Ones to watch: Scott Goss

Ones to watch: Scott Goss

by Tom Shingler 03 December 2015

Tom Shingler talks to Scott Goss about what it’s like to be in charge of three restaurants, how working with Gary Rhodes shaped his career and why Kent is the best place in the world for game and vegetables.

View more from this series:

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

The Garden of England is probably one of the best places a chef in the making can be born and raised. Kent is known for its fabulous, abundant produce, and it certainly helped shape Scott Goss’ style, ethos and approach to cooking incredible food. ‘I was always surrounded by great ingredients,’ he recalls. ‘Mum was a fruit picker on the farms so I’ve got loads of great memories of running through the orchards in and around Gillingham. There was always a home cooked meal on the table every evening, and by the time I was fourteen I knew I wanted to be a chef.’

After getting a taste for professional cooking thanks to his uncle, who got him a summer job down in Dartmouth, Scott enrolled at Thanet College. After two years of studying his lecturer pushed him to go for a position at Gary Rhodes’ restaurant City Rhodes, in London. Even though he didn’t feel ready, Scott excelled there and started to develop his career. ‘I worked my way through the kitchen at City Rhodes and Rhodes in the Square, picking up the classical side of cooking and French techniques,’ he says. ‘I then went to work with Anton Adleman at Allium for a year which was an amazing experience – the food was at the same high standard but it was a different style of cooking – before returning to help Gary set up a new restaurant. It was always very challenging but great fun at the same time.’

If there’s one chef that Scott sees as a mentor, it’s Gary. ‘When you’re working with someone like Gary, you can’t help but be influenced by him,’ he explains. ‘His food looked effortless and simple but it was incredibly difficult to cook. He would never add unnecessary foams or smears on plates, which is something that’s obvious in my cooking too. I laugh to myself when I look at the trends now for British pub food done to a Michelin standard, because I was helping Gary do that twelve years ago!’

Scott's food looks effortless, but there's a lot of work behind every dish
The Kentish countryside works as inspiration for the various dishes at The Twenty Six

Homeward bound

As well as The Twenty Six, Scott is executive chef at The Beacon and The Swan

After working his way through some of London’s best restaurants, Scott needed a breather. He returned to Kent with the aim of staying for just six months before heading back, but after an introduction to Peter Cornwell, the owner of The Swan in West Malling, he decided to stay put. ‘I worked as chef de partie at The Swan for a few years, just keeping my head down and not doing anything particularly noticeable, but Peter saw something in me and after three years I was made head chef at twenty-five years old,’ he says. ‘I worked there for seven and a half years and we achieved great things – including two AA rosette’s soon after I started – although when the recession hit in 2008 it was very difficult. I was a very young head chef and didn’t really know what was going on to be totally honest – I was just in that kitchen every day cooking my heart out. We were lucky enough to be featured on The F Word’s Christmas special, which was fantastic. It’s true what they say: if you’re on TV look out for the bookings!

‘After that I worked at The Swan at The Globe in London for a year, to see if I could take my food and make it work in the capital,’ continues Scott. ‘But by then me and my partner were expecting our first child, so we came back home again. At the same time, Peter was looking to grow and do his own thing away from business partners, so he started the I’ll Be Mother group.’ This was part of a plan to expand the ethos of The Swan to other venues, including among others The Twenty Six – a restaurant with just twenty-six covers and a seasonal, constantly changing menu – and The Beacon, which focuses on ingredients from its kitchen garden. And Peter wanted Scott to be a big part of it.

‘After an emotional move and a stint at Chapel Down while everything was being finalised, we opened The Twenty Six and The Beacon,’ says Scott. ‘Launching two venues in the same year was absolutely crazy, but we’re a year in now and it’s been fantastic. We were even chatting with the guys from Michelin in September, who said some very encouraging things.’

Scott is now head chef at The Twenty Six, in Tunbridge Wells, and executive chef at The Beacon and The Swan. His cooking is simple and lets the ingredients speak for themselves, while little touches such as using a clay teapot to pour seafood chowder over a monkfish tail adds a little theatre. ‘One of our house favourites is definitely inspired from my time with Gary,’ explains Scott. ‘Our smoked haddock rarebit was on the menu the first day we opened and it’s still there today. People come back again and again for that dish. Once I didn’t get a delivery of smoked haddock so I had to take it off the menu, and it basically ruined this guy’s life who’d travelled all the way from Surrey to eat it! It’s such a warm, homely and hearty dish which people seem to love.’

We were lucky enough to be featured on The F Word’s Christmas special, which was fantastic. It’s true what they say: if you’re on TV look out for the bookings!

Scott Goss

Scott says Kent is the best place in the world for vegetables
There are no foams or smears on Scott's plates

England's garden

I want my carrots to turn up in the kitchen with the roots and tops still attached and all covered in dirt so I know it’s come out of the ground naturally.'

Scott Goss

I’ll Be Mother is now known for its fantastic restaurants, and The Twenty Six in particular is doing incredible things with local ingredients. ‘The people of Tunbridge Wells are a pleasure to cook for – they know their food so you really have to get it spot on,’ says Scott, who realises how important knowing your audience is. ‘There’s all this Nordic influence at the moment, and some of the food being cooked is out of this world, but it’s not necessarily what my customers want to eat because they didn’t grow up with it. We’re proud to serve a very good steak and chips; it’s simple, but it’s how you turn it on its head to make it a memorable meal – that’s the key.’

There’s one mantra that Scott lives by – he’s only as good as the ingredients he chooses to cook – that has shaped his cooking the most. Luckily, being based in Kent means the number of good ingredients he has access to is huge. ‘We are spoilt for suppliers locally,’ he says. ‘Kent’s pheasant, partridge and rabbit is exceptional at the moment. I will always fly the flag high for the county, and I think we produce vegetables that are the best in the UK. Oliver Greens has the most amazing stuff and we work very closely with them because they respect nature. I want my carrots to turn up in the kitchen with the roots and tops still attached and all covered in dirt so I know it’s come out of the ground naturally, and they agree. Whether it’s the vegetables, the flour that goes into our pastry or the bones that go into our stock, I want to know where it’s come from. I’m not interested in uniformity.’

So what’s next for Scott? Is he planning to woo the Michelin inspectors and keep his fingers crossed for a star? ‘I want to push The Twenty Six as far as I can take it,’ he says. ‘I just want people to come here and have an amazing time. I’ll never cook for Michelin, but if they come and decide the dining experience deserves a star then fantastic. But I cook to make sure my restaurant is full of customers. As long as it’s full and they’re happy, then that’s a job well done.’