Meet The Clink Restaurant at HMP High Down’s head chef Brendan Gough and find out what daily life is like in a prison-based kitchen.
On a normal day in the kitchen of The Clink Restaurant at HMP High Down, what do you get up to?
No two days are the same at The Clink which makes every day exciting and challenging. Once the prisoners come down to the kitchen first thing in the morning, I spend 10-20 minutes catching up with the guys and briefing them on what we have planned for the day in regards to training and how many customers we have. Then we crack on with preparation and training before service begins.
What is your favourite thing to eat?
I love Italian food. I love how the Italians don’t over complicate things when it comes to food and let the fresh, flavoursome ingredients speak for themselves. They respect the heritage of a dish and will often use family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the kitchen?
I love eating out and keeping up with the newest food trends so I can integrate the things I discover into the food I cook at home and at work. I also like taking part in extreme sports like snowboarding and motocross.
What’s your favourite dish to cook from the autumn menu?
The chestnut stuffed chicken breast is my favourite. It has a lot of components and looks great on a plate, especially with the different types of autumn veg such as purple and yellow cauliflower and carrot puree. It’s very fresh and colourful – one of the reasons I love cooking in the autumn. The Clink Gardens at HMP Send is growing a number of heritage vegetables this year which means we’re lucky to be able to offer them on the menu here at the restaurant. You can’t get much fresher than the herbs, vegetables and eggs we get directly from the prisoner training gardens just a few miles away in Woking.
If you could travel to anywhere in the world to try the cuisine, where would you go?
My dream is to travel the world and taste every different cuisine there is so I couldn’t possibly just give you one! I really enjoy the flavours and techniques that can be found in the world’s cuisines and it’s great that we can incorporate some of this into the menu at The Clink. We use locally sourced where possible and the menus change with the seasons to ensure the flavours are the best available at the time. Because the head chefs from the different restaurants collaborate on each menu, to ensure they cover the City & Guilds syllabus that the prisoners are studying, we have to include certain methods and techniques that are often from other cuisines so it keeps the menu diverse and globally-inspired but with the best of British flavours.
How has your previous experience prepared you for the role at the High Down restaurant?
I have worked for some great chefs in my career so far who have prepared me with the necessary cooking skills to succeed at a high level but nothing can prepare you for working in a unique environment such as a prison. Every day at The Clink Restaurant must be approached differently as every prisoner has different needs and we must work with each individual to ensure they achieve their maximum potential. Each trainee has a personalised learning plan based on their current level and where we need to get them to in terms of training. Each individual is treated on a case by case basis to ensure they are learning at the right pace to ensure they are at an employable level once they are released from prison. Securing each graduate a job is ultimately why we do what we do – it helps in reducing the likelihood of reoffending and therefore benefits the individual, their family and of course society.
What is your top cooking tip?
Respect the ingredients you’re working with and remember that what you put in to a dish is what you will get out, bearing that in mind I always say that “fresh is best”. Working in The Clink Restaurant fits perfectly with this as I get to work with the head of gardens at HMP Send, along with the other Clink head chefs, to plan out what will be planted so we can then use the produce on the menus once harvested. Our Rhode Island Red chickens are free range and fed on an organic diet – I think this makes a world of difference too when cooking, the richness this can add can make the flavour of a dish even better.
What do you find most rewarding about working in The Clink Restaurant?
I’ve met some amazing people who have come from the worst backgrounds imaginable and The Clink Charity and the whole team behind it has given them the chance to turn their life around and achieve something to be proud of. They give them encouragement and support to learn a skill that will improve their life and the life of those around them. Everyone deserves hope, help and a second chance and The Clink provides that – it’s an amazing thing to be a part of
To taste Brendan’s food first-hand, book your table at The Clink Restaurant at HMP High Down.