Fold Bistro: Marple’s new restaurant has an Exec Chef with a star spangled CV

We caught up with Marple lad Ryan Stafford for a chat about cooking for US presidents and his plans to dominate the Greater Manchester food scene.

By Kelly Bishop | Last updated 20 April 2023

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At 37, Ryan Stafford has done more than most lads from small villages do in double those years. The Exec Chef at the helm of the recently opened Fold Bistro & Bottle Shop was born in Marple and has returned to open his own restaurant after years travelling the world cooking for the most famous people you can think of. 

He reels off a list of names: Trump, Obama, Clinton, both of the Bushes, Kwasi Kwarteng, Boris, Liz Truss. He talks of the protocols involved when cooking for presidents, the random checks, nobody is allowed to open drinks – you can imagine why. He once got given a “secret handshake coin”, a commemorative presidential coin that’s slipped into someone’s hand when shaking it to say job well done.

Ryan Stafford with Anthony Joshua when he worked as his private chef. Image: Ryan Stafford

But how on earth did a lad from Marple find himself cooking for five of the last six US presidents?

Stafford grew up in a single parent household as his mum scraped to make ends meet. His cooking career started in the kitchens of local golf clubs and hotels before he took a year out to go travelling. He came back certain that he wanted to be a chef and enrolled at Tante Marie cookery school (now Gordon Ramsay Cooking Academy). 

“About a month before I graduated, Adam Byatt of Trinity in Clapham, a one star restaurant, came in and [said], I’m gonna teach you something a bit different today. He pulls out this bird and he’s like, does anyone know what this is? I’ve had this flown in illegally from the Loire Valley. He cut it open and he pulls something out and says, this is foie gras. This animal went through catastrophic things to give you this ingredient. You will never waste this ingredient after you see what it’s gone through.”

Cooking fresh pasta for Anthony Joshua. Image: Ryan Stafford

Stafford went straight up to him after class to ask for a job. Byatt was impressed by his attitude and told him, “Knock on any door in London unannounced. Find out the Exec chef’s name. Don’t send an email. Don’t send a letter. Show that effort that you want to be there. We can teach you anything.”

Graduating a month later Stafford did stages at Trinity, Grosvenor Square, Maze, Angela Hartnett, The Boxwood, and Pétrus and was offered a job at most of them. He chose The Boxwood, working for Gordon Ramsay in 2007. 

“It’s the only job I ever walked out of.”

He doesn’t want to divulge much about his time under Ramsay but he talks of a “military vibe” and “earning peanuts, working 16 hour days” which left him in “a really dark place”. 

Treacle cured salmon at Fold Bistro. Image: Fold Bistro

The next day, he knocked on the door at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and asked to speak to Andrew Parkinson. He wasn’t there. “I went three days in a row and on the third day I got to see him,” recalls Stafford, “He said, are you the kid that’s been down every day this week? I was like, yeah. He said, What do you want? I said, a job. He said, Why don’t you come down and do a stage? I did three out of the five days agreed and he offered me a job. I spent four years there.”

It was completely different to working for Ramsay. He even got pulled aside a few times for having strong words with people and told: “We don’t do that here. We sit down, or go outside for a cigarette.” He went on sourcing trips to Italy with Gennaro and Jamie – experiences you couldn’t win in competitions.

In his second year at Fifteen, his Exec Chef and mentor Parkinson secretly put him forward for the second series of MasterChef The Professionals. Two and a half thousand applied, 64 started. Stafford came fourth. After that, he won Gastronomy by the Seine – a global young chef competition.

A star spangled culinary career

In 2010 he went to work as a sous chef for Richard Cubbin at Alison Price, the lead caterer for the Government. He was catering for “anything from a crisis meeting on Syria to presidential visits”. 

“I remember coming out of the British Museum for a meeting with [Cubbin]. I said, right, they want chefs in longboats and a river Nile built with live cooking stations in there, and the river will go around the Egyptian sculpture gallery. How are we going to do that? He said, well, that’s your job. I realised I must have had a talent to have that belief from early days. To put myself in these tough kitchens and be around such ultra talented people.”

A canape on a tasting menu at Fold Bistro. Image: Kelly Bishop

After four years cooking for presidents he went to work as a private chef for “an ultra high net worth family”, working between their houses in Miami, Courchevel in the French Alps and San Tropez, and on their yacht in the Mediterranean. “I’d get up at six in the morning and get the quad down to see the fish guy. It was quite romantic. Go down to the port. Have an espresso with the butcher. Then go bust your backside. I had an outdoor terrace on the back of the villa. It’s a totally different vibe to working in a basement in Knightsbridge.

“Their parties were crazy. You’ve got the house of Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John. All the families [are] measured by what [their] party itinerary is. You’re paying anywhere between five to 50 grand for a seat. Most of them are charity driven. DiCaprio is big on wildlife so even though it’s all cigar smoking, crystal glaring, Rolls Royce pulling up, all the money is for good. I did that for two years, but got quite claustrophobic creatively. All of a sudden it’s not how I think the best soufflé or sauce is, it’s what Kelly tells me is the best. It’s what your client likes the best.

“The lady of the house was macrobiotic. Japanese-led, grain vegan diet. I walked in one day to her nibbling on a Snickers, hungover. My world just crushed in front of me. We’re talking about not using oil, only baking never frying, not using garlic, never using onions. For a chef, they are fundamental methods and foundational ingredients. As that came to a close, I got approached by Alison Price again.”

The interior of Fold Bistro and its bottle shop. Image: Fold Bistro

Back at AP, he worked at Kensington Palace, did the Olympics in 2012 and was running the kitchen when 27 year old Anthony Joshua fought Klitschko and won. He tells stories of being in the room during a live video call with Dr Dre. From then he went on to work with Mark Ellison, Head Nutritionist at Man United. 

After that, he went to a competitor: Rocket Foods, a move he says lost him a lot of friends. 

“I left a great company at the strongest point in my creativity. I’d been given everything to fly the nest with a guaranteed flight. I said to my boss, I feel like I’m in a greenhouse and my flower head’s just poked out the window and I’m ready to go in the field. He was like, but you can have all that here. It was a bit of a dad-son moment. I’d never had a dad around. It was real gut wrenching and the hardest thing ever but I had to leave home and grow – and I did and I made the ends up by respectfully having those conversations in due course.”

Going solo

In 2022, Stafford decide to go freelance, “I had all the skills, all the experience and all the right people around me to go and build a great family life, enjoy the fruits of my labour and cherry pick projects that make me leap out of bed in the morning.”

“I’ve always loved my job, but I got to the top of that pyramid and it wasn’t what I thought it was when I was a young chef all those years ago. Some 21 years later, cooking for all these very glamorous moments and people really wasn’t the dream. It’s quite heartbreaking really, reflecting on it. I wouldn’t change none of it but it becomes a bit of a grind with people and managing and renumeration and financials. It absolutely screws the fun out of everything.”

Chef Ryan Stafford outside 10 Downing Street. Image: Ryan Stafford

One day, the now co-owner of Fold Bistro Michael Harrod rang him and said, “Please tell me it’s true that you don’t have a job.” 

Old friends since school, they’d travelled the world together and always talked of opening a restaurant. Stafford came on board as Exec Chef, hiring Great British Menu finalist Craig Sherrington as Head Chef to run the kitchen. The plan was to “do something grown up in Marple. Not too scary. Somewhere you can come in with your scruffs on and have a piece of cake in the morning but also come for celebratory reasons in the evening.” 

So what’s the food like at Fold Bistro? 

Stafford loves to play with nostalgic themes in unexpected ways. This is illustrated in dishes like the airy langoustine beignets he calls “scampi fries”, as well as chip shop croquettes and pizza arancini. Treacle was a staple of his mum’s culinary repertoire so he’s created a treacle cured salmon dish with pink beets and watercress in honour of the vintage tin of black gloop that everyone has superglued to a cupboard shelf. There’s a Jersey Royal dish with caponata inspired by the jacket potatoes he used to eat every day after school.

Meanwhile, on the more experimental end of things, East is East is a compressed watermelon dish with lemongrass, coconut, kaffir lime and curry granola. And let’s not forget the signature squid bolognese, which sees pasta made from squid dressed in a ragu also made from squid. It’s seafood turned up to 11.

The kitchen team at Fold L-R Chef De Partie, Alex, Exec Chef, Ryan, Head Chef, Craig and Chef De Partie, Tim. Image: Fold Bistro

A locals’ favourite on the menu has been the lamb hot pot; an open ravioli of crimp-edged Fazzoletti aka “handkerchief pasta” topped with a rich lamb stew. But this dish is changing for spring. Its new iteration will be a lamb pie and mash with fire roasted lamb fillet, peas, all butter puff pastry, miso mash and mint gravy. He assures me it’s far more elegant than it sounds. 

Every New Year as a kid, Stafford’s mum would take him to the Yang Sing. So he has created a salt n pepper sea bass dish with prawn cracker and tempura green beans that he says encases all of those childhood memories. Avant garde Italian chef Massimo Bottura of the three star Osteria Francescana is the inspiration for a dessert themed around 80s favourite the 99 ice cream.

But Fold Bistro is no small town project. There are big plans for sites two and three “within the next three to five years”. A restaurant in central Manchester city centre is on the cards while another somewhere in the wider region will involve “fire” and “Italy” with a smidgen of influence from Neil Rankin at Temper and his “hunter gather manner of cooking.”

“What’s really important to us is that we’re new, exciting and everything we do we’re doing with care and thought,” says Stafford of Fold Bistro, “We wanted a slow burner. It’s actually gone a lot faster than we wanted but we want to give this first year everything we’ve got”.