Where are they now? Stephen Jackson

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Where are they now? Stephen Jackson

Chef and business owner Stephen Jackson completed the diploma 23 years ago and has fond memories of his time at Leiths.

Name: Stephen Jackson

Year graduated: 1992

Current job title: Chef/Patron

How would you describe your year on the diploma at Leiths in 3 words?

Eye-opening, rewarding, intensive

What were you doing/Where were you working before the diploma?

I finished a degree in Applied Language/French at Brighton Polytechnic, and was still working part-time for Oddbins, learning all
about wine

What made you decide to start the diploma?

I’d decided that my degree was taking me towards a career of commercial translation or teaching, neither of which I fancied, and as
an amateur cook I thought I might try to make a living out of being quite good at cooking. I walked into Ottakar’s bookshop in Brighton,
picked up a copy of Martin Wood’s ‘Leiths Guide To Setting Up & Running A Restaurant’, thought instantly that these Leiths people seemed to know what they were doing, and signed up for a Saturday dem. Fi Burrell noticed how keen I was and encouraged me to sign up for the full diploma there and then.

What were the highlights of your year at Leiths?

So much. The lovely, helpful staff. A wonderful crowd of fellow pupils. Very early on my lovely tutors CJ Jackson and Emma Crowhurst saw that there were a few of us who were very serious about ‘proper’ cooking, and taught us accordingly, as well as sending us into some of the city’s best kitchens. We had terrific ‘guest’ lectures and wine sessions. I even returned to do a couple of dems myself. And the day we* did the pheasants will live in my memory for ever.

*By we, I mean about four of us out of the usual fifteen. The
rest were either mysteriously ‘ill’ or disappeared when they opened the
front door and legged it because of the ‘interesting’ smell!

What was your first job or work experience following the diploma?

I worked briefly as a “dog” at the school before working at Stephen Bull’s restaurant in Smithfield, and also Leiths Restaurant in Notting
Hill, after which I went to The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny, and worked for the wonderful Franco Taruschio, before eventually returning
home and getting a commis job at The Weavers Shed in Huddersfield. Within a couple of years, I bought the business from the retiring owner. I was there for almost 20 years, turning it from a small country restaurant into a lovely modern Restaurant With Rooms. We had our own farm for fruit, veg and herbs, and I was out foraging for wild plants long before it became de rigueur, thanks to my love for the natural cooking of chefs Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat. We gained many accolades over the years, and featured in a handful of TV programmes in the 90s, focussing on our farm-to-table ethos.

Where are you working now?

After deciding we were getting a little burned-out by running a residential restaurant five days a week, my wife Tracy and I decided to
open a small café, ideally to be able to relax a little. Bizarrely, we’ve never been busier, as the café (www.t-and-cake.co.uk) has found a perfect little niche and is a roaring success. At least we get evenings to ourselves now!

How has the diploma helped you in your current role?

It helped me get my feet through the door of many great kitchens in my formative years, for essential stages. My diploma certificate hangs
on the wall and still makes me incredibly proud and happy.

How often do you use the skills you learnt at Leiths?

Daily, and regularly. My staff are all now fully conversant with the Leiths mantra when it comes to preparation, presentation and attention
to detail. It’s what makes our café that little bit better than most!

What are your long term career goals?

I think I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done for one lifetime! And all because of that little book…

What are you cooking or eating for dinner tonight?

Roast chicken and salad, followed by Manchester Tart. Nice and simple.

What key piece of advice would you offer to anyone thinking of studying at Leiths?

Immerse yourself entirely. You won’t get a better, more complete grounding in the basics and more.

What is your favourite restaurant to eat at?

Without doubt, Maison Bras in Laguiole, France. I first went just after I left Leiths, and my wife and I have been every year for almost
20 years now. It is a wonderful modern three-Michelin restaurant with extraordinary food and the loveliest people, who we are now happy to call friends. (www.bras.fr)

Find out more about the Leiths diploma on our website

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