The head chef at Rothay Manor speaks to Lisa Jenkins about shaking up the Lake District's food scene, improving his bread baking and using the time during lockdown to develop dishes and menus.
Can you tell us a little bit about what's been keeping you busy since winning your Acorn Award in 2020?
I've been busy working on new ideas for the restaurant, adding more of my own style into every dish on the menu. I love exploring new flavour combinations and I've recently been playing with Asian influences, fermented foods and British ingredients, which we can forage from on our doorstep.
What have you been able to do with your kitchen team during lockdown?
In the first lockdown in 2020, I encouraged the kitchen team to get out and give foraging a go. One of the things we collected was wild garlic flower buds, which we pickled for dishes on the menu.
Unfortunately, during the current lockdown we haven't been able to get into the kitchen, but I've given the team a challenge to develop elements or dishes that we'll test once we're all back together. I can't wait to see what they all come up with, and although we won't have space for everything on the menu, it's a great team-building exercise that supports their own development, too.
I've given the team a challenge to develop elements or dishes that we'll test once we're all back together
What's the style of food and hospitality in the Lake District? Do you want to shake things up?
The Lake District is home to a broad range of styles – from the traditional country house hotel-style dining to more modern and international influences. I am hoping to shake things up a little, offering guests something different that they might not expect from this part of the world by taking the very best of British produce, treating it with time-honoured skills, and serving it with an Asian influence.
Have you been doing anything to keep yourself personally motivated during lockdown – any extra training, new skills?
I struggle to switch off my brain when it comes to new ideas for the restaurant, something is always ticking over. But I did give myself the challenge of upping my bread baking skills – although truth be told, it's coming in second place as I became a father last month!
How have you been involved in the recent refurbishment at Rothay Manor? Will it mean a revamp of your menus?
We are constantly evolving, whether that be recipe development, staff training or looking at our service equipment. I'm fortunate to work closely with Jenna and Jamie Shail, the owners of Rothay Manor, and we're all open to feedback and working together to make the business the best it can be for our guests and the team.
When I'm working on new menus I do several developments, and the feedback from Jamie, Jenna and the kitchen team is crucial to what the finished dish will be. I'm lucky that they're always supportive and open to ideas about possible restaurant changes, dish ideas or service style.
((How has your background working with high-profile chefs such as Simon Rimmer, Sam Moody and Ben Mounsey shaped your own cooking style?**
Working with those great chefs gave me a solid platform of experience to go forward on my own. They all have different cooking styles, which has helped me in developing my own. I'm particularly drawn to slightly unconventional ideas, bold flavours or alternative ways of using ingredients. I think it's the skills and knowledge base I developed in my early days that gave me the confidence to think outside the box in shaping my own repertoire.
Having been a semi-finalist in National Chef of the Year a couple of times, will you put yourself forward for NCOTY in 2021?
We will have to wait and see what 2021 brings, but I have a feeling that it's going to be a busy year despite the lockdown!
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