“Don’t give up. Believe in your dreams. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Sat Bains won the Roux Scholarship in 1999 at the age of 28, it was his first time entering the competition. He staged with Jacques and Laurent Pourcel at Le Jardin des Sens, Montpellier.
Born in Derby to Punjabi parents who had settled in the UK in the late 1960s, Sat’s family ran several newsagents and off-licences. His father engendered a ferocious work ethic, having him up at 4.30am for paper rounds as a teenager, and working after school and at weekends. Although he was expected to continue the family business, Sat enrolled on the catering course at Derby College as a way to forge his own path. He then took a job as a commis chef, at a local hotel-restaurant where his wife-to-be Amanda was working as the restaurant manager.
After reading Marco Pierre White’s book White Heat, and after working with Mick ‘Murphy’ Walton who ignited Sat’s passion for food and creativity, he was inspired to apply for roles at good quality restaurants. In 1996, he took a role with Raymond Blanc setting up his first bistro, Le Petit Blanc, in Oxford working there for six months, followed by three months at L’Escargot in London, while Amanda continued to work in Nottingham.
Put off by the macho atmosphere in London kitchens at the time, he returned to Nottingham and took the role of head chef at The Martin’s Arms in Colton Bassett where he stayed for two years, before taking the role as head chef at an art gallery, which ran a fine-dining restaurant in its tearoom in the evenings. With the artworks changing seasonally, it was an atmospheric setting and the role gave Sat an opportunity to experiment with top quality ingredients, where his cuisine attracted visits from Michelin’s inspectors.
He applied for the Roux Scholarship in 1999. However, in the weeks between the regional finals and the national final, he was told the art gallery café was closing, putting him out of work. With a mortgage and bills to pay, Sat pinned his hopes on winning the scholarship and came up against chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants in the final. He impressed the judges his originality and his seasoning as part of the lamb dish and won.
After his success in the competition, the job offers from the country’s top restaurants came rolling in. Sat’s vision, however, was to create a restaurant where there was no doubt that people were coming for his food and only his food; for that, the setting had to be incongruous with fine dining. He partnered with some Nottingham businessmen who had just taken over a red-brick motel with a French bistro attached to it on the outskirts of the city, after its previous owner had gone bankrupt. In Sat’s eyes, the location - under an expressway flyover near a redundant Victorian canal and next to a pylon - was perfect. It wasn’t long before Sat and Amanda bought out the owners and, in 2003, Restaurant Sat Bains won its first Michelin star; it was the first restaurant in Nottingham to do so. In 2011, they won their second. The restaurant has also garnered the ultimate 5 Rosettes from the AA and 9 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide for several years running.
In April 2011, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Professional Practice by the University of Derby for his commitment to hospitality and the culinary arts and Master of Arts, honoris causa by the University of Nottingham in July 2012.
He has made numerous TV appearances including the BBC Great British Menu, the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, and Saturday Morning with James Martin.
His debut book titled Too Many Chiefs, Only One Indian was released in October 2012 and has since won eight international awards including Best Designed Cookbook at the annual awards of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in San Francisco.
In 2015, Sat won the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Special Award, The Catey Chef Award and Restaurant Sat Bains, with rooms coming top of the Sunday Times 100 Restaurants list. In January 2021, Michelin awarded Restaurant Sat Bains their new sustainability award, the green clover mark.
He joined the Roux Scholarship judging panel in 2016.