He skipped school to work in top kitchens – now he’s Head Chef at The Bear.

His name is Padrig, but everyone calls him “Paj”. He had an “infamous row” with the great chef Marco Pierre White over two pike. He used to run the Welsh Restaurant of the Year, and he says, “French cooking is in my blood.” He is the new Head Chef at The Bear Hotel in Crickhowell.

Padrig Jones grew up in his parents’ B+B in Cardiff: “I came from a big foodie family, and I got used to working in the kitchen and serving people from an early age. My mum used to do a lot of buffets, and I remember when the Pope came to Cardiff we made sandwiches and sold them to the thousands of people who were streaming down Cathedral Road – we made a bit of money that day.”

“We used to eat out all the time, so I got to try lots of different foods. We used to go sailing in the South of France, and we went to a famous restaurant in Chablis near where Mum and Dad used to fill up the car to the roof with wine. Mum and Dad said, ‘there’s no children’s menu here, you are having what we are having.’ We ordered, and I remember waiters coming over with big cloches and nodding to each other and lifting the cloches to reveal the food, the first of 7 or 8 courses – it was utterly mind-blowing, French cooking has been with me ever since.” Padrig said.

He went to catering college and worked in his spare time with the “brilliant Chef” David Evans at Spangheros in Westgate Street. “It was a kitchen full of really talented Chefs who are holding their own in restaurants all around the world now. I used to mitch off school to go and watch him work and dress plates on the pass. At that age, it was a brilliant experience.”

Padrig wanted to work in a French Restaurant and found himself at Le Cassoulet in Cardiff – which was famous for its casserole from South West France made with bean, sausage, pork, and duck confit. While there, he was given a cooking book by Marco Pierre White: “The food he was cooking was so far above anything else at the time that I decided I had to work with him.”

So, at the age of 18, Padrig went to work in the Hilton in Park Lane as a First Commis Chef working 70-80 hours a week. “I absolutely loved it,” Padrig said. On his days off he would work unpaid in other restaurants including Marco Pierre White’s Harveys in Wandsworth. He was then offered a job at Marco’s new restaurant called The Canteen in Chelsea, where he worked under Stephen Terry – now at The Hardwick in Abergavenny. “I spent a couple of years there. It was One Michelin Star serving 500 covers a day. It really drilled me and got me disciplined. A Michelin Star requires absolute consistency from a restaurant …nothing is good enough. Working there really made me push myself, and I have done ever since.”

Marco used to call him “The Welsh Boy” until a row which has become legend in catering circles: “He had caught some pike and brought them into the kitchen to be cleaned. I cleaned them and left them for him but he forgot, and they went out with the rubbish. I was lucky to keep my job, even though it wasn’t my fault. The story is still doing the rounds, and it gets grander every time I hear it. He remembered it – I met him a few years later, and he called me ‘The Pike Boy’ instead of ‘The Welsh Boy”.

Padrig left the Canteen and went travelling around Europe and Asia in “an old banger of a car, eating my way around, learning a bit more – because one of the best ways for chefs to learn about food is to eat. But Wales was calling, and I had to come back.”

He recalls working as a student under Franco Taruschio at The Walnut Tree near Abergavenny: “He was a huge inspiration to me. I went mushroom picking with him, and he showed me how to shell scallops at an incredible speed. I loved it there. I wanted to return to God’s country full of amazing local suppliers.”

Padrig returned to Cardiff and, with family, opened Le Gallois – which became the Welsh Restaurant of the Year, and won 2 AA Rosettes. After that, he worked as a Freelance Development Chef designing food ideas for supermarkets.

Then he saw the position of Head Chef at The Bear in Crickhowell advertised and thought: “I still have something to prove to myself in the kitchen, and The Bear is such a great place with so much history in such a brilliant area for ingredients …it has great potential to do something really special.”

COMING NEXT What Padrig wants to do at The Bear.