Good things come in threes: Meet The Oxford Collection’s trio of Head ChefsOct 5, 2023
To capture the essence of our culinary journey at The Oxford Collection, let’s start by whisking you to a world where every bite tells a story, where innovation meets tradition, and where three remarkable head chefs lead the charge.
Since the beginning of civilisation, the number three has always had a magical quality — it’s a symbol of harmony and creativity that, in our kitchens, equates to an absolute feast for the senses.
After all, what’s a birthday dinner without a delightful pudding to cap off the celebration?
We hope you agree that Quod, Gees and Parsonage Grill, while each independent, individual, interesting in their own right, are bound together by a shared commitment to the art of relaxed, yet exquisite dining. It’s a tradition that traces its roots back to Jeremy’s early days at Browns, and continues to flourish today.
Behind our three restaurants are Head Chefs Rohan Kashid, Lee Parsons, and Alessandro Tufanisco — they too come with their own unique, quirky, and captivating personalities. These are the chefs who bring the magic to your dining experience, and they’re here to spill the beans on their stories, inspirations, and mouthwatering dishes… and prove that when it comes to food, three is indeed the charm.
Rohan Kashid, Quod Restaurant & Bar
Congratulations are due to Quod’s head chef Rohan, who’s been given a second hat to wear as Head of Menu Development at The Oxford Collection’s restaurants. It’s a brand-new role, destined to foster firm relationships with the Head Chefs at Gees and Parsonage Grill and firmly instil the ethos of good honest food across The Oxford Collection while honing the unique styles of each establishment.
“I’m a big believer in fresh produce at its peak. A peach in July is good, but a peach in autumn is the best, bursting with juice and intense flavour.”
“I’m excited about the new role,” Rohan says, his eyes lighting up. “It gives me more responsibility and creativity. The idea is not to make the three restaurants the same. Gees will be Gees and Parsonage Grill will always be Parsonage Grill. They’ll keep their distinct personalities, but my job is to oversee the creation of all the menus to draw the very best out of the ingredients and to align the supply chain with local suppliers.”
“Farm to fork, it’s about making fresh produce shine with a little bit of chef magic.”
Creating no-fuss dishes, as good as they can possibly be, is Rohan’s mantra. He doesn’t believe in stacking food in towers. He dislikes too much preening, too many decorative garnishes for the sake of it. “You have to be skilled to keep the dishes simple. You can’t hide,” he explains. A case in point, he adds, is the Italian way of cooking. “I admire how gutsy it is to keep it simple with good olive oil, good tomato, good cheese, and basil.”
Seasonality is just as key. “We know what’s coming in, so straight away we adapt the menus. That means blackberries, apples, and plums at this time of year, and introducing crumbles and shortbreads. You have the courgette, the red pepper, the aubergine — I’m already imagining ratatouille — and braised red cabbage. Things are not going to be better than when they’re in season.” It’s fun, he adds, to take delivery of a box of ingredients in the morning, and transform it into something excellent.
Rohan wasn’t always so passionate about cooking. He fell rather than jumped into the hospitality world (few other options) when he enrolled as a young student at catering school near Mumbai in India.
He was fortunate enough to be selected by Taj Hotels to join a course on management training. A spell working in big kitchens in different cities and specialising in banquets for huge audiences, feeding 10,000 on one lavish occasion, followed. The experience gave him discipline, and he discovered he had a natural ability to be a leader.
The UK then came knocking, loud and insistent enough for a young man with a natural curiosity of the world. He was invited to join Thistle Hotels in 2005, which led to positions with Marriott, the Royal Garden Hotel in London, Hilton, the Landmark London, and The Dorchester. He made his home in Oxford in 2014, originally as Quod’s senior sous chef.
Seven years on, he likens the restaurant, which sits alongside Old Bank Hotel on Oxford’s High Street, to Britain. It’s at the heart of the city, it’s bustling, and it caters to casual meetings and celebratory dinners alike. “Different people from different parts of the world are welcomed here, and make it into a united kingdom.
You can come in and have the rib eye steak as a graduating student with mum and dad, or you can have the set lunch menu over a business meeting, or simply a soup or coffee. It’s not rigid. The menu is varied, with something for everyone. If you look at the fish, we have oysters, octopus, scallops, sea bass, salmon, and sometimes monkfish. For the meat, there’s chicken breast, burgers, calf liver, diced lamb, lamb cutlets…”
Asking him if he prefers breakfast, lunch or dinner, he says is like asking him to name his favourite child. He loves them all equally. As a leader, he’s just as committed to nurturing young talent. “I’m proud that so many people come The Oxford Collection first as kitchen porters, and today they are sous chefs and senior sous chefs.”
Lee Parsons, Gees Restaurant & Bar
Since securing the role of Gees Head Chef in summer 2023, Lee’s been embracing the small, family-run nature of the business. He credits much of his promotion to Rohan who taught him essential skills, plus a huge helping of patience and enthusiasm, while guiding him at Quod for seven years.
“Venison, pan-seared pink, and served with red cabbage and celeriac puree, is my proudest dish on the current autumn menu.”
Since his arrival at Gees as Head Chef earlier this year, Lee has embraced the role of leader and mentoring a young (but enthusiastic) team. By his own admission, though, he’s perhaps most content when he’s dicing and slicing in the kitchen. “Preparing monkfish is probably my favourite,” he muses. “I like the butchery, then pan-frying it, and serving it with braised fennel and romesco.”
Lee studied art and design at college, and still enjoys drawing as a hobby and dabbling in tattoo artistry. The fact that there’s a kitchen knife inked on his body hints at the link between the creativity that runs through his veins, and the artistry he brings to the restaurant’s dishes in both the preparation and the presentation.
“I do feel that art aligns with cooking. How you use the ingredients and plate them needs a visual eye.”
Lee’s creative touch is evident on the Gees menu, where he’s reintroduced an all-new Express Lunch, delighting diners with swift yet delectable midday options once more. He’s also breathed fresh life into the traditional roast, infusing it with Mediterranean flair and replacing the conventional Yorkshire pudding with bold flavours like chorizo, reflecting his penchant for innovation.
His entry into catering came via a part-time kitchen porter job while he was still a 16-year-old student. “I got stuck in, found a love for it, and learnt on the job,” he says. After working in pub kitchens for eight years, his moment of clarity came when he then moved to a restaurant in Bicester Village that focused on fresh-food cooking. This, he knew, was his calling.
It led him to Gees as Chef de Partie in 2004, where he loved the family-run nature of the business, then Quod for seven years. The latter in particular was a great experience, he reflects, under the tutelage of Head Chef Rohan. “He’s one of the best chefs I’ve ever worked for and he taught me a lot. My key takeaway from him was patience.”
Now back at Gees, he adds: “The ingredients at both restaurants are similar, but while Quod is more English with a nod to European flavours, Gees is Mediterranean. “Chilli, garlic, thyme and rosemary are my go-tos, and we use a lot of Spanish, French and Italian references such as tapas, paella dishes, and whole, fresh fish.”
The freedom to reinvent dishes appeals to Lee’s artistic nature, but in the same breath he highlights that simplicity is the key to success. “You can play with flavours without overcomplicating things. You need to follow the seasons, and go with the flow, working with what’s available and fresh on the day.”
Alessandro Tufanisco, Parsonage Grill
New to The Oxford Collection in July 2023, Alessandro is relishing being Head Chef for the first time, adapting the traditional style of cooking he witnessed as a child in Sicily to the Parsonage’s 17th-century surroundings.
“Using fresh produce is a blessing in life. We have to be grateful that we have so many local suppliers around Oxford providing the best English produce to create our dishes and make them really stand out.”
Swapping the dreamy beaches of Sicily for the dreaming spires of Oxford, Alessandro’s journey from Kitchen Porter to Head Chef has, to borrow a culinary analogy, been a piece of cake.
He’s delighted to be leading the kitchen at the Parsonage Grill, his first tenure as Head Chef, which began in July 2023. “What do I enjoy most about my job?” he reflects. “I always try to transfer my inspiration and passion to my team, so that we have the same goal. I think being a leader comes naturally to me, and I love nurturing chefs with different backgrounds, cultures, and at different stages of their career. Of course, I’m always cooking, too.”
Alessandro’s romance with honest, sincere dishes, using picked-that-day ingredients, began when he was knee-high. “In Italy, we learn to cook from an early age, we watch our mothers and grandmothers preparing fresh food every day. I was making pizzas in Sicily with recipes passed from family to family, generation to generation. Fresh produce, fresh yeast, wood-fired ovens, and caring about quality seem to make everything taste better.”
No matter that he’s moved from Mediterranean flavours to modern-day British classics, these roots are dug deep. “Simple has always worked. I always put my touch wherever I can at the Parsonage Grill, but the menus are resolutely classic and seasonal, prepared with seasonal ingredients and top-quality cuts of meat.”
Alessandro made London’s bustling Camden Town his home in 2014, primarily to give him the opportunity to improve his knowledge and skillset. His first job was at a grill, where he prepared the onion rings, mayonnaise, and chutneys between barbecuing burgers and steaks. It was the best grounding.
His next position was at Selfridges. Working alongside admirable head chefs such as Mark Hix MBE, then led him to Soho Farmhouse in Chipping Norton, where he perfected his skills as a Sous Chef. The Parsonage Grill, with so much history engrained in its walls, is now where he can truly embrace the essence of traditional British cuisine. He does admit to having risotto on the menu — his little part of Sicily transferred to British shores — but the likes of shepherd’s pie and sticky toffee pudding reign supreme. “It’s a five-star experience,” he says. “Our guests care about the quality of the food. They expect the best, and we make every dish to order.”
“Whoever came up with shepherd’s pie is a genius. The lamb reminds me of the ragù in Italy, and I adore mashed potato. I follow the traditional recipe — it’s the best combination ever — but my twist is to use Guinness instead of wine.”
Alessandro feels lucky to have worked with people who have taught him what they know. But maybe he’s being rather modest. If anything, this is a chef who proves anyone can achieve their dreams with hard work, determination, and an open mind. His ultimate ambition? To become Executive Chef one day.
The same but different
“It’s an exciting new chapter,” says Jeremy Mogford, Founder and Managing Director of The Oxford Collection. “Our three talented Head Chefs bring utter craftsmanship to their work, transporting diners to the sunny Mediterranean shores at Gees, across Europe in Quod, and into the beating heart of traditional Britain at Parsonage Grill. They’re using the same or similar techniques and expertise, but different flavours every day. That’s what’s close to my heart.”