Well, who would have thought!
That celebrated and distinguished Chef/Patron Paul Leary, member of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, may never have been a chef at all if it were not for a chance encounter with a chef friend of his, inviting him out for a 'chefs night on the tiles'! Paul, seeing for himself, what a great social life they had, was hooked, he loved the bonhomie and their attitude, even after a gruelling day and night shift which would finish most mortals off! So without the ‘divine intervention’ of this friend, Paul could possibly have still been working somewhere totally different!!!
Years later, this was to lead him on a path that he has never wavered from, and has now accomplished his dream of owning his own Award winning restaurant.
Walking into the Woodhouse, you are hit by two things. The warmest of welcomes and the cosy, inviting interior.
Being a Fine Dining Restaurant is evident, but what you don't get is a starched and stiff service, this is the most friendly and efficient service, smiling helpful faces, low classy background music coming from the Bang & Olfsen system.
Sitting at the white linen clothed table, sipping your wine and waiting for the show to begin. It begins with fresh bread rolls of various styles and then your food arrives which looks amazing before you even taste it, a palette of colours and puree streaks across the plate resembling an artists impressionist painting. The aromas swirl, your taste buds explode and all elements compliment and form the most memorable mouthfuls of food which you could never recreate at home. The overall mastery shines through not only due to the expensive, high quality and unusual ingredients used, but also because of the presentation of the final dish.
A visit is most definitely recommended.
Interviewing Paul Leary
What was your ambition after you left college?
To run my own restaurant. I worked as Head Chef at Leicester City Football Club for a few years and then I had the opportunity to run a restaurant with a partner at Louis Scotts restaurant in Newtown Linford. This spurred me on as my confidence grew, then after two years, I opened the restaurant called Fusions at the new Walkers Stadium which was great when they were doing well in the premiership. My main goal was to have my very own restaurant and the opportunity came and now I have achieved my ambition.
Who was your inspiration?
My idol was Marco Pierre White who I thought was the most passionate man on the planet, who worked every hour striving for perfection, and achieved it. He was the start of the celebrity chef syndrome, even though he didn't want the TV exposure. My most memorable meal was at his restaurant.
What is your greatest ambition?
My next ambition is to achieve a third AA rosette & find some time for my family would be just wonderful.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Still in the Industry, but maybe working 45 hours instead of the 80 I do at the moment. Keeping my hand in with the catering colleges, helping and nurturing young students. If they have the drive and passion needed, I will do all I can to help them achieve their goals.
How do you juggle family life with your 16 hour days?
Fortunately my wife Alison is very understanding, and is the rock on which I depend to run our home lives and the day to day care of our daughters, but we need to rely on the good relations between our friends and families especially when Ali is working in the restaurant. I know its a juggle, but she deals with it admirably. I miss the girls, but what can you do when you are responsible for a business and employees and your business demands crazy hours.
What was your best career moment?
Getting my very own restaurant, The Woodhouse.We have been here in Woodhouse for 4 years now, still growing, still creating and having the freedom to create and develop as I want.
How is the current economic climate affecting you, or is it?
At the moment I have to say that we are not affected, we are still busy but I think that top end restaurants are still doing ok. Its so important not to lose focus and go down the cheap and cheerful route when thats not what your restaurants about. There is a niche for every type of food, and restaurants need to be clear as to where their goals are.
You work closely, and have associations with the local catering colleges!
Yes, I feel its important to give back where possible. In 2004, I became a lecturer for a year, taking students to France for valuable lessons in French cuisine. When I opened The Woodhouse, I gave two students a job, one student won a Gordon Ramsay Scholarship in a national competition, beating 15,000 other students. That was a great moment. I now guest lecture at Leicester College and have established links with Loughborough Catering College, employing 3 level 3 students at present, but I also get asked to judge for local competitions, and to get involved in cookery demonstrations.
You have recently started to offer culinary courses haven't you?
Yes, after many requests from customers interested in cooking, from learning basics to more accomplished cooking. People are really interested in food now, they want to learn how to reproduce some of the dishes we do, but to learn some of the tricks of the trade. So far, I have held two cookery master classes which filled up within a week, and I have plans to do more later in the summer. I plan to do one that involves making a 5 course gourmet meal, then sitting down to eat it and to have matching complimenting wines, so I am looking forward to that.
How do you create your very distinct style and flavour?
Using the freshest, the best, and more unique, like for example, some of the cheeses we use are not at all common, but they have distinct flavours all their own. Not being afraid to cross boundaries, to try unusual combination of flavours and textures, but to keep it as simple as you can and letting the true flavours of your ingredients shine through.
Where do you buy your produce and why?
Well, ingredients of the freshest order are the most important. I buy most of my ingredients and meat directly, using four farms, for my Meat, Dairy, Vegetables & Oil and buy according to the seasons. You need to know where its from, what your meat is fed on, when it was killed, and how long its been hung. Lets face it, if you have a great product, it needs little doing to it and that makes my life easier! I also use Farmers Markets, its important to use locally produced products as possible. I have a great respect for farmers and we have a good rapport. Its paramount to have confidence in your meat and produce. Being landlocked as we are in Leicestershire, my fish comes fresh, directly from Cornwall, or where I can depend on the freshest Scallops, Crabs and shellfish. It'll be from the best and freshest source or I just won't use it.
What is your favourite dish and why?
Risotto, its quick, sustaining, I can throw all my favourite ingredients into it, it fills me up very quickly and packs lots of textures & flavours, & keeps me going.
Your food is Classical with a Modern twist, does this necessitate using modern appliances?
Well, we use a water bath that can cook things like Belly of Pork for 24 hours, and Dexter Beef that can be cooked at a constant 58 degrees which comes out a perfect pink throughout. Also a Pacojet which helps make the smoothest sorbets and mousses when you add your ingredients, and the Thermomix, which makes perfect purees. We still initiate the food, its just these appliances help, and you have to keep up with modern trends and keep evolving to make the restaurant consistently appealing.We are looking into liquid nitrogen for the odd dish, but I won't be turning into Mr Blumenthal!
You also have interesting events such as Gourmet nights?
Yes, thats right. Gourmet nights are always good. Everything has to run like clockwork, everyone is served at exactly the same time, about 6 courses through the night. We use a wine expert to talk about the wine for each course and to explain why, so customers get to try, and appreciate the what and why, certain wines work so well with certain foods. It is always a great evening. We also have a Charity Ladies Lunch every year which is always popular Also the singer Campbell Bass is terrific and we have used him a few times now.