Hail to the Chef
Dreaming and working hard in equal measure has always been how world-renowned chef Jason Atherton, 46, achieved his goals. Together with his Filipina wife Irha, with whom he has two daughters, he has created a global restaurant empire encompassing a total of 17 premier restaurants—including three that received prestigious Michelin stars—around the world. You may have heard of Pollen Street Social in Mayfair, London, a contemporary bistro with a relaxed and informal fine-dining atmosphere that was awarded a Michelin star within six months of opening; or City Social, an Art Deco-inspired restaurant atop Tower 42 in London serving modern British fare that also received a Michelin star within six months of opening; or the Social Eating House in Soho, London, another Michelin-star recipient for its bistro-style menu; and the much celebrated The Pig & Palm in Cebu that offers modern tapas-style dishes for sharing created with only the best of Filipino ingredients. These and so much more are the fruits of Jason’s decades of hard work. “Patience is one of the best things I’ve learnt. Success does not happen overnight. You must be patient and soak up everything that your head chef teaches you,” he says.
And so he did. Jason had the opportunity to learn from some of the best chefs in the industry. He worked alongside Michel-instarred chefs like Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis, Pierre Koffman, Gordon Ramsay, and Ferran Adria. “Working with the legendary chef, Ferran Adria, at his restaurant El Bulli in Spain was an incredible experience for me. He was a huge inspiration; he took things to levels I could never have imagined,” he says. In 2001, he joined the Gordon Ramsay Group as the executive chef for Verre at the Hilton Hotel in Dubai and went on to lead the launch of the Maze restaurant in London and its subsequent international branches.
Before making waves in the international culinary scene, Jason was just a boy from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, whose relationship with the culinary arts began when he landed a job in a kitchen after running away from the small town of Skegness in Lincolnshire, England. He recalls, “My mum and stepdad ran a guesthouse in Skegness when we were growing up. I used to help out with my sister in preparing breakfast. At age 16, I ran away to London and got a job in a kitchen. It was the start of a long love affair with cooking for me.”
A Taste of Adventure
After 10 years of working alongside Ramsay, Jason left the company in 2010 to start his own group of restaurants, The Social Company. “I think most serious chefs at some stage in their career want to open their own place. It was now or never for me,” he says. By then, he’d been married to Irha for eight years. “In 2011, we remortgaged the house and put everything we owned into Pollen Street Social. It was a huge risk that thankfully paid off; and within six months, we received our first Michelin star,” he shares. They opened the company’s flagship restaurant, the Pollen Street Social, at the affluent Mayfair area. Taking that big step was risky and challenging, but to design and build his first restaurant, to see all his ideas and dreams start to take shape, was worth the effort. On the unexpected and rather swift awarding of the coveted Michelin star, he enthuses, “I was blown away. I didn’t expect it! Aside from the birth of my daughters, it’s one of the biggest highlights of my life and it constantly drives me to push and challenge myself even further.”
They followed it up in 2012 with the success of 22 Ships, a tapas bar, and Ham & Sherry, a Spanish restaurant in Hong Kong. The Commune Social subsequently opened in Shanghai, and a year later, three more were added to the roster: Little Social in Mayfair, Social Eating House in Soho (another Michelin-starred restaurant), and Berners Tavern at The London Edition Hotel. His other restaurants include Aberdeen Street Social in Hong Kong, The Clocktower at New York Edition Hotel, Social Wine & Tapas in England, and Marina Social at the Intercontinental Dubai Marina, among others. His latest venture is Hai Cenato, a New York-style Italian restaurant in Victoria, London, launched early this year. Ultimately, Jason now finds himself with 17 wonderful restaurants spread out across London, Sydney, New York, Dubai, and the Philippines.
The talented chef has also released two books, Social Suppers in 2014 and Social Sweets in 2015, and was awarded Best Restaurateur in 2016 by GQ. On the subject of running a group of restaurants as impressive as The Social Company, he shares, “Customers are our number one priority. Without their support, we have nothing. I constantly strive to make them happy—nothing gives me more pleasure than a customer enjoying their experience at one of my restaurants, that is the key to our success.” He also credits his incredible team of chefs and managers who have become a huge part of running the company. “They know my standards and know not to let it drop. We all have the same vision,” he says. Although the Michelin stars keep on coming, Jason remains as grounded as ever. “It’s the recognition of the huge effort both my team and I put into our restaurants and our constant ambition to stand out from the crowd. The Michelin stars are a tremendous honour.”
Read more about Jason Atherton and his better half Irha in the October 2017 issue of Philippine Tatler. Available in all leading newsstands and bookstores, downloadable via Zinio, Magzter, Pressreader.