Today we talk with Chef & Owner Andy Holloway of The Bistro, Ventnor….
- So let’s start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself, The Bistro and what made you open this gorgeous restaurant in Ventnor…
I was working for the Hillside Hotel which owned The Bistro and ran it. We were offered the business a couple of years ago now in the summer and my wife and I took it over as of the 1st September 2015. It seemed like a good opportunity so we bought the lease, bought the business and have been running it ever since then.
- So what sort of restaurant is The Bistro? What sort of food do you serve here?
It’s my sort of food…. I was a French classically trained Chef so it’s heavy elements of French classic dishes with a twist, you can call it a fusion if you like. So I use elements from all over the world to create the dishes here. I tend to use all the different food groups so The Bistro is international flavours but with my 33 years’ experience in the business putting a twist on it. I don’t use recipes, I make things up as I go along. I research of course, but then create it using my own spin on it by dissecting a recipe I have seen and putting different ingredients from the same food group in… Andy-fying it if you will haha.
- Do you have a dish that you would say is your ‘Signature Dish’?
That’s a difficult one really because our signature dish changes… It all depends on the season, the year and the mood… Here the signature dish has probably been the Strudels I do. Apricot and marzipan, pear and marzipan strudels. The apricot and marzipan served with a licorice ice cream seems to go down very well. Recently there has been a crab, cheese and leek banitza which is a Bulgarian dish which I’ve ‘made my own’ (readers that isn’t quite the words he used but we are allowed to edit a little bit for family viewing haha) which is layers of filo pastry then all the ingredients put together and baked in the oven, almost like a filo pastry lasagna if you like. It is normally served as a breakfast dish of dessert but I’ve changed it, like I do haha.
- When you aren’t working here is there anywhere that you like to eat out?
We like to go to Burrs Restaurant, Matt Burr. I started off with Matt years ago and we trained together with his dad 30 years ago at a restaurant in Brading so I like Burrs. We went out there to eat the other evening, you know what you are getting there, the food is always good, the service is good, everything is good so yes when I eat out that’s where we like to go.
- So let’s talk about your training, obviously you have completed a lot of training but was being a Chef something you always wanted to do?
No I fell into it really, I actually trained to be a draughtsman or designer which in a way I still am with my food and menu, but that’s what I wanted to be when I was at school and that’s what I trained for. I wanted to design things, create things, engineering that sort of thing but in the school holidays when I was 13 I went for a little Saturday job at what was Sinclairs Holiday Camp and I was there and one Saturday I was asked to go into the kitchen to help out in the still room as it was, basic stuff like teas coffees, toast and that kind of thing and I didn’t leave. I moved in there in the holidays when I was 14 years old and lived on site and worked from 7 am until 1am from the age of 14, I then left school and went to do training to be a draughtsman and engineer and it turned out that it just wasn’t for me, I had to have an operation on my knee and so I left the scheme and ended going back to the holiday camp again for another season and joined what was the YTS scheme (Youth Training Scheme) which now is the modern-day NVQ, did my City and Guilds through the IOW College and the Restaurant that had just opened up which was with Matt Burr, Ian Coucher who now has Ganders in St Helens and that’s how I started, funnily enough my brother wanted to be a chef and he is now a designer draughtsman and I am the chef so we have taken the opposite turns with each other. Matt and I still stay in touch and call each other up and swap a few recipes here and there now and again as well.
- What’s your favourite sin food? You can’t be too worried about calories if you like to eat out a lot…..
Well you can never trust a skinny chef really can you? haha….. So my favourite sin food would have to be anything that is bad for you really but I guess it would have to be crisps! They seriously are, it’s a chef thing really, but it’s an easy snack, all savoury stuff really but yes crisps are most definitely my favourite sin food always has been. I can devour them.
- You said you like anything that is bad for you, but do you have a favourite healthy food or is it all sin foods in your diet?
I do like pineapple, well pineapple and coconut, especially in Pina Colada form, but I suppose that would count as a sin food again wouldn’t it? But the combination of pineapple and coconut for me is just great.
- What would you say would be the strangest food you’ve ever had?
Apart from things like chocolate ants and roasted deep-fried locusts which are quite old hat now but back in the 80’s and into the 90’s they were snacks that were thought of as a little peculiar, getting into the more South American stuff Mashua is a new thing that we have got coming into us at the moment and it is a root which looks like a grub from I’m a Celebrity (other TV programmes are available …… many many many other TV programmes!!!) but it’s a root and it tastes like aniseed, ginger and horseradish mix. It has a bit of heat to it but it has the texture of perhaps a water chestnut but it looks with a grub, kind of that ivory cream colour. Very tasty, just like Pernod with a bit of heat, it goes very nicely with the crab banitza. We may well be the only ones on the Island who has it, perhaps even the Country you never know.
- Is there anything that you would refuse point-blank to eat?
I’d never say never to eating anything because I think you need to try everything, especially as a chef. I don’t think you can say you don’t like fish or I don’t like whatever, I think you have to try everything, but things that I personally don’t like myself is coriander, I use it in cooking etc but for me it’s just one of those things I just don’t like at all, it doesn’t agree with me.
- Are you the one who cooks when you’re at home?
Yes! But we live above anyway so we usually take it upstairs but yes I do most of the cooking, well all of the cooking haha, we rarely go out to eat as the wife says we don’t need to because we live above a restaurant ….
- Whats the most eventful service you’ve ever had?
Eventful? That’s quite a broad spectrum. There’s been a few of those; There was one time where I cooked for three thousand people at a venue in the middle of a field having one hours sleep in thirty-six to get it ready with about six or seven chefs, that was quite eventful. But really just down the smallest things like Christmas Day here this year which was our first Christmas as a family lunch, doing it was beautiful, really lovely but that was also pretty eventful. Now come on Andy! We want juicy eventful ones, come on give us something a bit less tactful!!!!!! OK I have been almost set fire too….. that’s more like it 🙂 tell us about that one! That was Mike Burr, he is about 6.5ft tall and we used to do events for people where we would have a big wooden stretcher made and we would put say roasted saddle of lamb of whatever on it, this night was a burns night (pardon the pun) and we had haggis on the stretcher, we had a piper piping and Mike was at the front of the stretcher and I was at the back. We also had these chafing dishes and we put lighter fluid in and set them alight so it would be a bit of a spectacular thing. So, we go in with Mike at the front, much much taller than me, everything is sliding towards me at the back on the stretcher and he is dancing away to the piper, everything is catching this lighter fluid on the way back to me at the back of the stretcher, the piper is quite loud and no one can hear me, everyone thinks I’m getting involved in the music but of course I’m just moving around trying to avoid being set alight by all this lighter fluid and haggis……
- What would be the most odd food request you’ve ever had?
Working in a hotel in Niton years ago I had this guy staying for about three or four nights and every day he wanted his food in different colours, so for instance Monday everything on his plate had to be white, Tuesday everything had to be orange, it couldn’t be cooked either, it could either be cooked or not cooked. That was quite bizarre.
- What could you never live without as a chef, and please don’t tell us it is coriander…
Me personally I love chorizo and paprika, but I think butter and salt, but butter as a whole is a great flavour and colour enhancer for everything and I think it’s quite a multi-use product. You can do without your oils but if you have butter you can make many many things. Quite a basic thing but that’s definitely something I couldn’t live without.
- What is an ingredient you’d consider to be a bit overrated?
I don’t see the big fuss about lobster. I think it’s a little more about status, lobster and smoked salmon. I enjoy crab much more than lobster it has much more flavour you can put so much more with it and use it in so many more dishes, it’s just so versatile and robust in comparison.
- Who is the chef that you would say that you most admire?
Growing up and training as a chef the Roux Brothers heavily influenced me, they are Gods in catering, certainly growing up they were two chefs I looked up to, I still refer back to them and admire them to this day, but you have Alberts’ son Michel Roux Jnr as well now. It is their outlook on life as well as them being excellent chefs, when they are training people they encourage people rather than break them down which I think is great, rather than the likes of; for example; Ramsay, who I know is more for TV and I have met him a couple of times but it’s that making someone feel really small and worthless I don’t think is right, you really need to encourage. In the kitchen you can have banter and you take the mickey and you make them remember stuff. At 17 I was made to go out and apologise for sending out an un-ripened avocado, I now know not to serve unripe avocado, and that’s 30 odd years on…. I don’t serve avocado by the way haha.
Well that is certainly going to take me a while to research names of foods there… It’s been great to interview you and thank you so much for meeting with me today here at The Bistro, Ventnor.
The Bistro is a Family run Restaurant where all are welcome,they are no longer part of the Hillside Hotel, they have a small family run team serving breakfast, brunch, light lunches and dinner with their open kitchen where you can watch Chef Andy work. Don’t just consider them for your special occasions, they have community events, charity nights and themed nights throughout the year as well… Why not stop in and take a look at the local art adorning the walls.