He’s worked his way up from peeling potatoes at Claridge’s to training with Europe’s top chefs and being in charge of almost 400 kitchens across the UK – now Shepherd Neame’s new Project Executive Chef Sang Nguyen has his sights set on reinvigorating the menus across the independent family brewer and pub company’s estate.
The 37-year-old, who lives in Chigwell, Essex, has just taken on the exciting, newly-created role and he’s busy cooking up some tasty plans. We chatted to him on what attracted him to work for Britain’s oldest brewer and what he can reveal about his vision for its food offering.
Tell us about how you started out as a chef…
At 16 I wanted to work part time at Claridge’s but I asked for a job and they told me I was too young. So I said “Can I work for free? I can peel potatoes or something?” I just wanted to get some experience! I was at catering college in Westminster and I worked at Claridge’s in the evenings for nothing until I was 18. When I’d finished my training I was offered a Commis Chef role and the Executive Chef said to me: “You’re working with the big boys now.” From there, I trained with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – I was working alongside him regularly – then Gordon Ramsay in London and Jason Atherton. I also worked at Green’s Restaurant in St James. It was an incredible 11 years working with those top chefs and learning the trade. But then I decided I wanted to travel.
So what was your next career step?
I went to New York and worked as a private chef in the Hamptons. I spent a year working for one family – there was some incredible wealth all around me. There were days when I had to prepare full breakfasts, just on the off-chance one of them might come down to breakfast. But they rarely did. I can tell you the staff ate very well there!
You moved from there to the Fuller’s, Smith and Turner group, a pub company, which was quite a change – why?
Working on my own for one family, when they often weren’t there to eat the food, was not fulfilling enough, and I wanted to get back to that buzz and excitement of a busy kitchen surrounded by talented chefs. I came back to the UK and joined Fuller’s. I was working at The George IV in Chiswick, one of their flagship pubs, and was spotted by head office and given an Executive Chef role. I was in charge of hotels and city pubs, and did that for seven years. I then moved to the Rank group (Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo) as Head of Food for 15 months, before coming to Shepherd Neame.
Why did you make the move to Shepherd Neame?
I wanted to go back to working in pubs and hotels because I really enjoy it. Shepherd Neame has a wealth of history and after visiting a few of their pubs and speaking to the team members prior to joining, I realised that this is a company that has true values which I wanted to be a part of. Everyone treats each other as family.
Tell us about your new role with Shepherd Neame…
I’ll be working with the Food Team to elevate our food offer, including introducing some exciting new projects a chef training programme, menu ideas and continuing to source great local suppliers. But it is not just about making the food offer great, it is about elevating the whole customer experience. The food is a part of it but it isn’t the whole picture. We have a fantastic team here at Shepherd Neame, and I am very confident that within six to 12 months customers will be able to see some real changes.
How important is training and mentoring chefs to you?
It’s so important – I want Shepherd Neame to be the employer of choice for people who are passionate about food, whether they are just starting out in the industry or coming to us with experience. I will be launching new training programmes for our chefs, including holding regular masterclass workshops focusing on things such as Sunday roasts, and introducing more ways to recognise and reward their creativity. We have got some great chefs around our estate creating some amazing dishes, all freshly prepared using locally sourced produce, and we need to shout more about what we do!
What food do you love, and what can you reveal about the changes you are hoping to make at Shepherd Neame?
I prefer really simple, well-executed food, cooked with passion. My favourite restaurant to eat at is St John’s in Smithfield – I try to go there every month to see what exciting new dishes they have on their menu. I love to eat out and try new and quirky food trends. I think focusing on the freshest seasonal ingredients, good cooking and beautifully presented food is what pub food should be. Customers visiting our pubs want to enjoy a lovely drink, delicious food with a relaxed ambience. I want to continue introducing more seasonal and contemporary dishes at Shepherd Neame – done really well. I enjoy going into our pubs and listening to our General Managers and Head Chef speaking about food and seeing them serve delicious food to our customers which always brings a smile to my face.
What other interests do you have?
I’m into tennis and football. I try to play tennis on the weekends, and I also support Tottenham Hotspur. I’m a pastry chef at heart so I tend to do a little baking over the weekend which keeps my wife’s sweet tooth happy!
Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame, based in Court Street, Faversham, has 300 pubs and hotels across London and the South East. To find your nearest, and book a table, visit https://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/pubs
About Shepherd Neame
Shepherd Neame has been based in the market town of Faversham, Kent for over 300 years. Perhaps best known for great British classic ales such as Spitfire Amber, which carries the Royal Warrant, its diverse portfolio includes Five Grain Lager, Bear Island East Coast Pale Ale and Bear Island Triple Hopped Lager, and the Whitstable Bay Collection. It also brews international lagers under licence including Samuel Adams Boston Lager and premium Thai lager Singha. The independent family business boasts an award-winning visitor centre and more than 300 pubs and hotels throughout London and the South East, from the historic heart of the City to the Kent coastline.
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Press release from Shepherd Neame.