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Few chefs would have looked to Padstow as the place to make their name in 2005, when Paul Ainsworth moved to the Cornish tourist trap to head up No 6. The town already had a culinary king in Rick Stein, whose position was so entrenched that the area had been nicknamed Padstein.
But Ainsworth has carefully built up his own empire. He has added to Michelin-starred flagship restaurant No 6 the more casual Rojano’s in the Square, the six-bedroom Padstow Townhouse, cookery school Mahé and, earlier this year, the Mariners pub in Rock.
The journey to Padstow saw Ainsworth work under Gary Rhodes, which was followed by a stint at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road in London’s Chelsea before he moved on to work under Marcus Wareing at Pétrus in Belgravia.
While crediting the influence his mentors have had on his palate, he has, nevertheless, developed a style of his own, firmly rooted in the classics but incorporating ingredients and cooking methods from around the globe.
No 6 has held its Michelin star since first appearing in the 2013 guide, just one of many plaudits received by the chef, who professes to “source amazing, local, seasonal ingredients and serve them in a simple, modern style”. It’s a modest summary that belies the exemplary techniques displayed in his cooking, which, while always elegant in presentation, boasts big, robust flavours.
It’s not just Ainsworth’s food that has been making waves in recent years; he has also singled himself out as a nurturer of future talent and a phenomenal figurehead for an industry that has been dogged by the lingering image of macho, unsupportive kitchens.
An appearance on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2018 saw viewers so bowled over by his approach to mentoring the hopefuls that their interest crashed his website. The same year also saw No 6’s senior sous chef Chris McClurg named Young Chef of the Year at The Observer Food Monthly awards – McClurg has since been promoted to head chef.
Ainsworth’s desire to take a proactive approach to tackling hospitality’s staffing crisis has also seen him launch his own apprenticeship scheme with Truro and Penrith College, offering four places across No 6 and Rojano’s in the Square – moves that will help ensure his empire continues to grow.
What the judges said
“A truly phenomenal year. Business growth is fantastic. Paul’s food is exceptional and his ability to grow and develop staff, both personally and professionally, is hugely inspiring.”
“Paul has been an amazing chef throughout his career. He continues to shine and inspire the next generation. Top guy, great chef and businessman”
Paul Ainsworth Paul Ainsworth at No 6, Padstow, Cornwall
Lisa Goodwin-Allen Northcote, Langho, Lancashire
Tom Kitchin The Kitchin Group, Edinburgh
James Knappett Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table, London
Nathan Outlaw Nathan Outlaw Restaurants, Port Isaac, Cornwall
Sat Bains Chef-patron, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
Claude Bosi Chef-patron, Claude Bosi at Bibendum, London
John Campbell Chef-patron, the Woodspeen, Berkshire
Giovanna Grossi Consultant, Sauce Intelligence
Tom Kerridge Chef-patron, the Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Clare Smyth Chef-patron, Core by Clare Smyth, London