Last month, executive chef Michael Wignall welcomed 40 lucky diners to Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, for our most recent Chef Eats Out event, run in association with Udale Speciality Foods. Katie Pathiaki reports
In the space of just 15 months, Michael Wignall has amassed a collection of awards at Gidleigh Park that many chefs could only dream of. Since becoming executive chef of the 24-bedroom hotel, Wignall has hardly missed a beat, securing two Michelin stars in September and the AA Restaurant Guide’s top award of five rosettes in January.
Last month, 40 fortunate foodies and fellow chefs had the opportunity of experiencing his award-winning food when they attended The Caterer’s most recent Chef Eats Out event, run in partnership with Udale Speciality Foods. Not only did they get the chance to taste Wignall’s sublime cooking and with beautifully paired wines, but the lunch also showcased some of Udale’s finest fare.
Of course, everyone hoped that Gidleigh Park wouldn’t be too dissimilar to the style of food Wignall was serving up at the Latymer at Pennyhill Park, where he ran his eponymous restaurant for almost a decade. The chef is a passionate supporter of all things British and uses vegetables and herbs picked from Gidleigh Park’s kitchen garden.
Speaking to attendees on the day, he said: “We have a few new dishes that are super- seasonal, and we’re using some ingredients we grow and pick ourselves. The first dish we are going to serve has never been done before, we literally made it up about 10 minutes ago! But there are also a few classics on the menu that we have been doing for years.”
On the day, the guests gathered for a pre-lunch reception in the lounge, where they were served a cider-Champagne cocktail. The seven-course lunch began with three snacks: a linseed cracker with brown shrimp, taramasalata and Tobiko fish roe; Thai green curry with Salcombe crab and smoked potato purée; a nunu (steamed dumpling) filled with cheese fondue; and a glutinous rice roll with pak choi, soy purée and spring onion.
Mary Galer, owner of the Miller of Mansfield in Goring, Reading, was blown away by the flavours of the linseed cracker – even after admitting she doesn’t usually like brown shrimp.
The snacks were followed by ‘celeriac and shell’ – celeriac dashi with Salcombe crab, avocado, pork and chia seed and marinated scallop. This dish was created specially for the event and was paired with a Greywacke Pinot Gris from Marlborough.
The second course, ‘sweetbread’, used calves’ sweetbread supplied by Udale and Dorset snails with pine, smoked ricotta, truffle and Jerusalem artichoke skin. Paired with d’Arenberg the Feral Fox Pinot Noir, it proved a hit. Mark Redwood, head chef of the Cottage in the Wood in Malvern Wells, said it was such a well-balanced dish, he could “eat it all day, every day”.
Jermaine Cunningham, junior sous pastry chef at HKK in London, added: “I loved the crispiness from the artichoke, and the sweetbreads were beautiful and succulent. The pine and smoked ricotta worked really well, and the wine pairing complemented the dish. For me, it was the highlight.
“When you are operating at two-Michelin-starred level, it’s all about consistency. Today Michael has had to cook for a large number of people, many of whom are chefs with high expectations, and he’s definitely delivered.”
Wignall’s classic dish ‘cassoulet of clams’ – a cassoulet of razor clams with cockles, squid gnocchi, quail egg and cuttlefish crisp, served with a Dobogó Tokaji Dry Furmint – was a favourite with Reg Pielesz, food and beverage operations manager at Harbour Hotels, who deemed it “small and dainty”. He said: “It was so fresh, and the squid gnocchi was beautiful.”
The fifth course, ‘lamb’, used a best end of Lakeland lamb cured in a Himalayan salt chamber and was supplied by Udale. It was served with salsify in milk and rosemary, anchoïade dressing, calcot onion and hen of the woods. Hospitality consultant Oliver Christopher said: “It was a good dish; the lamb itself was very subtle and you could tell it was cooked sous vide. The curing in the Udale Himalayan salt chamber made it different from your average lamb dish. The dressing was fantastic and I love hen of the woods – it’s an ingredient you don’t see a lot.”
Tony Byrne, general manager of the Royal Castle hotel in Dartmouth, Devon, also said the lamb dish stood out for him: “My favourite part was the hotpot served the side, with the lamb neck and potato – it was a really nice touch.”
Speaking about the ingredients supplied by Udale, Wignall said: “We’ve used Udale for years – it has a consistent product and we work really closely. It takes a long time to get to know a supplier, and for them to know what your standards are and what they can produce or get hold of for you. Without your suppliers, you’re nothing. You’ve got to work with quality suppliers to produce quality food.”
The ‘hazelnut’ dish with praline parfait, caramel, bitter chocolate and frozen yogurt concluded the meal before the chefs were taken on a tour around the kitchen.
Wignall explained that the intricate dishes were stripped back to accommodate the large party, but the guests were awe-inspired by the chef’s unique dishes. “I can’t believe the meal we had today was ‘stripped back’ – he’s definitely a two-star chef, pushing three,” said Cunningham, echoing a sentiment felt by many.
Linseed cracker with brown shrimp, taramasalata and Tobiko fish roe
Thai green curry with Salcombe crab and smoked potato purée
Nunu (steamed dumpling) filled with cheese fondue
Glutinous rice roll with pak choi, soy purée and spring onion
Celeriac and shell
Celeriac dashi, Salcombe crab, avocado, pork and chia seed, marinated scallop
Pinot Gris, Greywacke (New Zealand)
Calves’ sweetbread, Dorset snails, pine, smoked ricotta, truffle, Jerusalem artichoke skin
Pinot Noir, Feral Fox, D’Arenberg (Australia)
Pipers Farm chicken cooked in master stock, garlic panna cotta, frozen lovage, tapioca crackers
Sake, Katori 90, Terada Honke (Japan)
Cassoulet of clams
Cassoulet of razor clams, cockles, squid gnocchi, quail egg, cuttlefish crisp
Furmint, Dobogo (Hungary)
Best end of Lakeland lamb, salsify in milk and rosemary, anchoiade dressing, calcot onion, hen of the woods, served with a lamb neck hotpot
Coto Real, Rioja, Reserva (Spain)
Yorkshire rhubarb, ginger, Tahitian vanilla, burnt white chocolate
Moscato d’Asti, GD Vajra (Italy)
Praline parfait, caramel, bitter chocolate, frozen yogurt
Liqueur Muscat, Skillogalee (Australia)
A message from our sponsor
Udale Speciality Foods was delighted to sponsor Chef Eats Out at Gidleigh Park.
Michael Wignall never disappoints and he cooked a beautiful meal of fresh flavours that flowed seamlessly with his distinctive style. The cassoulet of clams was a highlight and – a little biased – the lamb was stunning.
Udale is a family business, founded by our great-grandfather at the turn of the last century, and it works hard to constantly develop and improve its services and product ranges by working with existing and future customers to meet and exceed their expectations.
After attending catering college and a stint working in Spain, Michael Wignall joined the team at Broughton Park in Preston, where he worked under the guidance of Paul Heathcote before going with the chef to his flagship restaurant, the Longridge eatery.
He won his first Michelin star while working at Old Beams under Nigel Wallis and has since had a glittering career, making impressions on the guidebooks with each change of workplace.
Today, Wignall holds two Michelin stars for his cuisine, which takes influences from the chef’s travels to the Fast East and Japan. Speaking to The Caterer earlier this year, he said: “I’m forever evolving my dishes. I get bored quite easily and so I like to experiment with my food, but not to the detriment of the dish. These days, customers and staff like lighter dishes but the flavours are all there – everything is put on a plate for a reason and every ingredient should be allowed to shine.”
Michael Wignall on hosting Chef Eats Out
Why do you think events like this are important for the industry?
It’s great for like-minded chefs to get together, to get out of the kitchen and let their hair down. It’s equally enjoyable for us to cook for chefs. You only get to meet people at awards ceremonies or events like that, and I think everyone needs an excuse to go somewhere where you’ve thought: ‘I’d love to go there’.
Do you think there’s a bit of added pressure when you’re serving to a room full of chefs?
I like cooking for chefs, but I want to do what I would do for everyone. We’re at this stage where we’re pretty consistent now, so we just cook how we normally cook every day, and it’s nice that people see that.
How did you choose what you were going to serve? You said that you made a dish 10 minutes before putting it on the menu?
Well, we only plated it up about 10 minutes before, but we change our menu all the time – not just for the seasons, we get local ingredients on a day-to-day basis and we change it depending on what’s available.
We’re always evolving. I hate doing menus months in advance, so we plan it but there will be two or three dishes that will have changed by the time it comes round.
It’s not just me who does the dishes – everyone gets involved and has their say and is involved in creating new ones. For me, that’s important, both for the young and older people in the kitchen, that they’re involved in that thinking process.
Grape, yoghurt and celery
For the granola
55g virgin pomace oil
100g light soft brown sugar
1 vanilla pod (split)
6g sea salt
60g pine nuts
60g flaked almonds
100g hazelnuts (blanched and peeled)
Pre-heat the oven to 165ºC. Melt together the virgin pomace oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla. Once fully melted, mix in the oats, cinnamon and sea salt.
Place onto a tray and bake in the oven, stirring every four or five minutes. After 10 minutes add the pine nuts, almonds and hazelnuts to the tray. Put back in the oven for 6-10 minutes until lightly coloured.
For the yoghurt sorbet
5g super neutrose
350ml spring water
30g milk powder
3g sea salt
70g yoghurt (full fat)
10ml lemon juice
Mix the neutrose with the sugar, then add to the spring water, glucose, milk powder and sea salt. Lightly blend together for a few seconds, then bring to 92ºC for three minutes. Allow to cool and mix together with the yoghurt and lemon juice. Place in a Pacojet beaker and freeze.
For the grape jelly
240ml freshly squeezed grape juice
2.4g agar agar
Bring both ingredients to a boil at 98ºC. Once boiling, pass straight onto a half gastronome non-stick tray and allow to set.
For the semi-dry grapes
200g Muscat grapes (halved and de-seeded)
40g icing sugar
Lay the grapes on a dehydrator tray and dust with the icing sugar. Semi-dry in a dehydrator for two hours at 64ºC.
For the celery
3 sticks of celery, peeled and brunoised
Peel and brunoise two of the sticks. Juice the remaining stick with all the peelings and trimmings from the brunoise. Cook the brunoise in the juice at 92ºC for six minutes.
210ml spring water
3g Stab 2000 (stabiliser)
500ml Muscat grape juice
Boil the glucose and water for 30 seconds at 95ºC. Hand-blend the Stab 2000 into the mixture. Allow to cool for five minutes and then add the grape juice. Pour the grape juice into a Pacojet and allow to freeze at -24ºC. Blitz on the ‘snow’ setting.
To finish the dish
Fresh apple brunoise
Cut a small piece of the grape jelly sheet and lay it on a plate. Lightly sprinkle the granola around the outside. Rocher the sorbet in the centre and then sprinkle the brunoise of apple and celery and the celery cress around the outside and over the sorbet. Liberally sprinkle the grape snow and the semi-dried grapes around the outside of the dish.