Published 19 May 2021
He stepped back from The Fat Duck Group after 20 years in 2019, and now Ashley Palmer-Watts is focused on his new adventure: Artisan Coffee Co. Here we speak to the chef about the new brand, his plans to return to the kitchen and the meal he’d eat for the rest of his life.
Well, like for all of us it has been very different to how I thought it would be. Leaving the group was a very hard decision and of course as you can imagine plans evolved on a daily basis, but I miss the restaurants massively, the teams and people that I worked with, the whole bustle of a chef’s life (a pre-covid one in any case!).
But the first lockdown allowed me to almost adjust away from restaurants and focus on Artisan Coffee Co., fully immersing myself in how people include coffee in their lives.
I will be back in the kitchen in the future. It’s unlikely to be this year if I am honest as I am busy with Artisan – there is still lots to do! But I have a few exciting projects bubbling away for the future. I have to tell myself to be patient!
Many things, but above all else how I long to challenge myself, put myself outside my comfort zone and get fully stuck into things. I just love working on projects where I can take it apart, look at it, challenge the norm and put it back together in a new way.
Our two worlds have been getting closer for a few years really. I have a huge passion for coffee and when the conversations turned to actually doing something about it and co-founding Artisan I jumped at the chance; it’s been great to work with a fantastic team that want to create something special. I wanted to absorb huge amounts of research, apply a chefs approach to coffee, but most importantly innovate in every area. The biggest being how we talk about coffee, taking down barriers of technical and specialist terms and allowing everyone to feel inquisitive and confident in exploring coffee in an approachable way. In some cases I spoke with people who drink multiple coffees a day, but in truth have to adjust to make it palatable or even didn’t really enjoy the drink at all, just wanted the hit.
I have been following some great people in the world of coffee for years now and love nothing more that the technical side, but for a huge number of people this makes them feel excluded from exploring better coffee. It’s like a huge wine list in a restaurant; a great sommelier can gauge the guest and communicate it in a way that makes them feel comfortable, taking them through some discovery and turning a daunting moment of choosing wine into one of adventure, rather than a few minutes of dread not wanting to feel inferior.
There were many areas that I feel we have taken a different view: innovation through our extensive range, blending like a champagne house for maximum character in the cup, and rigorously tuned for each brew method.
I felt I could really bring a fresh approach, coffee from a different view. We also created parallel chocolate flights which did two things: firstly, it elevates that coffee moment to the next level, something that a chef is driven by and secondly, the chocolates act as a catalyst for many that believe they aren’t able to pick up characteristics in coffee. By mirroring the natural notes in our blends, the chocolate flights allow a whole new experience.
It depends so much on how I am feeling, how I want to brew, or if I’m short of time. To be fair my home has become a coffee house so I have a lot to choose from, constantly developing our blends and checking quality through to production. It’s hard as this has been an incredible journey and it’s like trying to choose a favourite child!
In many ways, we want to supply great places that want to serve great coffee, no matter how they brew. I think that it’s going to be very easy for chefs to relate to how we describe our characters, whilst some chefs I know are majorly into their coffee and have fantastic interest, many don’t and if they love our coffee, we can make it easy for them without hours of research down the rabbit hole.
I have found some great coffees in the UK, Australia and around the world. It’s like everything – there are pockets of brilliance all over the world, from passionate people doing incredible things. But it takes understanding to really tune into the high end of the coffee world. For me it’s about what is in the cup at that moment that counts.
It would have to be a great roast chicken with all the trimmings. Some may say that’s boring, but to me apart from being delicious, the connection back to memories with my family on a Sunday are just the best.
Its impossible to choose a favourite. There are so many incredible chefs and restaurants throughout the UK. This country is truly world class in so many ways when it comes to food and hospitality. So many I haven’t eaten at yet, but my next booking is at Bibendum in a few weeks!