Stephen Terry is one of the country’s top chefs. A two-time Michelin star winner, he has worked alongside some of the world’s greatest chefs and has fronted London’s finest restaurants, so it is unsurprising his restaurant -The Hardwick, in Abergavenny, has become so widely acclaimed.
As I approach the fiery breadth of The Hardwick’s kitchen I am regretting agreeing to interview Mr Terry during service, but I’m soon put at ease as I step inside and realise India and Pakistan are playing on the television.
I find myself completely absorbed as I watch Mr Terry delicately finessing a plate of pork terrine with red onion marmalade.
Food presentation is something he learnt as a trainee chef under Marco Pierre White at Marco’s first restaurant Harvey’s, in London.
“I wouldn’t say Marco was one of the most creative chefs I have ever worked for, but he is probably the best at putting food on a plate. If I have a mentor he is probably it. He taught me a lot about how to discipline yourself, how to use your fingers to dress a plate”, the 43-year-old admits.
“But he was probably the one person I worked for who had most been that fine line between genius and madness. Genius in the way he was so fuelled and driven, but madness in a way where life doesn’t become your own.”
“While we worked for him our parents thought we were anorexic and we never ate,” adds the father of three.
Nowadays Terry promotes healthier living, from the ingredients he uses on his menu to logic in life and he tries to spend as much time with his family, welsh-born wife Joanna and his three children Pheobe, six, Olivia, seven and two-year-old Findlay.
Despite working as a head chef in two of Mayfair’s exquisite restaurants: Coast and Cecconis - his philosophy at the Hardwick remains simple.
“It is the kind of philosophy which says Ronseal cooking, because it does exactly what it says on the menu and you don’t need an -ology in food to read it,” the Englishman, originally from Dunstable said.
Heralding locally sourced ingredients is imperative for any self-respecting restaurant, but the Hardwick does it in style.
All the meat is sourced within 50 miles and the organic vegetables come from the farm located just behind the restaurant.
Glancing at the menu it is clear to see which country has inspired the creation of many of the dishes on his menu.
“Without a doubt it is Italy, by a country mile. I love their philosophy, the slow food movement and I love the produce. It is all about families eating together and I love the tradition.”
Many of Terry's dishes embrace Welsh produce, but with an Italian twist and gnocchi and polenta are lighter and less starchy accompaniments for many of his creations.
“A good dish has got to have great ingredients. My inspiration comes from what is put before me and what is in season. A great dish is something that embraces that ingredient.”
After 26 years in the industry he has already been awarded two Michelin stars, one when he worked at The Canteen in Chelsea, aged just 25 and his second at the Walnut Tree just a few miles up the road. But surprisingly, getting another one isn’t at the top of his to-do list.
“The whole Michelin star thing is very contentious. On one hand I would love to get a star here. But I resent the whole thing quite strongly because, for me how successful you are isn’t how many stars you have got, it is how many people you have walk through the front door.”
However looking to the future Terry is keen to broaden his horizons and consolidate his business, which could see him moving into Cardiff’s dining scene.
“I only want one other place. I feel Cardiff needs a smart restaurant, not fine dining, but an accessible one.”