Andrew Du Bourg on family, mistakes and chasing Michelin stardom
PUBLISHED: 10:59 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:56 04 April 2017
After winning the coveted Chef of the Year title at the Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards, Andrew Du Bourg talks to Emma Caulton
Congratulations to the talented Andrew Du Bourg, chef/proprietor of The Elderflower, Lymington, who walked away from Hampshire Life’s Food and Drink Awards 2016 with an award for the third consecutive year. This time it is Chef of the Year. In 2015 it was Hampshire Menu of the Year; the year before that it was two awards - Hampshire Menu of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. He is, as they say, one to watch.
The Elderflower is well established in foodie bibles Michelin Guide, Harden’s and The Good Food Guide, which has been effusive, describing the restaurant with rooms as ‘an asset to Lymington’ and commenting that Andrew is ‘working extremely hard to put good food on the plates of his customers’. And he does work hard. To pile up such a splendour of awards does not come without effort, determination and passion. Don’t think for one second it has been easy.
He and wife Marjolaine, in charge of front of house, opened The Elderflower in March, 2014. The ambition had always been to open their own restaurant, perfecting the dining experience with skilled, imaginative cooking and relaxed, yet efficient service. However, behind the realisation of that dream they experienced a bit of a nightmare.
But back to the beginning. Andrew’s credentials are impressive. He attended the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Specialised Chefs Course at Bournemouth and Poole College, before going on to work for London’s best. This included The Goring, where he volunteered to work at Clarence House, assisting with state banquets and fundraising dinners, and working for Chris Galvin of The Wolseley, Phil Howard of The Square and Pascal Aussignac at Club Gascon, where he was head chef. Such experiences gave him an understanding of technique and ingredients and inspired his innovative and skilful approach.
Marjolaine’s background is not dissimilar. Born in the Poitou-Charentes region of France, she trained in Art de la Cuisine et Arts de la Table at a catering college in La Rochelle, very much the equivalent of the one in Bournemouth. This was followed by employment in establishments in Switzerland and France. Keen to learn English she moved to London: “It was meant to be two years and that was ten years ago. I met Andrew two months before I was due to leave. Andrew was at Club Gascon and I was Food and Beverage Manager at Cellar Gascon.” Andrew smiles: “It was love over the hot plates.”
Having fallen for the Bournemouth and Poole area as well as Marjolaine, Andrew was keen to head back this way: “We were planning for the future, and I thought it would be a great place to bring up a family. Chewton Glen was looking for a head chef, so I jumped at the chance.”
They moved to the New Forest after marrying in summer, 2011. Andrew had, however, “A bee in my bonnet. A creative desire. My ambition had always been to have my own restaurants.”
They spent 18 months searching for premises, looking around Poole and Christchurch. Then the search shifted to Lymington. They had just missed out on an opportunity on the High Street when The Bluebird came on the market, a 200-year-old, Grade II listed building on cobbled Quay Hill, and so-called as it had been established by Georgina Campbell, who named it after the cars and boats her father, Donald, piloted to speed records on land and water.
They snapped it up. Particularly as, Andrew recalls, “When I was working at Chewton Glen we met with friends at The Bluebird and said then if this place was available we’d have it…”
Even more curiously, Andrew even has a photograph of himself, aged 17, standing outside The Bluebird with his family the Christmas before the turn of The Millennium. It sounds perfect. It wasn’t.
“It was a year of firsts: first restaurant, first child [Annabelle, now three]; we decided to have a child before opening the restaurant or we thought we’d never do it!
“It was also the first time I had done a restaurant opening. All the places I had worked before had been well established. I came from a place where we had a marketing team and PR was easy to come by. We have learned to do marketing ourselves, and accounts. When you are an employee you don’t have to fill out VAT returns and you don’t think about the hidden costs.”
They remember wondering: “What have we done?” So, what would they have done differently? Few things, but one of them would have been more market research.
“One thing we didn’t take into consideration was footfall. We were buying with our hearts rather than our heads. Lots of locals don’t come down Quay Hill where there are a lot of touristy shops, so they were not very likely to eat at The Elderflower.”
At first they had more staff than diners, 12 in all. Quickly they reappraised the situation and did some market research. “That first summer we did a lot of soul searching and we found out what Lymington wanted. We listened to our customers and they helped guide us to where we are now” says Andrew.
“We introduced petit assiettes, basically British tapas, as I wanted to show people that this place was really affordable. We also developed the bespoke tasting menu, which has become popular. There are some serious foodies around here!”
The customers rewarded Andrew and Marjolaine by nominating them for awards. “Every year we’ve been entered for at least three Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards and come away with at least one, which has given us something to shout about.
“By the first Christmas everything just clicked and since then we’ve gone from strength to strength.”
Andrew is not one to sit still. At the time of talking, he has just heard that the AA had awarded the restaurant its third rosette.
“I am very ambitious. I remember Gordon Ramsay bursting onto the restaurant scene and taking over London; I thought if he can do it, so can I. I wanted to be head chef by the age of 27 [he was] and have my own restaurant by the time I was 30; in the end I was 32. But I’m on track for my first Michelin Star.”
The seasonal menu changes every month and uses the best local produce, such as lamb from Lisa’s Larder, “You would struggle to find any lamb better than Lisa’s Larder’s lamb.”
On weekends there’s a champagne breakfast: “Being us we like to make it the best, so we smoke our own trout and haddock, and for our full English we cure and smoke our own bacon, make our own sausages and prepare our own baked beans. The reason we go that extra mile is so that we can pump in more flavour and less salt and sugar.”
They try to grow as much as they can on a roof garden – mainly herbs, strawberries and edible flowers. They’ve established a Compost Club that helps reduce waste and rewards customers. Andrew’s involved with the community, helping to inspire the next generation of food lovers by going into local schools and showing them how to make dishes such as apple tart.
Ambitions have shifted, with more of a focus on family and lifestyle. At weekends they go out foraging, Annabelle is often in the kitchen beside her father, or you may find the family crabbing on Lymington’s quayside.
However, don’t think for one second Andrew has taken his eye off the main prize – that Michelin Star. He even mentions being in the top 100 restaurants worldwide.
He smiles: “We’re in a very good position now and our competition is watching us.”
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