The Pantry summer pudding
A conversation with Jeffrey Robinson the owner of the New Yard Restuarant
by Aimee Rigby/14th May 2020
So, welcome to Zero Waste Kode- would you like to introduce yourself and your restaurant?
Sure. I’m Jeffrey Robinson and I’m the owner and executive chef of the New Yard Restaurant.
Would you be able to walk us through a little bit of history about the New Yard Restaurant?
Yeah, so I became a head chef here in 2016, I think, after working in St Ives. And, we had a really interesting chat with Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, who’s the owner of the Trelowarren Estate; who also, back then, owned the restaurant; and his idea for food aligned with mine so much that we just got on like a house on fire straightaway.
The questions he was asking, as compared to other restaurant owners, was all about like organic farming and nitrate levels and rewilding, and all this stuff and I was like- this is a brand new world for me. I was a little bit taken aback by it, I was like I’ve got to get into this place. So I’ve always been passionate about food problems and it just felt like this was meant to be so I did everything I could to impress and become the head chef here, and I got the job and I brought with me a young man called Tyler Doonan, who was, at the time was a chef de partie, who actually now, from this year, is actually a head chef of the New Yard- so a big thing for him, because he’s such a skilled chef, he’s a much better chef than I am to be honest, and more organised; I just kind of get around and get in his way now, and he’s very polite, he doesn’t say anything.
So yeah, when we took over, we needed quite a big shift in the food style, not that it was dated or anything, but I just didn’t think it had any sort of personality and I think when you go to a restaurant, especially a fine dining one, -I don’t like using that term-, we’re not really fine dining. I think you need to have a bit of a reason for travelling there, especially as we’re four miles from the nearest main road, and six miles from the nearest town- we’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
So, from a business only point of view, to have potential diners want to go past St Ives and not go into Porthleven and Falmouth, and decide to come here- we needed to do something completely different, and not really mirror what was already happening. But as you know, Cornwall is highly tourist-led, there’s a six month window where you could almost put anything on a plate and you’re going to become fully booked because there’s more people than seats.
But we really wanted to push it all year round and kind of be a voice for how the food industry wanted to change. We are where we are now because we’ve really stuck to our guns. And, now, we’re doing only a set tasting menu of all the food we want to do, telling a story of every supplier in Cornwall, and provenance and sustainability and really the menu now is like a story of how the food industry needs to change, and we don’t do it, in a super like loud voice. The argument we use is flavour and the better the quality the food is the more flavour it has. So, I think we need to shift the responsibility, not just with the restaurant owners and the chef’s, but perhaps with the consumers also to correct a demand for better flavoured food and for better ingredients. Obviously it’s easy for us now, because we’ve got the accolades and stuff to back it up, but it’s been a long story but we are where we are now.
One of the big sticking points, I suppose, from the business point of view was, it really did kind of shut down the lunch trade. You don’t want to go and spend 50 quid on lunch, so we needed to really change it, we couldn’t do like a small plate to lunch menu in the kitchen in the New Yard- and then do a full-scale tasting menu by dinner, because the hours we’d have to work would be absurd. In 2020, Caroline, my wife and myself actually took over the lease to the restaurant. Ferres wanted to hand it over, we took it on he wanted the story to continue because obviously the New Yard and Trelowarren, we are different businesses, but we do align really well, and we work together really well, I mean you know we’re a good asset to the estate- because there’s a lot of self-catering properties here and stuff, so it’s good for them also. But we opened the pantry soon after, which is across the courtyard, I don’t know if you have ever been, but obviously the main dining room is the old coach house, and the old stable is now the Pantry which is like our bakery and small plates kind of restaurant.
It has the exact same quality and provenance as the New Yard tasting menu, it’s a little bit more accessible because the walks here are beautiful, it’s the most incredible place, and you can now come, walk your dog, bring your kids, and have lunch for £10. It works really well. We’ve got one of my close friends actually, Steven Knowles, at roughly the same time as I did, sold his restaurant, and was looking for somewhere so we worked together. So, he’s now head chef the Pantry and his skill for pasta and bread and stuff is amazing. The quality of the food pantry is unbelievable, and it’s really worked very well. The Pantry is full by day, and the New Yard is full by night- the business works, it’s sustainable now, that’s it really. And next door to the Pantry is the walled garden, we also have the lease for that, which is an acre space -it’s an old Victorian garden that got completely overgrown- and I think even in the second world war I think a lot of the American troops were in there, so it completely churned the place to pieces, but it was the first garden space in England to breed vegetables. So there’s an incredible story to that and we really wanted to bring that back to life and for the last year we’ve been working in there and we have split it into four quarters, so we can grow our own food, and have our own eggs, and rear our own pork- but using regenerative agriculture methods, we don’t use any spray, it’s totally organic, and customers can actually go and walk around it and see how we produce you know the amazing vegetables we do, in a way that’s sustainable. It takes a long time, like we have one spot we grow vegetables, and you can’t use it again for three years, four years, so it’s a good story to show visually and what a great story to have like- when you come for dinner here, you’re not only being served and cooked food by people that really believe in what they do but have actually reared and grown the food you’re eating themselves. It’s just a wonderful place so I’m really proud of how the place has come on.
The New Yard restaurant, co-owned by Jeffrey and Caroline Robinson
Absolutely, so you should be, and speaking of things you should be proud of- would you be able to tell us a bit about your Michelin green star and how you earnt it?
Of course- we didn’t even know, I assumed usually you get like a like an email from Michelin saying “you know you might want to watch the award ceremony tonight…” we didn’t get any of that. So, the chefs in Cornwall talk on messenger and stuff, and I had a few messages asking: “are you going to watch it tonight?” and I was like oh God no, I’m not going to get anything, we’re not really interested in stuff like that, and then I started playing, I think it was like Crash Bandicoot with my son on the Xbox, and my phone started going berserk, and I was like, “what’s going on here?” and everyone’s saying “well done! Congratulations!” like, what is going on! So we had to rematch the whole of the Michelin show from the beginning and then found out that we had won a green star- it was unbelievable, it’s an amazing accolade, none of the staff even believed me when I was telling them. It was incredible.
Okay, so what happens in a dinner service from sourcing the food, to putting it out on a plate?
Well yeah we do print menus, but usually what happens is people will arrive at around 6:30, we serve everyone exactly the same time, it’s quite nice and communal, everyone feels like they’re all together which is quite nice. So they all arrive at half six, weather permitting it will start in the walled garden. We will do arrival drinks, and stuff our GM, Alex, makes his own liquors and cocktails and stuff, so it’s a great start, and then we do a couple of canapes from the garden as well, so it’s really good actually, and then while that’s happening the chefs in the main kitchen will be putting the breads and butters on the table. We make our own sourdough, using a great new company actually called Wild Farmed Grain, there’s definitely someone to check out- it is super expensive flour, but it’s unbelievable, it’s all grown wild, it’s unbelievable quality, that’s really the future of it, is how we change the grain industry.
We make our own butter from getting our stuff from local place called Treleague Dairy, totally unhomogenised and stuff. Very simple start to the meal. And then we go into a vegetable dish from the walled garden again, and then we’ll serve a fish course. And we get all our fish from John Tonkin down at Cadgwith. And that’s a really cool aspect because no matter what we order, he’ll send in something different. And which is quite funny, really. We talk about it to the customers, we’ll advertise for example, red mullet, and he’ll send in something completely different. And that’s because he hasn’t caught it and we’ve caught something else. And he’s about 14 foot tall, so I don’t ever argue with a bloke. But it’s nice just for the consumer to have that experience of, this is what was available today. You know, so it was very bespoke to that day. That’s quite cool, really. And then we’ll go into a meat dish. Be it, like you know, some wonderful Cornish duck and chicken, or we use Philip Warren for our beef, all the grass fed stuff up there and they age it wonderfully for us, and we have our own our own pork here, obviously, which we rear and we serve that up, and then they’ll go into a pudding course. And if you fancy a cheese course, we just serve that with some of our own honeycomb from our hives here. So it takes a good few hours, but it’s a really wonderfully relaxed dinner service, you don’t need to put a shirt on. It’s wonderfully informal, it’s very fun. But the food’s very good quality.
Going back to sort of the food you serve, how does having a set menu reduce food waste?
Well, like I kind of brought up before, of like sharing the responsibility with the consumer on wastage and stuff. If you’re running an ala carte menu, with like six starters, six mains and six desserts, you need to hold like, for a restaurant our size, about four and a half grand of food. Because you don’t know what anyone’s going to order, you need to be ready for it. And it’s insane. With a set menu, we know exactly what we’re going to be cooking. So, if we have 50 people one night, we just need to plate up 50 of each dish, and we’re ready to go. Rather than preparing 20 of each, you know, from 14 dishes on the menu. That’s the main key to it really. It doesn’t just go with food waste- it is utilities as well and Gas and Electric. We know when to turn the kitchen on and when to turn the kitchen off. It is great for me because my bills are going down. So, I’m not paying as much in utilities, which means I don’t have to put so much pressure on the staff labour, so they don’t have to work so much, I can afford more labour to come into the kitchen. And it means I can afford to, you know, buy the best quality ingredients- it works all the way through. It’s just a much better way to run a restaurant.
Above images; Exterior image of the New Yard Restaurant Below an image showing inside and outside over the estate
As well as sustainable food, you also emphasise sustainability within the well-being of your staff. Could you tell us a bit about why and how we should change our approach to staff who work in hospitality?
I’m not pretending I’m an old man or anything. But, I think I was probably like the last of that generation where like the ‘rock and roll’ chef industry was still prevalent and violence and anger and mass drinking was just the norm, you know. And I remember when I was starting out, I remember seeing all the senior chefs with families, like really struggling, and like drinking loads and really not being happy. And I remember thinking, I’m not sure this is the right industry for me, and I don’t want to end up like that. And I just remember seeing how horrendous it was, I used to get shouted out and screamed out all the time- it was just normal, working 80, 90, 100 hours a week. We’re seen as, if you couldn’t do that, you’re weak, you’re in the wrong industry. It’s not rock and roll to work that many hours. It’s not healthy at all. You get one shot at life, you’re spending it a stove, pulling your hair out and becoming unhealthy and stuff. So, that’s a big thing I wanted to change. As soon as I became a head chef, and I think we’ve got it here. Like this is not Restaurant, Jeffrey Robinson, by any means whatsoever. And we put a lot of emphasis on the front of house here as well. I mean, you can’t have a good meal without good service. I think you can almost get away with serving mediocre food as long as your services top drawer. So, the restaurant here is very much like a curated aspect of every single member of staff that works here. So, everyone’s really proud to come to work every day. The dishes aren’t designed by me alone. That is by everyone- we all go out foraging together, it’s very much a team aspect here. That’s been a strong part of it. But because of the financial pressure that’s come off from not doing an ala carte menu, it means the guys aren’t working 50 ,60, 70 hours a week. So, they’ve got normal jobs. A lot of the people have kids, so the the pressures off to get cover if they need to spend time with their children or have regular weekends off- it’s absolutely fine. That’s it really yeah, it’s a much happier place for everyone.
Yeah, definitely. It’s a good thing to have. So how have the New Yard restaurant and the Pantry responded to the pandemic?
With much panic at the beginning. You know, taking over a restaurant in January 2020, we’ll laugh at it in a few years time, I’m sure. We had to close straightaway, because we weren’t open that long, to have a nice healthy bank balance at the beginning. So, it was quite scary at the beginning to be honest. I mean, Carole and I just bought a house as well, at the same time. And it was, I remember speaking to the mortgage advisor saying, oh, what happens if like, all the banks, like collapse with our mortgage and stuff? And he was like, laughing at me- he said, well, there’d have to be a global crisis for that to happen. I can’t wait to speak to him again, next time I see him. But the New Yard completely shut down. Because you can’t do like any sort of fine dining takeaway, like when you’re over four miles, which is like the recommended space to go anywhere. So, we completely shut it down. But, the Pantry, fortunately, after a while, started doing Friday night takeaway boxes. Steve’s a pasta whizz, so, he was knocking up some amazing takeaway boxes. And then on Saturday and Sunday, even now still, it’s the takeaway bakery. So, we make our own breads and bagels. And we do different fillings and things, and people can enjoy walks around the estate and stuff. So, it’s, yeah, it’s running like cash neutral. So, it’s doing its job. And we were putting people on furlough. So yeah, it’s slowly starting to happen. We’re looking forward to April where we can do outside dining, and then hopefully, from May with all systems go again.
Fantastic. Yeah. Do you think you’ll be able to sort of keep up with the demand in April when everything opens up again? Because obviously Cornwall right now is very sought after, when we’re allowed to go back outside again.
You know, we do as many people as we think we can do. We don’t open the floodgates and invite everyone in if we can’t serve them, we have so many seats, and if we’re fully booked, we’re fully booked. But Caroline, and myself aren’t, you know, aren’t greedy people. We didn’t take over a restaurant because you wanted to make loads of money. So yeah, when we’re fully booked, we’re fully booked. The guys know that. So yeah, it’s not going to make a massive difference to us. So hopefully, this season is maybe extended a bit further for us.
So, would you give to tell us a little bit about your book, Modest Kitchen Journal and what’s inside?
Yeah, it started off, because we didn’t know financially where we were going to be. So rather than moping around, Caroline told me, you know, you should do a book. And I was like, okay, I’ll give it a go. And I spoke to Elaine at Studio 1850. And she was very interested in doing it with me. So yeah, we’ve we made a book in two and a half months from start to finish. And it’s great, it’s a good place for me to be able to have my little moan about food provenance and sustainability and stuff. So, that was nice to get that off my chest, to be honest, I mean, it’s got a lot of recipes from the restaurant, that kind of redesigned so they can be achieved at home. And then I had Debbie from Wild Wine School, she matched every dish with a wine and it was all about like, the importance that us, and our little island place on dining and just kind of like starting the conversation of sharing the responsibility on the state of the food industry and stuff and just going through some facts like- you know, like, I think we spend like what 8.5% of our wages on food; whereas only back in the 1950s, it was like 35%. So it wasn’t that back in my day. It wasn’t, you know, people are spending a lot more money on food. So, the pressure on the food industry wasn’t there, but it very much is now, and it’s just getting worse and worse. Like even in the EU now they spend about 12%. So, I think we all ask an awful lot of the food industry. That was the kind of where the book was and maybe like putting more emphasis on dining and trying to enjoy that more, thus, putting more pressure on good quality ingredients, which are more expensive, but yeah, that that was the book really.
Yes. So finally, where can our listeners find you and dine with you when you reopen? And perhaps buy your book?
Well, the book is sold out straight up, so we had to get some more done and that’ll be for sale in the Pantry. And we are writing another one in probably a couple of years which would be like the seasons going through the garden and stuff and how we do that. But all the information is on our website, which is www.newyardrestaurant.com all the opening info and all the menus and stuff will be on there. But we’re based right in the middle of the Trelowarren estate and so if you’re coming from Helston towards Goonhilly, you’ll find it up on your left there and it’s a beautiful, place- such a wonderful place is this- the same family have owned it for over 600 years, it’s unreal, so come down for lunch have a cruise around and check the place out.
Wonderful, well I’m sure many of our listeners will- so thank you so much for your time and for coming on the podcast.
You’re very welcome, lovely to talk to you