After an impressive career working at The Ivy and The Dorchester under legendary chefs Anton Mosimann and Henry Brosi, Robert Quehan switched his attention and expertise to the care sector taking up the post of head chef at The Redwood Bistro, which is part of Bishopstoke Park retirement village in Hampshire. The bistro is the first care home restaurant in the country to gain a coveted AA Rosette for its food, and it opens for dinner three nights a week and serves outside diners as well as residents of the village and care home.
You have worked under some legendary chefs, including Anton Mosimann. What’s the best piece of advice you have been given and by whom? During my time as a chef I have been given lots of excellent advice, most of which has understandably been in regards to style of cooking, specific techniques and, later in my career, good tips about managing people. One specific piece of advice was given to me by a chef named Zak El Hamdou who told me to make sure I understood the foundation of cooking before experimenting.
Tell us about your experiences working at The Ivy and The Dorchester. The Dorchester was a daunting place to work at the beginning. I was a commis chef alongside a brigade of 100 chefs. I learnt discipline; for example, having to change my uniform twice a day and perfectionism in the kitchen was essential. When I moved to The Ivy, it was very fast paced. We would cater for 200 for lunch, 150 pre theatre and 100 after. The hours were long but that is the reality of working in a top London restaurant. I hope that the warrior attitude between chefs fizzles out as the old school chefs start to retire.
Why did you choose to make the move into care sector catering? This move was made by chance. The job was advertised and I wanted a challenge – I wanted to use my knowledge and expertise in good food and bring these skills into an environment in which I could serve care home residents. My view was that residents of care homes deserve to eat and experience good food as much as anyone else.
How does it differ from working in some of the capital’s biggest name restaurants? The main differences are working fewer hours and dealing with a greater number of dietary requirements. We also cater for residents living with dysphagia, which requires a creative approach, as we must design dishes which these residents can eat without fear of choking but which also look appetising.
How have you had to adapt your dishes to suit your clientele? I use braising techniques more regularly, for example I would choose to use beef cheek and braise that overnight as opposed to sirloin. I haven’t had to adapt many dishes to the suit the clientele as many modern techniques, such as sous vide, and long braising work well in this environment.
The Redwood Bistro is the first care home restaurant in the country to win an AA Rosette. How did it feel to get it? What do you do that stands you apart from other care home operations? When I received the AA rosette I was extremely happy for myself and for the team. It shows that opinions people have about care homes and age exclusive developments can be changed. We treat the clientele at this establishment as we would treat clientele from any other restaurant. We don’t see them as older people in a retirement village; we value them as our customers and diners.
How do you think care sector catering is perceived in general? At the moment, negatively, but this is the perception that I am trying to change. If you had asked me in London would I be keen to be a chef cooking for a retirement village and care home within the village, the answer would have been no. The opinion is that the food is brought in, cooked in a microwave, and is not very appetising. Older people who are of retirement age have higher expectations than previous generations and as a sector we need to deliver against this demand.
What advice can you offer to fellow care sector chefs to help them improve their offering? My advice/question to other chefs cooking for care home residents would be ‘Would you eat it?’ If the answer is no then something needs to change.
You’ve been dubbed a “trailblazer” by the AA. What can we expect to see you do next? (A Michelin star perhaps?) My main focus is to achieve the next rosette. As for going for the Michelin star, maybe later down the line, but not at this stage.
And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…
1. What are your three kitchen secrets? i) After prepping live scallops, I cover them in ice cold R.Whites lemonade to firm them up and help caramelise. ii) When I marinate my foie gras with port and cognac, I add a touch of vanilla which brings out the flavour and works really well. iii) I wouldn’t be without my Wustoff seated knife!
2. What is your favourite ingredient and why? My favourite ingredient is Selsey crab. I would even drive an hour to Selsey to get it! Nothing needs to be added to this, I just enjoy the taste of the crab and the sea.
3. Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it? Sherry Braised Rabbit with Saffron, Fresh Tortellini and a Shallot Purée. I chose the dish because the rabbit loin is very tender and we braised the legs for the tortellini for a long time so it suits the clientele. Click here to try Rob’s Recipe