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Paul Ainsworth of Padstow: An Interview

We are seated round a semi-circular banquette in the retro-relaxed upstairs cocktail and tapas bar at Rojano’s in the Square; Paul’s second restaurant in Padstow which re-opened its old familiar doors with renewed aplomb in spring this year. Paul has taken time out between service at his acclaimed No 6 restaurant (very nearly over the road) to talk to GCG about his passion for food, for Cornwall and how he has learnt to combine the both - in a business sense.

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“When I came to Padstow from London I had a lot of preconceived ideas of how it was going to work, lots of amuse bouches, fine dining, tasting menus, and to be honest we couldn’t make a business of that year round.” The recession hit hard in December 2008 (a month on from ‘Northern Rock November’) at the same time Paul signed the lease on No 6. The economic collapse led to a sharp re-think, stripping right back to serving really humble ingredients, doing away with tasting menus, instead serving: “Chilled out food of a great standard”. Paul candidly admits that had he not introduced a simple, affordable menu No 6 would not have survived those rocky early days: “You’ve got to cook for your market and I had got too mixed-up in the whole London shebang.”

There is no question that his professional pedigree is immaculate, leaving college in Southampton to train under Gary Rhodes before working with London heavyweights, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Waring. “This was before the whole celebrity chef thing had gone mad”, he said, “of course everyone in the business knew of Ramsay by reputation but the horror stories didn’t put me off, you can’t knock Gordon.” Even Gary himself warned Paul off going to work for Ramsay at that time.

So with the accolade of Great British Menu to boot, is Ainsworth the next in line to celebrity chef-stardom? “It’s amazing what Jamie and Gordon have achieved but that’s not what I am about. You have to be so careful if you become a ‘brand’. I don’t want to put my name on kitchen knives or frying pans, for me it’s only about the food and the business of food.” Indeed, the only place you will find his name is above the door to No 6.

No 6 and Paul Ainsworth have never looked back. Informal and relaxed, No 6, a Georgian terraced house in the heart of Padstow is a firm foodie favourite of both the London set but also, as Paul beams, the local trade: “The proudest thing for me is that the locals, the true Padstownies born and bred, are regulars at No 6.” Ainsworth honestly reveals he took a big gamble in changing the ways at No 6, but it paid off: “The turning point was a double page spread in the Cornish Guardian, which really won back the local trade”. Three years later and No 6 is firmly established as one of ‘the’ places to eat in Padstow; following Paul’s fabulous Great British Menu success, the restaurant is fully booking months in advance.

Paul’s effervescent fresh faced charisma is infectious. One moment we are engaged in a passionate discussion about day caught fish and local ingredients, the next he is remembering London days: Eighteen hour shifts at Royal Hospital Road then back to Vingt Quatre on The Kings Road (Chelsea’s celebrity answer to a 24hr truckers café above which he rented a flat) to sneak a peek at Kylie Minougue at 3am eating beans on toast. Be under no illusion however, that behind those big brown boyish eyes is an extremely savvy business brain.

“I always wanted to run my own restaurant, but I set out to be a chef, not an accountant. It was a steep learning curve getting to grips with corporation tax and cash flow. It’s not just about putting a great dish on the menu, you have to work out the margins, make sure that dish will make money. It’s a question of getting the balance right.” Paul and Emma (his wife and business partner) are the head office behind both businesses. “It’s a balancing act between the kitchen and the office. Luckily I have a superb team behind us now which makes things easier”.

Having transformed No 6, Paul, together with his original backer and influential business mentor, Derek Mapp set their sights on a well established family run Italian restaurant in Padstow. With quiet commercial wisdom, Paul took hold of the reins a year before the big re-launch of what is now Rojano’s in the square. “We wanted a year to get to grips with the business, get some wool on our backs before stripping the place right back to its bare bricks, literally, and starting afresh.” Paul is totally clear that he doesn’t cook at Rojanos but unquestionably his personality, his attention to detail and his passion ooze not only out of the menu, the front of house team, but down to the wooden chopping boards in lieu of crockery and the Fimo models that replace those ghastly egg-timer devices favoured by London eateries. The success of Rojano’s means there is sometimes a wait for a table, but where better to work up an appetite than in the upstairs cocktail bar?

Hot on the heels of Stein in Padstow domination? “Oh there’s plenty enough business to go round”, he says with a smile, and that seems very much to be the case. With both his business bustling, there is clearly no stopping the deliciously charismatic newbie on the Padstow block.

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Paul Ainsworth of Padstow: An Interview

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