Find and book great restaurantsFind a Restaurant
With spells at some of the world’s top restaurants under his belt, Skegness-born Jason Atherton struck out on his own earlier this year with Pollen Street Social, one of the most talked-about restaurants of 2011. He spoke to Square Meal about the venture – and revealed all about his bust-up with Gordon Ramsay.
After nearly 10 years working for Gordon Ramsay, Atherton shares his ex-boss’s trait of slipping into the third person when referring to himself.
I felt that it was time for Jason Atherton to move in a different direction.
Of all the chefs in the Ramsay fold, it was arguably Atherton whose identity was least wedded to the big man. But he’s quick to give credit where it’s due.
If it hadn’t been for Gordon Ramsay, I wouldn’t be here today [with my own restaurant]. There’s absolutely no two ways about it. He helped mould me into the chef I am today.
He’s not going to pretend it was a bed of roses, however; Atherton owned 10% of Ramsay’s Maze, but claims he never received a dividend.
We fell out over money. That’s it. Plain and simple. I’m sick of hiding it from the media. I fell out with Chris [Hutcheson, the former GRH chief executive] and Gordon over money.’
In fact, Atherton was ready to flee the GRH coop long before the March 2010 announcement of his departure.
Gordon’s an amazing chef, a great guy, but we just couldn’t see eye to eye on the way the business was being run, so it was time to shake hands and move on.
Ramsay’s not been to Pollen Street Social yet, but Atherton would make him welcome.
I’d be honoured to cook for him. Life’s too short.
Pollen Street Social was never meant to be a fine-dining restaurant, however good
the food is.
Why is it that because someone cooks nice food, it’s labelled fine dining? It’s not. I choose my ingredients carefully. I cook them simply. I make sure they’re presented beautifully. That’s it. It’s just good food. I’m not going to open a mega fine-dining restaurant serving 17-course tasting menus just because I worked at el Bulli and I’m good friends with René Redzepi. I’m from Skegness, man! I didn’t know what a gin and tonic was until I was 26.
Notable by its absence is the name ‘Jason Atherton’ above the door of Pollen Street Social.
When the sign went up with my name underneath, I freaked out. I said, ‘Get my name off the fucking window!’ They replied, ‘But that’s the design’. I said, ‘I don’t give a fuck about design – get my name off the window.’ When you’re a young chef, all you want to do is create pictures on a plate and see your name up in lights. As you grow up, you realise it’s not all about that; it’s about giving customers what they want.
Atherton is not averse to taking risks: he and his wife ploughed their savings into Pollen Street Social in the throes of a recession, and with a second baby on the way.
There are people who take risks and there are people who play safe. One thing’s for sure, if you open your own restaurant, then you certainly don’t play safe. I want to make my mark. Then one day, when I do retire, people will say, ‘Gosh, do you remember when Jason Atherton opened Pollen Street? Wasn’t that cool?’
A fuller version of this interview was featured in the summer edition of Square Meal Lifestyle. Click here for the online version of the magazine.