With achievements and milestones that are both eclectic and remarkable in nature, our interview with Cambridge-born culinary icon Tristan Welch is an absolute must-read. Filled with thought-provoking ideas for any hospitality professional, his impressive stories and crazy adventures all amalgamate into the mural that is his wonderful career to date!
Training alongside the honourable likes of Gary Rhodes, Michel Roux Jr., and Gordon Ramsay, he has even rubbed shoulders with some generational icons, from the Beatles to the Stones, to being next-door neighbours with fashion legends and even royalty! That was, and he quotes, “an incredible, sensational and bonkers time”. At present, he resides as Head Chef at the architecturally impressive and sumptuous Parker’s Tavern, located within the stunning University Arms Hotel.
Passionate about creation, cooking, wine & Champagne pairings, and all things flavour-related, Bermar was eager to sit down with Tristan to hear some of his top tips, views on the hospitality industry, and the real need to exercise sustainability across all areas of the sector. We talked about why he is such an advocate for ‘zero waste’ as well as the importance of wine knowledge and serving by the glass amidst a myriad of other things, all hospitality-related.
Passing the spotlight over to the man himself, learn more about the wonderful life, works, passions, and career belonging to the one and only Tristan Welch below.
First of all, with a career spanning well over two decades, tell us about where you started off.
TW: Well, unsurprisingly, my career actually started here in Cambridge. I was lucky enough to meet culinary legend Gary Rhodes when I was just a young lad. I attended one of his cooking demonstrations at the Corn Exchange and hung out backstage; I was fangirling like a proper teenager. I asked if I could work in his kitchen for a day, to which he said yes, no problem. We exchanged contact details, and I thought to myself, this is amazing! Four months later, which, might I add, felt like an eternity – and after me relentlessly asking – they finally had space for me to come in. The long-awaited day came, and I had the immense pleasure of working alongside Gary in London for a day’s trial, only to then leave that same day with a job offer. I moved to London at 17 & that really was the beginning of everything for me.
Before your experience with Gary Rhodes, what influenced & inspired your love of food?
TW: In my childhood and growing up, I used to pot the peas on the back doorstep of our garden in the summer! So yeah, from a very young age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I think I was on this trajectory before I even realised it.
As for my parents, they were [and still are] incredibly ‘foodie’ – they are probably our most regular customers here [at Parker’s Tavern], to be fair! But beyond my upbringing, even before meeting and working with culinary icons, what really sparked my passion and desire to cook was Food Tech in Secondary School. Those lessons inspired me to become a chef because what I was creating made people far happier than my grades ever would or could.
I must also add I can’t recall my time in Secondary School without dodging this fun anecdote. My father randomly found a chef’s jacket at work one day, which he proceeded to bring home and gift to me – it was for the Taj Mahal in Shefford. And where I wanted to be a chef so badly, I would wear this jacket everywhere. I was that into it! So, from that age, I lived, ate, slept and worked cooking, food, and restaurants – I was absolutely infatuated with it all.
Okay, so fast-forward to today. You’ve had a phenomenal career as a chef so far; how would you describe your career and your meteoric rise in the hospitality industry?
TW: (Laughing) How long have you got? I’ve definitely been around the block! My employment with Gary [Rhodes] spanned a two-year period. Gary was my first chef mentor; he launched my career by giving me my first restaurant job! He was my inspiration. He was enthusiastic and passionate. Training alongside him was a pleasure and an honour…but I had to move on eventually. I remember hearing a remark in the kitchen one day – “all the best chefs work for the Rue family” – and I knew I had to try and make the leap!
Coincidentally, Gary kindly gave me the day off for my birthday and cheekily, I knocked on the door of Le Gavroche and asked if I could work in the kitchen for a day. As luck would have it, this one-day trial turned into Michel Roux Jr (and the Roux family) offering me a permanent position! That was a nice birthday present. I worked with the Roux family for quite a while.
After Le Gavroche, began my travelling career! I worked as a Chef at Arpège in Paris for a couple of years. At the time, it was the world’s first 3 Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant. I must say, the restaurant offered and served incredible, incredible produce. Afterwards, I briefly returned to the UK and went back to work for Michel Roux Jr, but soon thereafter, he set me up as Head Chef of Glenapp Castle in Scotland. And then came Ramsay.
During my time in Scotland, I decided to enter cooking competitions and eventually entered Gordon Ramsay scholarships. I did it for the adventure and the fight of it all and ended up winning both the Scottish Heats & the International Heats. Gordon then offered me a job as Head Chef at the world-renowned restaurant, Pétrus, where, during my time, we took the venue from 1 to 2 stars, which was a wonderful achievement.
Along the way, between Pétrus and my time with D&D London thereafter, my wife and I took a (long-awaited and well-deserved) sabbatical in Sweden. We took some time out, recovered, and enjoyed time with our three children. I set up a pop-up gourmet burger truck to keep my passion ticking along, as well as a few other crazy gastronomic events. But, as with all good things, you can only do it for so long…
So, what exciting venture came along next to pull you back into the world of professional cooking and hospitality?
TW: Someone reached out to me on LinkedIn and enquired about my thoughts on Sandy Lane in Barbados. Initially, as you can imagine, I was reluctant and hesitant as I was not ready to uplift my entire life. After persistent proposals, however, one simple ‘yes’ led to my next career adventure in Mustique. I ended up cooking for some of the most famous people on the planet while we were out there. We stayed on the island for 3 years!
During my stay, I focused heavily on local produce, which was so incredibly fresh and accessible. The locals would take the fish straight off the boats and into the café! They would prepare it straight away; it was absolutely incredible. I cooked really simply during my time in Mustique as I had the most wonderful, sensational produce coming from the mainland.
I really do look back on this time with great fondness. We had fresh coconuts delivered to us every morning, and my children used to play tennis with their mother and global fashion icons visiting the island. My kids would hang out at the park with royalty and wouldn’t even know it. It was all very strange but in a magical way.
After 3 years on a beautiful private island, I met the founders of Parker’s Tavern and became a founding member myself…and the rest is history!
You clearly have had an extensive and eclectic career! What do you think it has taught you about yourself?
TW: You know, I look back on my early days, and I realise: I was far too young to appreciate the magnitude of the success back in those days. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, and to be truthfully honest, I still struggle to celebrate my successes even today! I think it’s because I am always on to the next thing.
I really love the fight of it. I love to get stuck in; I love the detail. Usually, if I have completed one project, I am already onto the next. I also love growth. I like to see things and people grow. That’s what I like the most.
Another important thing that has evolved over the years is my relationship with produce. When I left London, I reconnected with it in a totally different way. I remembered that I cook to make people happy. I use great produce to make me happy. This is everything, from the vegetables to the glass of wine served – you need to respect the produce you use and use the best you can. It is all about things being completely delicious in a wonderful environment.
On a bigger scale now, how do you think the hospitality industry has changed since you started?
TW: Gosh, having been in it for so long, I can say it’s a wonderful industry to be a part of, and my experience(s) have given me a lot of opportunity to reflect on just how different it is for young people [today] to start up in the sector! I would say it’s changed an awful lot. But then again, I suppose it’s a generational thing. Every generation will say there have been changes from their predecessors, and I am merely part of that ebb and flow.
When we launched Parker’s Tavern, I wanted it to be a vehicle for positive change across the industry – an opportunity to demonstrate that this is a proper career. I think that’s the difference the industry needs to focus on and understand. This is a career; it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s about that work-life balance. That opportunity for progression and education. There is still work to do in working towards that goal, but the pace is definitely picking up.
How do you think the consumer has changed since your career began?
TW: Well, the customer is far more educated and more on it; I can tell you that much. Twenty years ago, it was a completely different environment! Customers wouldn’t always know what they were eating or ordering. Now, however, with the quality of food we can access and indulge in, we appreciate it a lot more. We pay attention to flavours and pairings.
Speaking of pairings, we also appreciate great wine a lot more! People recognise & remember vintages, regions, and grape varieties – we have a much more invested customer. I think that as society has grown, people have given more time and thought to their own pleasure and identified what that is. Dining out is one of those things.
Continuing on that note of change, we know that sustainability is incredibly important to you; how will sustainability impact the hospitality industry as we continue to grow and move forward?
TW: Is it sustainability, or is it survival? What’s the difference? That’s how I see it.
Sustainability is such a massive word that isn’t just ‘wastage’. It’s the whole circular economy in whatever biosphere you are working in. From an industry level, if you cannot look after or manage your product, you are therefore wasting. And not only are you wasting but if you cannot turn a decent profit as a result, that is then put onto your customers, who start to feel the repercussions in terms of rising costs and compromise on quality. It’s a ripple effect.
Let me give you the perfect example. Last night, we had one bottle of an amazing 2015 Condrieu. We sold it at £14 a glass (an absolute bloody steal) which we were able to do because of our Le Verre de Vin, giving us three weeks to sell through it. We can confidently take those risks because we look after and care for our products. And that gives our guests choice, and therefore pleasure and value, but allows us as a business to also succeed.
So, would you say sustainability is a business necessity to turn a profit and delight customers?
TW: Sustainability, for me, is key. Reducing waste is the moral and polite thing to do. Ask any chef that has ever worked with me, and they will tell you: I have zero tolerance for throwing anything in the bin or down the drain. If you buy the best and serve the best, you’ve got to respect it!
Beyond that, though, sustainability and zero waste are not just about doing the right thing – it’s about survival. It’s about managing your product politely and in a well-mannered way that not only respects your product but helps with costs (as you literally throw money away) and also allows you to provide your guests with the choice and experience they are accustomed to.
You have a waste passion project called Rubbish Cooks. How did that come about?
TW: Yes, reducing waste is my passion! Rubbish Cooks actually came about in the first form as a pop-up. I was meeting and interviewing butchers [for Parker’s Tavern], and I was once told I could have as many chicken legs as I like – for free. What? It raised the question, why does this butcher have a plethora of chicken legs? Which I later learned was due to the high demand for chicken breast, making legs surplus to requirement. That just blew my mind.
As a result of reflecting on all the food waste, and in our state of utter shock and horror, Alex Rushmer and myself launched Rubbish Cooks and used it as an opportunity to demonstrate (and educate) people on how you can ‘create something from nothing.’ With all the waste from the food chain, all the bits that don’t get used over the weekend, we were able to turn it into something wonderful. From there, it really took off.
I continue to do it once a month on a Monday, and it’s really fun! All proceeds raised and received go to Jimmy’s night shelter, which is an amazing local charity for the homeless. Eventually, I also started to promote food wastage tips on Instagram and Tik Tok, and it just grew.
My favourite part is seeing my message reach others; when people come up to me and tell me what ‘rubbish’ they have saved to make something cool or new, I love it. It’s the best feeling ever.
We also try to incorporate fun things with wine when hosting a Rubbish Cooks evening. For instance, the bottle of 2015 Condrieu I mentioned earlier, we served that by the glass during an RC service, confidently knowing we wouldn’t incur any wastage thanks to our Le Verre de Vin. It also added to the unique dining experience as our guests were able to try something amazing at a reasonable price; £14 a glass is a steal, in my opinion, for a wine of such calibre!
Moving more into the world of wine, how important is wine knowledge to chefs in your opinion?
TW: Wine and knowledge of it are phenomenally important. I first came across its relevance when I worked in Paris at Arpège. It was a hugely creative environment, and when the chef (Alain Passard) was in the midst of creating a new dish, he would say, “what wine are we going to serve with this…let me get a wine”. He would then proceed to taste the wine and create a dish which is a fabulous way to look at it sometimes.
A little advice I’d give to chefs who want to broaden or develop their knowledge is this: choose a region, choose a grape variety, and start educating yourself on it. My first exploration was an Alsace Riesling. And from that point onward, you simply grow. Chefs are flavour hunters; they like the nuances, and wine really gives that to them.
From a Chef to running a restaurant, how important is it to serve by the glass so as to introduce people to great wine?
TW: Everybody has their first introduction to wine, and it comes by the glass. That’s why it’s so important. Not everyone can afford a bottle of wine, let alone understand what bottle to choose off a menu. Serving by the glass is the gateway to appreciation.
Wine lists can be a lottery, and if you don’t know – you don’t know. Which both infuriates and excites me. Wines by the glass help you find your region, find your grape, and start from there. A good wine by the glass selection is a necessity, not a luxury, for any venue.
Food and wine pairings: do you have any that you love, or in the realms of alternative cooking, are there any unexpected pairings that really work?
TW: I’ve gotta be honest with you…I love dirty food.
There is a (particularly expensive at £100+ a bottle) Chardonnay that I love to enjoy with fish and chips. A rare indulgence, but it’s sensational. Also, a really rich Bordeaux like Saint-Émilion, for example, pairs magnificently with a bacon cheeseburger. Big, heavy, bold wines work so well with fast foods. The pattern(s) of flavour that you find in fast food options really balances the complexity of wines beautifully.
And finally, we have to ask: what is your favourite food and wine pairing to serve at Parker’s Tavern?
Customers and staff alike rave about the Bolognese at Parker’s Tavern; no one can resist the mouthwatering flavours of this classic dish!
The delicious combination and flavours of this incredibly rich entrée, braised with hearty tomatoes, three different cuts of meat, and loads of stock is a true crowd-pleaser and a must-try for anyone visiting the restaurant.
When it comes to pairing, we wanted our brilliantly flavourful Bolognese to be complemented by a decent red wine, so we paired it with a wine we now put our name to, the Parker’s Tavern Claret. Excellent wine goes hand in hand with Cambridge, so we absolutely have to sell and serve good wine!
All photos credited to @parkers_tavern
Should you wish to visit Parker’s Tavern, they can be found here:
52-42 Regent St, Cambridge CB2 1AD