Stephen Jardine: Only chefs come back for more

WHEN you burn your hand in the kitchen for the first time, you tend not to do it again. In life, the survival instinct runs strong.

If something goes painfully wrong, we take steps to avoid it happening again. Only masochists and chefs go back for more.

Last year, Andrew and Lisa Radford’s landmark Edinburgh restaurants, The Atrium and Blue, fell victim to hard times and closed. In a statement, they said: “After trading for 18 years with successful concepts we would like to thank you for all your support.”

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It sounded final and felt like the end of an era. After such a painful end, who could face doing it all over again?

A clue came at the time when Andrew Radford told trade magazine The Caterer: “We will be back.”

Eighteen months on, the couple’s new venture, Timberyard, is up and running and already creating a buzz. Some in the business are comparing elements to the most talked about restaurant in the world, Noma.

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and we’ve broken a few getting here,” Andrew told me the other day. “Timberyard is a direct result of everything we’ve learned in 20 years in the business. You can’t take risks and try new things without falling over sometimes. It feels great to be back and I really think what we’ve created here is groundbreaking.”

But did they ever question getting back into the punishing world of restaurant life ?

“No, the experiences before were all leading us to this point,” said Andrew.

It’s a well-known phenomenon in the catering business. Where most of us would retreat from business failure to lick our wounds in a quiet corner, chefs come back fighting.

Tony Singh closed the doors at his restaurant, Oloroso, earlier this month, blaming the economic downturn and trading difficulties. To make matters worse, two years ago he’d also had to close another restaurant, Tony’s Table, due to financial difficulties.

Is a double whammy enough to deter someone with over 20 years of experience in the business?

“I feel it makes sense to take a step back from the industry during these difficult times and regroup,” Tony commented at the time.

If he sounds like a general fighting a battle, that is how the restaurant business is for some at the moment, with more establishments than ever slugging it out for customers.

When I saw Tony a few days ago, understandably he wouldn’t commit himself but I predict, with confidence, he will be back.

Perhaps it is the lack of sleep and the long hours in kitchens, but there is something hypnotising about restaurants that keeps even the most hard-pressed chef returning to face the heat again and again.