dishes such as Rib-eye steak with crispy polenta, smoked yolks and artichoke textures showcase local, aged beef. Desserts are equally accomplished, and one menu highlight is a dish inspired by his days with Gary Rhodes – a Bread and butter pudding with chocolate sorbet which was popularised by his mentor.

Often saying of his food, “it’s really all about the ingredients”, he utilises the brilliant seasonal produce of the region to great effect. Fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers come from their allotment, just steps away from the restaurant, while fish is sourced sustainably from Cornish day boats that land their catch in the seaside town – the fish swimming in the sea only 12 hours before turning up on the plate.

Paul Ainsworth was awarded his first Michelin star in 2013 and the restaurant has been in the Good Food Guide’s top 50 since 2012 with a score of 7/10. He says of these accolades: “To be included amongst such a great list of outstanding chefs is truly humbling, and I am extremely proud of the hard work that my team have put in to get to this point … A Michelin star is something that I’ve always dreamt of as a kid; for every chef I’ve ever worked for, that was the point to prove you were cooking good food. I have such a great team at No. 6 and after seven years of really hard work, it is amazing to be recognised in this way.”

Paul Ainsworth and his business partner Mapp also collaborated on another Padstow venture, reopening a long-established Italian restaurant, Rojano’s, in 2011. Renaming it Rojano’s in the Square – a homage to his one-time mentor Gary Rhodes – Paul doesn’t cook at this restaurant, but his influence can be seen in the attention to detail and passion that run through the establishment. Though the dishes here are a little simpler than those at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, the focus on top-quality ingredients and hand-crafted preparation remains the same, with plates such as Cornish free-range chicken with red pesto and fresh strozzapreti pasta combining the best of the South-West’s output with Italian flavours. In 2020 it was renamed Caffè Rojano, when Paul and his wife Emma bought the leasehold and refurbished the entire restaurant. It now takes inspiration from the Italian restaurants and cafés of New York.

In 2011, Paul Ainsworth won the South West heat of Great British Menu, going on to win a place in the final banquet with his nostalgic dessert, built from memories of his childhood. Called Taste of the Fairground, it featured an array of whimsical delights – cinnamon sugar-dusted doughnuts with raspberry curd for dipping, honeycomb and popping candy lollipops, coconut custard with chocolate and peanut popcorn and toffee apples and marshmallow kebabs. This show-stopping dessert is now on the menu at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 and should not be missed.

Renowned for his brilliant combinations, big, bold flavours and beautiful colours, Paul Ainsworth’s food is getting better and better, marking him out as one of the very best chefs in Britain. The Good Food Guide calls his restaurant 'Padstow’s premier gastronomic address' – no mean feat in this foodie town – going on to describe the chef as “an ambitious, ingenious presence in the kitchen, realising an exciting vision of modish, technically resourceful, regionally based cooking.” The Independent notes his “technical flair and sheer gastronomic exuberance”, but saves its highest praise for the menu and dining experience at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, saying: 'this must be one of the best meals in Britain'.