Having worked at Porthminster Beach Café in the past, as well as on other projects alongside Executive Chef Michael Smith, we were thrilled to welcome back Ryan Venning as Head Chef at the start of the year.
Now that he’s well and truly settled back in, we thought it was time to introduce him properly, so here goes….
Where did you start cooking?
“I grew up in Durban, South Africa. I started training at the 5* Royal Hotel, which sleeps 2,000 people! It was an incredible 3 year apprenticeship. The hotel had its own butchery as well as an enormous grill department and a vast pastry kitchen. The hotel hosted important functions, including several gala dinners for the President with 1,200 guests. It was a good grounding in all aspects of cooking. After I qualified I worked in some brilliant smaller places, including a gastro pub and a buzzing Cafe which specialized in outside catering, and a grillhouse where we aged our own meats.”
How did you end up in St Ives?
“I met Mick (Smith) when he was on holiday in Cape Town. He’d been in St Ives a few years by then and was loving it. It sounded like the perfect place to come and cook in the UK – I was happy to bypass London! In a few months I was here; I started at Porthmeor before working with Mick at Porthminster and later becoming the Head Chef at Porthgwidden (Porthminster’s sister restaurant). From there I went as Head Chef to The Herring at Bedruthan Steps Hotel, before returning to my roots here on the beach.”
You arrived in Cornwall eight years ago, and it seems the attraction hasn’t diminished?
“Certainly, I still love it just as much as when I first arrived! Don’t get me wrong, as chefs we do work very, very hard. The hours are long and unsociable. But in Cornwall a positive work/life balance is just that bit easier to achieve. I don’t have to commute to work and I have the beach and countryside right on my doorstep whenever I get a chance to get out there. For me there’s always something different and essential about being by the ocean. It’s a lifestyle I wouldn’t be without, especially now I have a family. Surfing, cooking and my family are my inspiration – not in that order! Being based in the UK has allowed me to travel to places like Morocco and Portugal. Looking for new waves and new food experiences is a great combination.”
In terms of being a chef, what is it that’s unique about working here?
“For me, the UK in general has four distinct seasons which we just don’t have back in South Africa. This keeps your creativity flowing; there’s always new produce coming into season which is really exciting. Cornwall in particular of course has the best seafood in the world! As well as that, we enjoy an abundance of foraged produce throughout the year. Spring I think is my favourite time for the great variety of local ingredients which come through the door – everything is so fresh it’s impossible not to be inspired.”
Do you find it a challenge leading the kitchen at Porthminster?
“It is a challenge, but it’s a good one. My experiences as Head Chef elsewhere have taught me a lot and they have all been positive stepping-stones. The team here are fantastic – you need to have that behind you in order to create great food, especially during the summer season when cover numbers are so high. I’m finding real satisfaction in coaching the younger members of the crew; I think even more experienced chefs feed off that sense of discovery and learning we see in our apprentices. And at the end of the day our location is unique and inspirational. We’re privileged to work on a beach with this stunning view, and I genuinely think that is reflected in what we create everyday.”
Read more about Ryan and Michael’s favourite seasonal ingredients in our Summer at Porthminster blog feature, coming soon….