Mark Brega, executive head chef at the Fairmont Windsor Park in Egham, Surrey, speaks to Caroline Baldwin about creating a wide range of F&B concepts and offering luxury to all at Accor's third Fairmont property in the UK, due to open in August.
What does modern luxury dining mean to you?
Luxury today is about offering everything you can to a wider audience – it's not all about the guy turning up in a Bentley any more. Fairmont is pitching itself towards quality for everyone – it's for the millionaires and for someone who wants to come in and have a roast on a Sunday. It's about driving quality through the products we buy locally, the way we serve and the uniforms we wear.
Luxury today is about offering everything you can to a wider audience – it's not all about the guy turning up in a Bentley any more
You talk about creating special moments through food, can you share some of those?
I love creating dishes that spark a memory or a feeling. Like when you have your first hot chocolate as a kid on a cold winter's day, which I used as inspiration for a sensory hot chocolate with Baileys foam at the Royal Crescent. For British Airways, we reproduced one of the original Concorde menus 50 years later with a modern twist.
At Fairmont, we've got a wonderful garden. We take kids around the herb garden, we'll offer greenhouses for private dining or a breakfast around a fire pit in the grounds – something where people will say, "wow, that's completely different".
Tell us about some of the concepts you will be overseeing
1215 is all about local British produce and, in essence, fine dining, but we're trying not to be a stuffy, starched experience – it's very much more relaxed fine dining based on pure quality.
We're using Crown Estate venison as an alternative to a classic beef steak dish, using the haunch to create a small hotpot to be served on the side with celeriac and pickled blackberries.
Our corn-fed chicken is stuffed with a herb mousse and water-bathed before roasting in a foaming herb butter. It's served with a potato terrine, which is sliced potato baked in butter, pressed and then pan-fried to crisp the outside. It's served with pickled artichoke, artichoke crisps, smoked garlic purée and a rich chicken jus. It's a simple but well-balanced dish with the light pickle cutting the rich jus.
One of our desserts is a play on a classic millionaire shortbread, using miso to make the salted caramel and with a stout ice-cream with a malty taste to balance the sweetness of the caramel.
A dish we'll serve in our European-Middle Eastern fusion restaurant, Moreish, will be Scottish salmon, cured with a house gin from Schroders' Bar next door. We'll be using the traditional gravlax method with a modern twist, using gin, spices and lemon curd to cure the salmon. That will be served with sea vegetables, fennel, samphire and crème fraîche, with a little lemon oil over the top – a really nice light dish for when we open in the summer.
What other food offerings will be available?
My two favourite outlets are the spa and the Orchid Tea Room. At the spa we'll offer classic burgers, cream teas and Champagne, but we're also looking to hire a wellbeing chef who will create dishes for guests who want their meal tailored around their spa experience. We'll serve smoothies such as Liquid Gold, made from bee pollen, mango, honey and flax seed. I've learned so much from working with the spa team and it's changed my view – a spa menu can be much more than a Caesar salad.
Meanwhile, afternoon tea at the Orchid will be pure indulgence – it's not nutritional, you're there to spoil yourself. There will be a traditional afternoon tea stand with finger sandwiches, as well as a venison sausage roll and a crayfish tartlet. We're also creating a rhubarb and rose éclair and a strawberry roly-poly with pistachio. I can just imagine a husband and wife having a silly argument over who's going to have which cake. Scones will be cooked fresh to order, and there will be a selection of cakes sliced and bought to the table, alongside a wonderful tea and Champagne selection.
People will lose their entire afternoon eating great food and will have wished they had brought some jogging bottoms to change into afterwards.
- 2020-present Executive head chef, the Fairmont Windsor Park, Egham, Surrey
- 2018-2020 Executive chef, On Air Dining
- 2015-2018 Customer dedicated development chef, British Airways, Gate Group
- 2014-2015 Consultant support chef, the Kings Head hotel, Cirencester
- 2014-2015 F&B director, the Monopol hotel, Wrocław, Poland
- 2012-2014 Head chef hospitality, Sodexo/ RA – HSBC Tower, Canary Wharf, London
- 2010-2012 Senior sous chef, the Lansdowne Club, London
- 2010 Senior sous chef, the Landau restaurant at the Langham, London
- 2009-2010 Head chef, Westleton Crown hotel, Southwold, Suffolk
- 1999-2009 Demi chef to head chef, the Royal Crescent hotel, Bath
Mark Brega on the staffing crisis
"From back of house through to chefs, I've got nearly 55 staff to recruit for opening and I've got around 18 in place. Like a lot of chefs, I have concerns about filling those roles – there's a huge shortage in the industry and just in this area alone you can see how many people are looking for chefs at the moment.
"We're quite lucky because we are something quite special and I think we can find some special people who want to be involved in this.
"It's recruiting kitchen porters and stewards that's giving me some sleepless nights: they are sometimes the most important people in the kitchen. If I don't recruit all the chef positions, I can limit the amount of covers or dishes, but if we don't have KPs, that's a big problem.
"Covid and Brexit has not helped the industry, but it's actually been an ongoing problem for quite a number of years, over money and hours – if I don't want to do an 80-hour week (and I have done them in the past), I don't expect my team to.
"We need to find a way to encourage people back into the industry and find chefs who want to learn and create something special. The people I bring into my team are the head chefs of the future. I still love bringing in whole fish, lamb, rabbits, and getting the commis and the chefs de partie to prep those animals – if we don't teach these youngsters, if they're just opening a packet, what is inspiring them to stay in the industry?"
We need to find a way to encourage people back into the industry and find chefs who want to learn and create something special
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In