Greg Lewis, head chef, Chalk Lane hotel, Epsom, Surrey

19 January 2006
Greg Lewis, head chef, Chalk Lane hotel, Epsom, Surrey

As head chef at the Chalk Lane hotel in Epsom, Surrey, Greg Lewis, 29, is responsible for a 35-seat restaurant, two private dining rooms and a banqueting room for up to 120 guests.

He's just returned from a six-week stage at the French Laundry, Thomas Keller's renowned restaurant in California.

Lewis started his career as an apprentice at the Connaught, London, under Michel Bourdin. He joined the hotel in 1992 as a 16-year-old school-leaver.

"My training gave me a very solid grounding in classical French and British food, which continues to form the basis of the cooking knowledge I have today," he says.

In 1997, Lewis joined La Tante Claire as a commis chef, moving on a year later to Launceston Place as demi chef de partie. By the time he left two years later he'd been promoted to junior sous chef.

Lewis then took some work as a relief chef, which eventually brought him to the Chalk Lane hotel, where he was offered the permanent position of head chef in 2002.

The opportunity to travel to California to work at the French Laundry came about after Lewis met Keller at Raymond Blanc's American Food Revolution event at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in April 2004.

"I then went to eat at the French Laundry in March this year and I was invited to do a stage," he says. For most of the time Lewis worked on mise en place from 4.30am to 4.30pm. Then, on three to four days each week, he returned to the restaurant to observe the service on the pass and help out if required. "I lived on adrenalin for most of the time I was there - I just wanted to see as much as I could," he says.

Lewis was particularly impressed with the extensive use of sous-vide cooking which produced "the most intensely flavoured food I've ever tasted".

Now back at the two-AA-rosette Chalk Lane, Lewis has talked the hotel's owner, Steve McGregor, into getting a Cryovac machine to enable him to incorporate the sous-vide technique into his cooking.

Lewis will also be adding a couple of appetisers and pre-dessert dishes to the menu, as well as improving the organisation of the running of the pass. "The experience proves that there's always something to learn as a chef and is one that I hope will help me achieve more accolades for the restaurant here," he says.

Salary watch: What head/executive chefs should be earning

Low Normal High
Three-star, 100 bedrooms-plus £23,000 £26,000-£28,000 £30,000
Three-star, 100 bedrooms-plus £24,000 £26,000 -£29,000 £33,000
Four-star, up to 100 bedrooms £26,000 £30,000-£34,000 £38,000
Four-star, 100 bedrooms-plus £29,000 £32,000-£40,000 £62,000
Five-star, up to 100 bedrooms £33,000 £40,000-£48,000 £65,000
Five-star, 100 bedrooms-plus £35,000 £65,000-£80,000 £124,000
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