Having recently dined at the new pop-up restaurant event run by Restaurant Epi, I took the opportunity to find out more about the team that run it and their vision and mission to create good food and a fine dining experience.
Chef Nathan Eades (part of the Epi team) started his career at The Royal Oak whilst doing his NVQ in culinary arts at Worcester College of Technology. Here, Nathan's passion for cooking began. He then moved to Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire, where he met his wife and now business partner Charlie. A year in the Malvern's followed at Colwall Park.
Nathan went onto Lainston House, Swinfen Hall near Lichfield Staffordshire and then onto Wedgewood Hotel in Canada, the only relais and chateaux property in Vancouver.
Charlie, (Nathan’s business partner and wife), a recent graduate from the UK Centre for Events Management, has a wealth of experience within the hospitality industry. When not running the floor for Restaurant Epi, Charlie can be found organising and managing a variety of events.
Charlie's operational background includes an extensive period at the renowned Nailcote Hall, home of the British Par 3 Championship. Charlie has a flair for creativity and is usually the mastermind behind Epi's uniqueness.
In September 2013, the pair set Epi up in their home kitchen aiming to provide an unforgettable dining experience but without the fuss of fine dining.
Working with fellow chef Grant Hill, a series of pop-ups followed in Bromsgrove Worcestershire, which received excellent reviews (including from Philippe Boucheron - Eat the Midlands and Hayley Pash - Bromsgrove Advertiser, both October 2013). Expanding to cater for Birmingham diners, Restaurant Epi are now holding a number of pop-ups at Kitchen Garden Café in Kings Heath with, on the occasion I attended, additional support from chef James Sherwin who was recently a contestant on Channel 4’s ‘The Taste’.
|James Sherwin & Nathan Eades|
As well as his industry experience, I spoke with Nathan a little more about his passion for food and how he weaves that into his work for Epi.
What do you enjoy about cooking the most and where did you gain your experience pre-Epi?
At home, I enjoy the simple things: Sunday roasts are always the best meal of the week for me. It's a chance for us to all sit down as a family and enjoy one another's company before falling asleep afterwards!! I really enjoy cooking Asian food, mainly as my wife (business partner and maître d' at Epi) is a veggie and we can enjoy the most delicious dishes that are quick and easy to make.
In the kitchen, I love second class cuts of meat and fish. Sometimes, I feel that it is easy and too safe as a cook to cook your primes, fillet of beef etc, it takes a lot of skill to take a whole shoulder of lamb or pigs heads and turn them into a delicious product. With fish, quite similar to vegetables, in a sense that there is very little room for error.
Pre Epi, I did the 'rounds' as it were. Working in various kitchens, but I would say two chefs/establishments had a massive influence on my cooking career. Andy Mackenzie and Phil Yeomans were awesome (Executive Chef and Head Chef respectively) at Lainston House. They champion local food beyond anywhere else I have worked before. We grew 90% of our own veg (in the height of the summer) for the restaurant, as well as keeping pigs in the grounds. It was an incredible place to work and I worked with some amazing chefs, two of which, Tom Wilson and Chris Barnes, who have gone on to start their own pub in Old Basing (where I have taken inspiration from).
Second was Lee Parsons in Vancouver. I initially went over to Vancouver for a 'relaxing' working holiday; but when I went into his kitchen at 'The Wedge' I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else. I applied 3-4 times before getting the job. He came through the ranks at Claridges under John Williams, and then onto Le Manoir before moving abroad. The guy is by far the best 'cook' I have ever worked under/with; he could turn anything into gold, in cooking terms. He just had that innate cooking ability in which I'm still envious of! He showed and drilled into me the key thing which Epi stands for - FLAVOUR!
What was the catalyst for starting Epi and how does it differ from other pop-
I think I had a bad service at my last job in Ludlow. During my daily 40 mile commute home after service, I decided 'I can do this,' but it was nothing more than a dream really.
Then talking it over with Charlie, it became more of a possibility. We both are very passionate about cooking great food and offering great service; but I'm personally sick and tired of the pompousness that is associated with fine dining. No one really wants it anymore. You only have to look at how many pubs and informal establishments are gaining Michelin Stars now. The starched table cloths, 12 waiters standing in a dining room that feels as cold as funeral parlour are, in my opinion, long gone.
I personally think we offer that quirkiness and individuality that sets us apart from the norm. Serving fish and chips in a paper bag takes guts in my opinion. But the cooking stands up against (Charlie's) gimmicks. In December, we took our diners through a 'journey through Christmas.' Starting with savoury mince pies and compressed carrots for Santa and Rudolph, ending with handmade mini fire places and stockings filled with treats (chocolate oranges, penny sweets, candy canes)
As well as your venue in Bromsgrove, why did you choose Kitchen Garden Cafe
to host your Birmingham events?
to host your Birmingham events?
The Kitchen Garden Cafe is like a little oasis that you would never think exists just off a suburban Brummie road. It's an incredible venue and their values for the cafe are quite similar to ours. I also knew that Claire Hutchings (MasterChef finalist 2011) did her pop ups there too, so it already had that experience of hosting previous events.
You use a lot of foraged foods in your dishes, what do you enjoy about foraging
and how you think it enhances dishes?
and how you think it enhances dishes?
Foraging takes up only 5-10% of our dishes. I won't use anything for the sake of using it, so to speak; it has to enhance a dish. The enjoyment really comes from just being able to switch off and be able to reflect. If we don't pick anything, that's fine, it's sometimes great just to get out of the kitchen.
This time of year it's awful, everything is either had frost bitten or dead. But in the spring there is nothing better than walking into a field or by a river that is full of wild garlic, or along a road and finding some horseradish. I suppose it's that sense of being a child and finding that 'hidden treasure.'
You champion vegetarian food and ensure that vegetarian diners are catered for with just as much thought as meat-eating diners. Where do you get your ideas?
With my wife being a veggie, we have found that going out for dinner, a veggie's choice is rather boring. You get the general 'risottos' or 'pasta' and I find it a shame.
Vegetables are so versatile. You can do so much with veg and applying different cooking techniques to them changes their tasting profiles drastically eg: roasted carrots are a lot sweeter than steamed carrots for instance. For me, it's just about exploring the different, unusual vegetables and applying the simplest of cooking techniques to them.
Basically, I will always bounce ideas off Charlie. I like to take a single ingredient, such as a cauliflower and create 3, 4, 5 different products with it. Mainly to showcase the versatility of the ingredient, but also to showcase our skill level also.
Do you observe seasonal dining?
Seasonality is paramount. At the moment it's a chefs' nightmare. Everything is very dull in colour and its hard together quality ingredients that are in season. It wouldn't feel right for me to put a 'tomato' on the plate for the sake of colour if it doesn't enhance the taste of the dishes.
In England, our seasons are usually quite short. Take asparagus for instance. We normally have about 4-5 weeks of English asparagus, so for me it would be sacrilegious not to use it then. We need to showcase our produce as much as possible.
What plans do you have for Epi?
Plans, I'm not quite sure as yet. I would love to get a site and turn it into our own, but only time will tell. We have a few things in the pipe line. We are at the Kitchen Garden Cafe on 25 February and 31 March and at The Courtyard Café in Bromsgrove until the end of April.