Meet NCOTY finalist Fraser Bruce, head chef at Fraser Bruce @ The Fish Shed, St Ives
After years of travelling, Fraser returned to the UK to be formally trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Following stages at Racine in Knightsbridge with Henry Harris and Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, he fell in love with Cornwall. Working summer seasons in the well-known Porthmeor Café in St Ives and then in a high-end chalet throughout the winter.
Fraser had started his own business at the beginning of this year doing pop-up events in Cornwall and private dining. After an amazing start, sadly due to COVID-19, he had to cancel his events for the rest of the year and put all his plans on hold. Luckily, his friends at Porthmeor Café took him in and so he still has an income whilst he tries to get his own business up and running again. It’s where it all began for him as a commis so it’s been nice to be in familiar surroundings, working with good people.
He thinks the best thing about being a chef is the people you work with and the whole kitchen environment; the ups, the downs, the good services and the bad ones. It’s stressful but he couldn't ever imagine getting up and going to work in an office. He thinks you meet some crazy people working in this trade but end up loving them, so it’s quite unique in that way.
Growing up he never thought he would be a chef, but he has always had an interest in food. As a child he was lucky enough to have a mother that was a great cook who introduced the family to different cuisines. Fraser played football for a couple of professional clubs so that was where he thought he would end up but then he moved away and fell in love with surfing, which pretty much shaped his whole life in regards to where he wanted to live. He simply fell into the industry whilst travelling as he saw it as a way to fund his life at the time.
In his career, Cameron Jennings of the Porthmeor Café has been the most important and influential person, without a doubt. He taught Fraser so much about working in this industry from work ethic to management. They are still good friends and Fraser can rely on him for advice and help at any time, whether it’s work related or not, describing him simply as a legend.
Winning his National Chef of the Year semi-final heat last year was one of the most memorable days of his career. It was a great achievement getting to the final and even though he didn't win he enjoyed every minute. However, he felt that on the final day, he didn't do himself justice. He admits he made a couple of silly mistakes and immediately after finishing had a moment of “what were you thinking?” in terms of his menu. Looking back, he knows he overcomplicated it in an effort to impress and went completely off course from his own style of cooking. His dishes didn't reflect him as a chef, so this year is about putting those demons to rest and cooking in a way that is personal to him.
It’s been a busy time in lockdown because as well as having two-year-old son, Ripley, running around the house, his wife gave birth, so his biggest challenge was finding time to work on the competition. Lockdown has given him some invaluable time to spend with his young family and he’s enjoyed helping out at home and being a dad. A normal kitchen life comes with its sacrifices at times, working a lot of hours, so it has been nice to focus on family time.
His semi-final dish was actually related to his family as during lockdown Ripley was obsessed with milk and honey. It’s something that they will always remember so it was actually a good opportunity for Fraser to dedicate a dish to him and create something really personal.
Winning right now would feel amazing for Fraser and would provide him with a real opportunity to get his business up and running and back on track. To put his name alongside some of the greats would feel quite an achievement. He believes to succeed as a chef you just have to be dedicated. He said “It takes time to learn not just how to cook but how to run a kitchen. Managing people and a team becomes just as important as the food you want to produce.” He describes his style of cooking as local, seasonal and sustainable.