TODAY he is executive head chef of a popular city centre restaurant – but Ian Baker got started by rolling up his sleeves and doing the washing up.

He had always been interested in cooking having got hooked on cookery programmes as a youngster and got his first job in a kitchen when he was 15.

He loved the excitement and energy of being in a kitchen and got his break when he was asked to help on the starters’ section.

His talent was noticed by the head chef and he was encouraged to progress through the kitchen ranks and within six months was running his own section.

When I was 17, I was asked to help open The White Star in Oxford Street, Southampton,” he says.

“The executive chef at the time was a fountain of knowledge with more than 25 years of experience working in high-end restaurants in London.”

Ian has worked in 20 different restaurants, and says he has learnt from every one he has worked in.

“I wanted to experience different ways in which other kitchens worked, so I became a self employed relief chef, going from one restaurant to another gaining more knowledge and ideas as I progressed,” he explains.

“This was very useful as every kitchen functions differently and the styles of cooking varied enough to give me a better understanding of food in general.”

At the age of 21 Ian opened Coco Rio with his business partner Debbie Kruit and says he has never looked back.

He loves the energy, hands-on nature and creativity of his role.

“We change the menu regularly and work within seasons to get the best out of our produce,” he says.

“This helps to keep the job motivating and inspiring. It always makes your job worthwhile when customers compliment and appreciate the hard work involved.”

Since owning Coco Rio Ian has been involved in numerous radio shows, cooking and sharing his recipes and passion for fresh food, appearing on BBC Radio Solent’s breakfast show with Sally Taylor on several occasions and Jon Cuthill’s Faster Chef.

Ian loves cooking and says there isn’t anything he would refuse to cook.

“From the opening I wanted Coco Rio to be different,” he says. “One of the ways to achieve this was by involving ingredients that aren’t on your average menu. Over the years I have used produce such as ostrich, shark, bison and kangaroo but crocodile has always been my biggest seller and has been on the menu since day one.

“I must admit it did surprise me that customers have been so willing to try new things, but this is what my unique concept has always been.

“I wanted customers to have a memorable experience in a great atmosphere and the feedback has been wonderful.”

Click here to read a review of Coco Rio.

  • Coco Rio is at 18a Banister Street, Southampton. For more information, visit or call 023 8022 7700