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Yes Chef

He’s cooked with Daniel Clifford and Tom Kerridge and worked at the acclaimed Cock at Hemingford Grey. Now Jamie Burton, from Cambridge, has taken the helm of his own kitchen - the newly revamped Phoenix in Histon. He chats to Alice Ryan

Let’s start at the beginning: did you grow up in a foodie house? Tell us about your earliest memories of food and cooking

We’d have all the classics - toad in the hole, shepherd’s pie and Sunday lunch - all good wholesome food, and I’ll always remember baking with my brother and my mum in the school holidays. I didn’t really start eating cuisines from around the world till I was in my teens, though. Mum used to work long hours at the hospital so I’d feed myself and my brother. This is where my love for tomatoes came from: making classic dishes from Italy and just generally having a good go.

What made you want to pursue a career as a chef?

From an early age, like most chefs, I’ve always liked to cook but found myself in the construction industry for the first four years when leaving school. I never really enjoyed it, it was just a job. So I decided to put myself in the deep end, handed out more than 40 CVs and applied for college. From the first minute I stepped foot in the kitchen I felt the atmosphere, smells, sounds, tension and passion from what the chefs were doing. From that moment I was hooked and have never looked back.

Tell us about the first pro kitchen you cooked in. Was the famous ‘baptism of fire’?

The first kitchen I worked in was the Backstreet Bistro, just off Mill Road. I had a pick of restaurants at the time, but chose this because everything was fresh. I learnt so much in my time working there. I was also attending college one day a week and did one evening at Cote when it was on East Road. I would like to say a massive thank you to Richard Norden, head chef of the bistro: if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be doing this interview and stepping into my first head chef role. Thanks, Richard.

What brought you to The Phoenix?

Again I had a choice of places to go for my first head chef role but chose The Phoenix because it’s something unique: it’s a bit of a blank canvas and they are willing to support me and my food. We all seem to be on the same page. I want to achieve something special.

The Phoenix is one of a kind, isn’t it?

Most people who have spent their lives in Cambridge will know The Phoenix for Chinese cuisine. But after a reboot from the new owners it feels like a very modern day space. I remember sitting down writing my menus on my first day and imagining the bar area being nice and full and that energy flowing down right through to the restaurant.

Within the culinary world, who inspires you?

I have many heroes in the industry and have had the pleasure of working with the likes of Claude Bosi, Daniel Clifford and Tom Kerridge. But the stand-up figure that has made me the chef I am today is Anthony Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential explains what a kitchen is really like: I've read it so many times, I’m on my third copy. And it’s hard for me to say, but when I was younger Jamie Oliver was a massive inspiration to me, just for his passion with food. Others are my head chefs: Richard Norden from the bistro days and Wil Findlay from my days at The Cock in Hemingford, where we won many awards.

What’s the most memorable meal or dish you’ve eaten?

One of my most memorable dishes is actually one of my own, for which I won a gold medal and best in class against 20 chefs. It was lamb, Marmite sweetbreads, goat’s cheese, carrots and sourdough - a take on my favourite thing to eat, Marmite and cheese on toast.

If we’re talking about dining experiences, I went to a little restaurant in the hills of San Antonio in Ibiza called Es Tragon. It was absolutely amazing, from the 10-course menu to the surroundings. Wherever I travel, it’s a must to try local and starred restaurants. These are things that have made me grow as a chef.

Do you have any guilty food pleasures to confess?

Like most chefs, when we’re at home we don’t tend to cook too much as we just want our meals to be quick and easy. I love a Caesar salad but my guilty pleasure - because it’s the easiest thing to do after a week of shift work and brings back some nostalgic memories from my childhood, too - is chicken strips, potato waffles and beans. But I will always make an effort for my other half, as she supports me in everything I do.

What’s the reward of being a chef, for you?

From the moment I set foot in the kitchen, I have always felt rewarded by the feeling you get for serving food to the best of your ability. It is a feeling that’s honestly indescribable. Now, after 14 years of 12-hour days, the burns and cuts, all the hard work has paid off. I have the knowledge and experience to take on my first head chef role.

What excites you about the job? And what kind of dishes can we look forward to?

It excites me that I get to express myself with my first menu. After all my time in Michelin-starred kitchens, restaurants, pubs and the college, I have learnt food is better when it’s simple. I used to put too many things on one plate. Now I’m going back to basics and letting the food do the talking. My dishes may seem very simple and classic, but I will have a unique twist to them which I’m hoping will surprise. Also I’ve matured as a person and think this shows in my food and how I am in the kitchen.

* The Phoenix Bar & Restaurant is at 20 The Green, Histon CB24 9JA. Call (01223) 491174 and visit phoenixcambs.co.uk for more.

Meet the Manager

As well as head chef Jamie, The Phoenix has just welcomed a new manager: meet Eamon Bensaud

VELVET: March Chef Profile at the Pheonix, Eamon Bensaud, The Phoenix Bar & Restaurant, Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28493034)
VELVET: March Chef Profile at the Pheonix, Eamon Bensaud, The Phoenix Bar & Restaurant, Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28493034)

I worked in fashion retail for more than eight years, climbing the ladder from a sales assistant in a high-street shop to a manager in Cambridge and Bond Street for a premium designer brand. With my background, streamlined service and building a rapport with people has always been my best trait and something I have implemented and focused on in all of my retail adventures.

The opportunity to join the team at The Phoenix came when Simon and Beth, who run the business, spoke to me after I’d had time off from work to deal with personal issues and gave me a platform of rehabilitation to get me back to my best. I am incredibly thankful for it.

And that's the reason why this place is so special. I have worked for large corporate companies, when you can be just a number, but here we are a family with the same vision, all looking forward. It's our best quality. It's a new and refreshing industry and challenge for me, and I can't wait to get started.

With new head chef Jamie in and the new look and layout for the place, changes are happening now, let alone in the future. But The Phoenix will always evolve for the benefit of the village and community - so watch this space.

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