Catriona Thomson chats to chef owner, Paul Wedgwood from Wedgwood the Restaurant about food, foraging and having fun with his dishes.

Multi award-winning chef, Paul Wedgwood was born in Paisley but most of his childhood was spent in rural Burscough, near Preston, not too far away from Liverpool which explains his love of Liverpool FC, which was drummed into him by his father.

Another lifelong passion is foraging, having been introduced to it as a lad, in the cubs. He said: “I was the weird kid that really enjoyed the taste of nettles.”

No hedgerow was safe from being plundered for its brambles or wild cherries, he loved “the taste, which you can’t get when you buy them. There isn’t the same depth of flavour, it is more intense” Paul said.

He explains that: “You can have two hawthorn trees growing beside each other but one will be flavourless and the other one really beautiful, which is kind of strange.”

This afternoon he is off to the coast in search of foraged goodies, he is hoping to bag: sea aster, sea coriander, samphire, and some wood sorrel and mushrooms from a wood close by.

Although not giving away the exact location, Paul is happy to share knowledge with younger chefs, “so they get to know something and I get to pass on my knowledge.”

“I’ve had foraged ingredients on the menu for as long as I can remember, it was a natural thing for me, not forced. I was into it long before it was a trend” he said.

Family meals

Paul’s dad was a major food influence, a high flying computer programmer who loved to cook. Paul fondly recalls him creating a full Chinese meal and serving it from a hostess trolley.

Paul said,” I still have that trolley, I grew up with it, I plan to have a 70’s inspired dinner party in my house soon.”

Growing up there would be a brace of pheasant aging in the garage or we would have rabbit meal on Sunday and my dad would tell me what it was, but he’d tell my two brothers that it was chicken because they would have said: “we can’t have that.”

He knows how fortunate his childhood was, as a jump in his father’s salary saw Paul blessed with idyllic holidays in Spain and France and he fondly remembers eating dishes like fruits de mer. He firmly believes, because he wasn’t allowed to eat children’s meals, that is the reason “why my palate is the way it is. I was very lucky.”

Food for thought

Although a career in finance was mapped out for him by his parents, a job washing dishes as a teenager was where he “fell in love with, the buzz of the kitchen.”

At college he lasted nine months on a business and finance course before dropping out, “I went home to tell my parents, it wasn’t a great conversation.

Dad was a bit red in the face.”  At the time cooking was not the same profession as it is now, so I went onto study a course in hotel management.” However, as a result, he knows his business inside out, he said, so “no one can pull the wool over my eyes.

“As part of the course, I was sent to Miller Howe Hotel which turned into a summer job and then back again the following year.”

He soon realised that he wanted to be in the kitchen, at that time John Tovey was the maverick chef there. Paul said, “he was a great, great chef, all about hyper-local, seasonal stuff or picked from the garden, he instilled into me, without me knowing at the time, the way I cook today. ”

When asked about what his parents now thought of his profession, Paul said  “they couldn’t be prouder of what I have achieved, and it 100 per cent came from them.”

When it comes to spicy food his father has a “full-on flavour palate, dad eats things hotter than I do.”

So looking back at his first Wedgwood menus he can see a lot of Asian fusion influences, which has inspired him again for his new al fresco dining experiences, which started as a result of lockdown.

It is a bespoke service where he speaks at length with a client and creates a completely tailored experience in their own garden,  and it has been incredibly successful –  with most weekends being booked.

Looking ahead both takeaway and al fresco experience will be part of our mix, Paul said: “as long as the customers want it, we will be there.”

He is so relieved that the takeaways have been massively popular with up to 750 meals every weekend with deliveries to Boness, Linlithgow, Haddington, Kirk Newton.

Paul said Covid-19  has been a frightening time, “we were working the night when the government made the lockdown announcement, I gathered everyone together to make a rousing speech, about how we’d get through this but with all those eyes staring at me, I broke down crying.”

Lisa and Paul Picture: www.schnappsphotography.com

 

He worked with Lisa at a stylish bar in Kendal called the Georgian house, but lost contact when they moved onto other jobs. About five years later she walked into Jackson Bistro in Bowness-on-Windermere where he was head chef and the rest is history. They have been married for 7 years and now have a three-year-old daughter Nula.

“We were looking for a restaurant in the Lake district but we couldn’t find the right spot. So we came to visit my parents who were in Edinburgh, and had a night on the town, walking down the royal mile we saw a for sale sign.

“We went to view the next day and walked in and fell in love in an instant. We made an offer but the sale fell through we got the call the day we were moving North, while we were on the bypass” said Paul.

You get by with a little help from your friends

“We had arrived in Edinburgh, had a flat in Leith, but we knew nobody and were all alone in a new city. I ended up working in a bar, luckily after 18 months the same place came up for sale again.

“It was such a relief, all our new friends from the bar helped us scrub and sand floors and we are still so thankful for their support.

“We feel it happened for a reason. Our aim, when we opened in 2007, was to create a restaurant which offered  ‘our own perfect night out in the perfect surroundings.'”

To turn their dream into a reality the couple would work from 7am to after 3am the following morning as Paul said, “stupid hours, crazy hours.”

Their success has been beyond the couple’s wildest dreams and eventually, they made time in their schedules to get married on the beach in Barbados, followed by sundowners on the terrace of Cliff restaurant.

Paul and Lisa know the region well, as Paul cooked for several years at the Celtic festival, following a chance meeting with Vice president of the Barbados tourist board in Edinburgh.

Food fun

Not having being classic trained, Paul sees “no barriers, and no rules in his cooking” he enjoys a food challenge, which has seen him make edible glow in the dark body paint for an event.

He is also a massive haggis fan, he said “if I can make it out of a national animal, I will. I’ve made haggis from pigeon, rabbit, kangaroo, squirrel, and even guinea pig.

Paul said “I enjoy playing with food” with dishes such as lobster thermidor creme brulee and shellfish ice-cream sundae with seaweed hundreds and thousands, on the menu, we agree.

Wedgwood the Restaurant is now open for dinner on Wednesday through to Sunday and for lunch at the weekends, and they plan to continue their takeaway and delivery services as well as the bespoke alfresco service.

Under the Grill Q&A

Describe your cooking style? and why are you passionate about it? Traditional, French-inspired fusion etc.

“Modern Scottish with a twist on tradition. Scotland’s larder is the best in the world, and the cold waters mean the shellfish is second to none. we have fabulous cheese and produce grown by farmers with so much care, it is just wonderful and world-beating.”

What was your first job in the industry? Plus where were you before?

“ When I was 11, I took a Christmas job at my local restaurant, washing pots. At that point, I didn’t know I wanted to be a chef however I got a buzz from the fast pace environment, so I guess it shaped my direction in life.

I worked in a local bar here in Edinburgh when Lisa and I first moved to the city, which wasn’t the plan. When Wedgwood (formerly The Reform restaurant) first came on the market around 15 years ago.

The location on the Royal Mile, the size, everything was perfect. However, the sale fell through once we moved, so I decided to look at other venues. I viewed so many, but nothing compared to what is now Wedgwood. Luckily, 18 months later the site came back on the market and the rest is history!”

Favourite spice? And what dish/recipe would you suggest using it in? 

“It has to be cumin. I use it in my spiced roast cauliflower dish, with curried coconut, cauliflower bhaji, cumin roast potato, and black onion seeds.

It’s nice to use when seasoning on lamb and it is in my secret rub for the 80-hour slow-cooked brisket on the takeaway menu, it really adds depth of flavour.”

Are you sweet or sour? So is it all peace and harmony in your kitchen or do the pots and pans fly? 

“It is complete and utter peace and harmony in my kitchen. I can count on one hand how many times I have shouted in the kitchen in the past 13 years, and I don’t believe in getting stressed because it just rubs off on the team.

I know some people like to run their kitchens on fear however I run mine on friendship.”

What little things annoy you?

“Liars, people who try to cover a mistake rather than just admit it, especially when it can jeopardise a customer’s experience.

For example, if a chef puts the wrong ingredient into a sauce, knows about it but does not admit it and serves it anyway, it can ruin the whole dish.

Everyone makes mistakes and I have a lot more respect for people who own theirs.”

What is popular in your kitchen right now? 

“The takeaway menu remains popular despite lockdown restrictions easing. People can’t get enough of the 80-hour slow-cooked brisket on the menu.

In the middle of lockdown, we were selling on average 450 portions per week. It really is a great dish and something that needs to be cooked to perfection first time around due to cooking time.”

Tea or Coffee? Is it Darjeeling darling or bitter Colombian? What’s your brew and how you like to drink it? Camomile, Milky brew or builders elaborate, please?

“Coffee all the way, I live on coffee and it is how I start my day. The first thing I got installed when I bought my house was a coffee machine! I do love a latte.”

Everyone has one at least one guilty food pleasure, so what do you love but are too embarrassed to admit?

“Pickled onion crisps and cheddar in a sandwich.”

Who is your favourite chef? Plus everyone has a food hero/ local supplier, who is yours and why?

“My favourite chef is the late Charlie Trotter from Chicago. He was a true visionary, back in the eighties and nineties he was championing vegetables and changing up his menu regularly which was pretty much unheard of at the time.  His outlook on food really inspired me and help me shape some of my own recipes.

I have to say every food and drink business who had to pivot the business during lockdown to survive. Guy Grieves from the Ethical Shellfish Company has done an amazing job. He is extremely hard working and manages all aspects of the business from diving to shucking. His pure passion and produce are second to none.”

Fantasy dinner party guests? and what would you cook for them?

“All the Liverpool football team managers from the past 50 years. I would cook a feast for champions to celebrate Liverpool winning the Premier League! There would be a lot of Champagne to celebrate with too. ”

I don’t like…or I’d rather not eat……

“I am not the biggest fan of spinach in any way shape or form, and bizarrely I don’t like spreads on my sandwiches, I prefer them dry.”

Wedgwood

267 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

EH8 8BQ

(0131 558 8737)

• READ MORE: Under The Grill: Chef Iain Gourlay from Cringletie House

Under The Grill: Chef Iain Gourlay from Cringletie House

 

About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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