Chef Michael Caines grew up near Exeter where his parents, who were school teachers recognised his early interest in food and cooking and set him on his way to a culinary career. Following two years of catering college, an Exeter chef sent him to the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. He was then recommended to Raymond Blanc in Oxfordshire, for whom he had to do a three-day trial without pay. Three years later, Blanc arranged for him to cook at the Michelin three-star Cote d’Or in Burgundy. He cooked there for 15 months before moving to another three-star establishment, Restaurant Jamin, in Paris.
Michael’s career to date has been well documented, through to becoming Head Chef at Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon.
Early In 2017, Michael opened Lympstone Manor, a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant set in Parkland overlooking the river Exe near Exmouth, Devon. He describes Lympstone as “the realisation of a dream, my vision of country house hospitality for the 21st Century”. This has been a very personal project for him and one that has seen him involved in every detail. From the first vines being planted to establish a vineyard in the estate to produce, in three years time, a house champagne-method sparkling wine.
We asked Michael about his continued involvement in catering for the Williams Formula 1 team.
Q: You have spent a couple of seasons working with the Williams F1 team, in particular in Monaco… how much fun was that and what was Monaco in 2017 like?
A: Being anywhere with Williams F1 is amazing but Monaco is the best. This year I was able to cook on a yacht for Williams and go to their VIP party, along with attending events on the Financial Times yacht. I was also invited to Martini’s VIP party which was a brilliant evening. We have also just held a charity event with Williams here at the manor.
Q: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you have not had opportunity to visit)
Q: Japanese cuisine sometimes includes ingredients we may not be familiar with, Is there a food you would not eat?
A: Bugs, or anything very obscure like a form of testicles or spiders.
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
A: I would make this the longest meal ever, most probably a tasting menu which included a seafood platter to start followed by roast chicken with a combination of summer fruits and sorbet to finish.
Q: If you could change any misconceptions about restaurants/food, what would they be?
A: I view food like it is an elite sport, great food, and food wealth is what it’s about. Not about the expense but how well it is cooked and how good it is. There is plenty of places that have great food and are cheaper. It’s to do with the combination of flavours and spices.
Q: What is your favourite dish at Lympstone Manor in which you use produce from your most local supplier?
A: There is a number at present, however Jacobs Lamb, boulangerie & confit shoulder, pea puree and tapenade jus, the lamb is from Powderham Castle, which we can see from our terrace.
Q: If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?
A: Keith Floyd because he is a legend.
Favourite Tables were delighted to include Lympstone Manor on our Unique Destinations pages and wondered what you would consider as your own favourite tables….
Firstly Zuma in London because of its fusion of Japanese cooking and Asian styled foods, and then The Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc – it is my favourite country house hotel, the food and experience is exceptional.
It is our great pleasure to speak with Steven Ellis, who is Chef Patron at the newly opened Oxford Blue, “a pub that serves great food” – that’s his introduction to what is one of the most popular New Openings of 2017.
Originally from Lancashire, Steven spent most of his childhood growing up in the Middle East. Aged 16 he returned to England, enrolling at the Birmingham College of Food & Tourism, before moving to London to follow his dream.
Steven’s talents were developed working in well-known restaurants such as Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and the three Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, but his vision of creating an extraordinary culinary experience within the comfort of a country style gastro pub came from his time spent at Andrew Pern’s Star Inn in Harome.
His passion to promote a part of our country’s heritage that hasn’t so much been forgotten but needs to be brought back to life drives him. His dishes are sophisticated yet familiar, a perfect match for the relaxed surroundings that this charming pub has to offer.
We asked chef how he would best describe the Oxford Blue:
” I think of the Oxford Blue very much as a pub. We have locals who come in for a drink and also people who like to come in to dine with us. The beauty of the Oxford Blue is that you can come for a casual drink while reading the newspaper by the open fire or come in with friends for a meal. But also you can bring the other half and enjoy a romantic meal for two. The Oxford Blue has the ability to change for everyone’s needs whether it be a quick meal at lunch or a long evening of 3-4 courses with friends and family.”
The Oxford Blue has had some amazing reviews and coverage in the press, we asked – What do you think about reviews?
“I feel reviews are healthy for restaurants but only if they are presented in a constructive way, so the owners and staff can take it on board and help better themselves and their business. It’s always good to get an outsiders opinion as sometimes the obvious things can be overlooked when you are working long hours and focused on delivering what you believe to be the best you can do. What I don’t agree on is when someone has a grudge towards a business or just unhappy with them and because of this come in with a negative attitude where everything the restaurant does is seen as ‘wrong’ “
You have worked in Fine Dining Michelin Star awarded restaurants. How important is a Michelin star?
“The benefits I feel a restaurant achieves by obtaining a star is that one, they earn the right to be listed in this exclusive guide but also become noticed by a wider audience of foodies, people who share the same passion for eating out as we do for delivering a high level food and service. But can also attract people who appreciate the hard work that is put into delivering a great experience.”
Achieving your dream here at Oxford Blue must have been hard work, who influenced you in the past?
“One of my biggest idols, since I was young, has to be Marco Pierre White. The passion he had to deliver the best experience to his guests is inspiring but, also the way he liked to push boundaries and not follow the trends proved to me that if you believe in something don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise because you have a responsibility to yourself to make sure it comes true! “
If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?
“As I mentioned previously my idol being Marco Pierre White it would only feel right in saying that I would love to cook alongside this industry legend for one night”.
What is your favourite dish on the Oxford Blue menu in which you use produce from your most local supplier?
“My favourite dish has to be my ‘suckling pig’s trotter’. But, in regards to local suppliers and having such a huge passion for using game, I work very closely with the head game keeper of Windsor Great Park. Being able to use an abundance of different types of Game, it allows my imagination to run wild with ideas I only once dreamt of being able to create”.
Staying with favourite dishes, What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
“Most likely a Venison Wellington, being such a lover of all things ‘game’ “
Finally, Favourite Tables, where do you like to dine when you get the chance and the time away from your own kitchen.
To be Confirmed…..
We were delighted last week to catch up again with Chef Mark Greenaway for a second Chef’s Table interview. When we reminded him that it was back at the beginning of 2014 we last did a full interview we both decided to move on….quickly.
One thing that has not changed is Mark’s passion for Scottish ingredients, it’s producers and the need to change the perception that Scotland not only produce amazing ingredients but can also create fabulous food. “Although we complain about the weather, it is the climate that contributes to how good our food tastes, just look at our amazing summer berries. When I worked in Australia I never ate the berries because they did not compare to the ones grown at home, which had the benefit of cool nights, spring rain and slow growing which created a much fuller flavour. If you include our incredible sea food, venison and Aberdeen Angus beef – these are all products and suppliers I am proud to work with”
Mark has been delighting his customers at his eponymous Restaurant Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh since opening in 2013. Mark’s menu at his 3 AA Rosettes establishment are always intriguing with a presentation that is a culinary delight to both the eye and palate.
We asked Mark was there a chef that had an impact on him or who he would like to spend a day with. “Marco Pierre White when he was at Harveys and his book White Heat changed the direction of my career. It was at a time that I had thought about moving and working in London.
When an agency chef brought a copy of the book with him in the kitchen and I could not believe that food could be created and plated like that – it was mind blowing! It made me question what we were doing at that time and we had 2 Rosettes and were creating good food. Remember, back then there was no Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver and the internet was still young. Instead of going to London, I talked to some friends who had been backpacking and they suggested I should go to Australia where I would find interesting styles of food – so I went!”
With his passion for cooking beginning at just 15 it was a move from Glasgow to Lanark that saw his culinary career really starting in 1992. Mark then went on to gain valuable experience during his 5-year stint in Australia, working at some of the nation’s top establishments. Mark says “the standard of cookery in Australia was on a par with what you would find in London at the time” adding “the outdoor parks and beach life did win hands down”
On his return to Scotland, Mark continued his profession at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, Kilcamb Lodge Hotel in Strontian and The Dryburgh Abbey Hotel in the Scottish Borders. Away from the kitchen, Mark has taught at Braehead Cookery School and the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, as well as giving regular cookery demonstrations at food events including Foodies Festival, Taste of Edinburgh, Hotel Olympia in London and the Scottish Chefs Conference.
We spoke to Mark about Perceptions, his simply beautiful book, which not only is about Mark’s recipes but also gives you an insight to and the stories that surround Mark and his team. Sharing with us his relationships with suppliers, none of whom had seen the book prior to printing, is a testament not only to the importance he places on local produce but an opportunity to tell their stories.
It also has an introduction by author Ian Rankin. “Ian and I met when he had taken time out from writing to concentrate on some charitable work. He is very generous with his time and one of the events he put together was a Crime Writers Dinner – we got to spend a day in my kitchen planning the menu and filmed that and part of the dinner – it’s on YouTube – and have become friends. I did not want another chef writing the foreward, so I was delighted when Ian agreed to do so”.
We next asked about his visits to Boston representing Seafood Scotland, attending the Seafood Expo North America. “It is great fun, a great place to showcase Scottish seafood and exciting for the chef who travelled with me – an important part of their culinary education and is an intense couple of days doing shows and demonstrations that showcase Scottish Scallops, Salmon and Mackerel”.
It’s different to appearing on television we imagined? We wonder how Mark felt about the makeup “well it stops your face shining…”
“Oh yes, television is important, it raises your profile on programmes like Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. It also shows customers what you can do so they feel confident that they are going to have a great meal if they visit your restaurant. Television has changed a great deal – I remember not understanding Keith Floyd at all – shouting at his cameraman – talking about seasonal food. But he was really ahead of his time focusing on the seasonality of produce”
Now Mark – a more serious question – what’s your secret to the perfect poached egg!
“My favourite breakfast is Eggs Benedict – and that is all about the egg. The eggs must be fresh – no amount of swirling, deep pan, shallow pan, more or less vinegar will make any difference unless you are using the freshest eggs you can get” How about sous vide eggs? “Aahh, now that makes a different product, it changes the texture of the yoke altogether”.
One of Mark’s Favourite Tables from our last interview was Brasserie Chavot which sadly closed so we asked Mark did he have some new favourite tables to share with us? But, before we asked about place he has been to we asked if he could share his thoughts about restaurant life in Edinburgh? “It has come a very long way, offering everything from a £10 burger to a Michelin Star experience. A good outcome of this growth is that the new generation of young chefs can stay in the area and learn, try new things. There is a restaurant called Aizle – where the chef patron Stuart has no menu, which is a very brave thing to do, and he creates the menu from daily available ingredients and put dishes on the chalkboard. It is really taking off and shows the diversity of what is now on offer”
Back to your favourite tables….
“Well, I was in Singapore for the Queen’s 90th Banquet last year and one of the chefs took me to a restaurant known as ‘no-sign board‘ because there was no money left to create one when they first opened! It is one of those places you would walk past but the food and service was incredible and I visited several times, everyone sitting outdoors. It has grown and grown because of the quality of the food and still does not have a sign!”
In a complete contrast, Fera at Claridges, is my other favourite table. One of the most amazing rooms with phenomenal food, it is a stunning combination. Also, it has one of the most incredible kitchens I have ever seen!
Mark, as always, it was great to catch up with you
Jahdre Hayward was born in Bermuda, at 15 he moved to the United States to live with his aunt and uncle while he studied culinary arts in Tampa Florida. When his studies were complete he moved to the UK and gained a commis job at The Savoy Hotel, London under Anton Edelmann, where he progressed quickly up the rankings to Chef de Partie. Jahdre`s employment in London and the Home Counties also includes Hanbury Manor, Rules Restaurant, the Oxo Tower, Novelli in the City and The Ritz.
Amanda Hayward was born and brought up in Essex and lived in the family owned traditional 17th century free house the Forest Gate Inn which is situated on the outskirts of Epping Forest and the charming market town of Epping. Amanda knew from an early age she was interested in cooking and after leaving school she took a place at Westminster College and trained to be a chef. She has gained experience in many fine restaurants in London and abroad including Simpsons on the Strand, London Capital Club, and then started her own catering company.
Jahdre met Amanda when they both worked at The London Capital Club. They travelled to Australia in 2003 and Jahdre worked briefly at Guillaume at Bennelong, Sydney Opera House whilst experiencing life in Australia. They returned to London for 3 years before migrating to Australia and settling in Melbourne. Jahdre worked as a sous chef at The National Gallery then moved on to become head chef at the Melbourne Wine Room followed by The Millswyn Restaurant. Amanda whilst in Melbourne went from being a chef to a waiter and after working at Grossi Florentino`s and Maze by Gordon Ramsey went on to work at Circa, The Prince and became assistant restaurant manager of the two hat restaurant.
After five and a half years in Melbourne and gaining Australian citizenship, Jahdre and Amanda decided to return to the UK to oversee the development of Haywards in the grounds of the family owned pub the Forest Gate Inn.
The restaurant was converted from an old coach house, stable and skittle alley. Amanda and Jahdre oversaw the whole process to create their dream restaurant, sympathetically restoring the buildings and retaining many original features. Haywards opened in May 2013 and has gone from strength to strength and both Amanda and Jahdre are passionate about continuous development and progression for the business. The Haywards kitchen garden is thriving and the restaurant has been working with a local bee keeper to keep some bee colonies and produce their own honey.
With Jadhre’s global background, our questions were many. Here are some of them:
Influences – now and then?
“My grandmother, with her love of food and family, was really inspiring and I used to love to watch her in the kitchen. The chef who has really influenced me is Brett Graham at The Ledbury. His passion for the industry and for sourcing quality local produce is something that we have adopted at Haywards. He is also passionate about his customers and our many conversations have influenced decisions we have made”
What are your views on the difference between Australian and British restaurant industries?
“There are quite a lot of differences between restaurants and food styles. All are positive differences, and in terms of gaining experience and developing my career, I feel very privileged to have worked in many great restaurants in both locations. Australian restaurants are often slightly Asian inflenced and there are many different products available and not so much emphasis on the seasons. Due to the warmer climates across the country there is more produce available year round. There is also access to beautiful and more unusual fresh fish such as snapper, barramundi (similar to sea bass and delicious!) and yabbies, which I love. However, here in the UK I really enjoy the fact that our native produce is seasonal and we can change our menus accordingly. We also have fantastic, quality British produce and our scallops are amazing!”
If you were not a chef – where would you be now?
“My career path was destined to been an aircraft mechanic but whilst studying, I took a part time job in a kitchen and my fate was sealed!”
Are there restaurants you would like to go to?
“If I am lucky enough to travel to the Far East again, I would love to dine at Sukiabashi Jiro, a three Michelin starred sushi restaurant in Japan. Another three Michelin starred restaurant is Michel Bras in France which is also high on my list.
Haywards Honey – what is your favourite honey dish?
“We have a beautiful dish on our menu described as Honey, Dill, Almond. It is a honey parfait garnished with honeycomb, bee pollen and dill ice cream”
A chef to work with – past or present?
“I would love to work alongside Michael Caines. I have dined at Gidleigh Park twice and really admire him for his determination, drive and skill” I saw that his latest venue Lympstone Manor is featured on favourite tables so I will be booking dinner there soon.
Finally – where are your favourite tables?
One of my favourite tables has to be The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Always an amazing experience and I love everything about this restaurant.
I also think The Artichoke in Amersham is a fantastic restaurant. They are gaining a lot of recognition but deserve more!
Finally, I celebrated my birthday just before Christmas at the Bildeston Crown in Suffolk. We had a wonderful stay and a really great meal in their restaurant so I am sure that they will go on to achieve great things.
It was in his native India where Chef Datta first discovered his natural flair for cooking and where his talents as a chef were first recognised. His career began as a young man in Delhi, where he became well versed in Indian culinary traditions at the PUSA Institute of Hotel Management.
His culinary journey continued as he honed his expertise at India’s prestigious Taj Palace Hotel. It was whilst here that he first received training in the more classical European kitchen methods and where he first began to develop his own unique Indo-European cooking style.
His restaurant and chef experience was further enhanced when he moved to study at the International College of Hotel Management in Switzerland. In Geneva, he worked for a time at the Metropolitan hotel. He then moved back to India, to the historic City of Jaipur, in Rajasthan to take up the Head Chef position at the Hotel Mansingh, followed by a stint as Executive Chef at the Hotel Maharani Palace.
Following a successful spell in Dubai from 1996 – 1998, Chef Yogesh arrived in London to take up a challenging position as Head Chef at Tabla restaurant in Canary Wharf, London. He was tasked with “turning round” this once popular restaurant. This he did and it was whilst there that his style of cooking became influential in its own right and was brought to the attention of successful local business man and regular customer Charles Hill. During 2000 the pair teamed up to open their own restaurant, Charles having recently acquired a suitable property in Chelsea. At the time the building was being used as a french style brasserie but had fallen out of favour with customers. The pair’s confidence of creating a success was helped by the history that the building had housed restaurants since 1953.
2002 saw the opening of The Painted Heron in Cheyne Walk and in 2012 it celebrated 10 years as one of London’s finest Indian restaurant with numerous accolades being bestowed including AA rosettes, best restaurant and best chef awards.
FT asked Chef Datta: What he felt about accolades and in particular his thoughts on Michelin Stars,
CD: Every chef and restaurant owner wants to know that they are serving customers to a high standard and that the customer is happy. The Painted Heron has always had great feed back and whilst we are listed in the Michelin guide a star is probably not something we could achieve, we’re not setup for that. Over the past 14 years since The Painted Heron opened, online and social media have played an increasing part in the types of feed back restaurants like ours receive. In the most part it has been very positive, however, talking directly with customers is still the best way to understand how they feel about the experience they have just enjoyed.
FT: You have lived and worked in some interesting cities around the world, why have you settled in London.
CD: London is just an amazing place to work as a chef and I have been lucky enough to be able to work with and influence many up and coming young chefs. Some of these have gone on to achieve great things here in the UK or even back in India taking what they have learnt back with them and changing local perceptions of dishes. Others have stayed with us here and are now in their 10th year cooking in London. Our Head Chef is someone I have known and worked with for nearly twenty years.
FT: When The Painted Heron first opened, the menu changed almost every day and the relationships with local suppliers was crucial. How has that changed?
CD: When we first opened, The Painted Heron was considered ground breaking and we were as far as Indian cuisine was concerned, with our daily changing menus and the freshness of the meat and fish we used. The menu development has now settled down and we are more influenced by seasonal focused changes now. However, the great relationships built with local butchers and fishmongers has continued and this helps us source incredible ingredients when they are at their best.
FT: You have talked about getting the best ingredients and the freshness of produce used in your menus, is there any foods that you won’t eat.
CD: Not really I will try most things and I think that is to do with the chef in me. However I’m really not keen on raw meat or fish. I much prefer eating well cooked and properly seasoned foods, adding the correct spice to enhance flavours. How food is cooked is very important to our style here at The Painted Heron. We have recently invested in a Josper Grill to add another level of flavour to the meat and fish we cook and also it allows us to create a “tandoor” feel to a wider variety of different ingredients that would be difficult in the traditional clay oven. New dishes are being introduced to the menu over the coming weeks including a Black Cod dish.
FT: So Chef, as with all our Chef’s Tables, we love to know where you like to eat when you have time away from the kitchen. So where are your favourite tables?
This week our guest at Chef’s Table is Simpson’s chef director, Luke Tipping (Professor Tipping, more about that later) who actually didn’t set out to become a chef.
FT: We have read that you became a chef much later than most having had a ‘misspent youth’, tell us more!
LT: I’m not really sure where it was said that I had a misspent youth. That conjures up all sorts of dodgy goings on, which is far from the truth. I just took time deciding what I wanted to do as a career and tried my hand at a few different things. I didn’t avoid becoming a chef it was just that I was a bit put off by the lack of time that my chef father could spend with the family when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was 20-21 and working in the banqueting department at the Grand Hotel on Colemore Row. I wasn’t cooking at all, in fact I helped out on the event side organising and managing company exhibition and award functions. But I do remember helping out in the kitchen on one occasion, I must have been making sandwiches and plating up canapés before one particularly large event, you know just helping out, and it struck me that the buzz in the kitchen was something I wanted to be part of. So when I got home I spoke to my Dad, who was not keen on me being at the Grand, not sure why but he told me that if I was going to work in the city then it was going to be at the best place, which at that time was the Plough and Harrow. My father made the introduction not directly but through a supplier that also delivered to the Plough and Harrow.
FT: Were you hooked straight away?
LT: Not exactly, in fact I don’t really remember too much about the first year or so. Just that it was lots of split shifts and long hours. But it must have caught me because I subsequently enrolled at Halesowen Catering College and started reading cook books, which to this day is something I have kept up. It was one of Chef Alain Ducasse’s cookbooks that had a massive effect on me and I carried it round with me for ages, still do from time to time.
FT: How did your career progress?
LT: It was at the Plough and Harrow that I first met Andreas Antona, who now owns Simpson’s. We lost contact when I moved on as I wanted to develop my skills and experience. So I took positions as junior sous and then senior sous. It was about this time that my wife and I went for dinner at Simpson’s when it was at it’s previous location at Kenilworth and by chance met Andreas. We spoke and he suggested that I come back and have a chat about joining him and the rest, as they say, is history. We have been working together now for almost 16 years.
FT: What or who have been big influences in your career?
LT: Well obviously, Andreas has been a massive part of my career and we both say that the one without the other would not have been so successful. Recently, well in the past 4 or 5 years I have been developing a nordic style in my food. I visited Noma about 4 years ago and was taken by the way they used fermentation and acidity in the creation of dishes, but also the plating. That’s one thing I pride myself on and that’s being able to visually put a dish together on the plate… that must go back to my time at school, I was always good at art and visual presentation. In fact I even thought about a career in retail design, you know putting cloth on mannequins in the shop window and adding all the detail on the wall and on the glass.
The chef that has most recently influenced my thinking is Simon Rogan and his restaurant L’Enclume and I recently had the chance to not only visit but to work in the kitchen for a week. It felt almost like starting my career again and it was a real honour to have the opportunity to observe at close hand. I packed my knife roll, booked a B&B and got the train up to Cartmel. What really struck me about the way they work is the availability of fresh grown ingredients from the kitchen farm just outside the rear of the restaurant.
They only pick stuff that is just right and what they pick influences the menu for that day. All the meat used comes from land just metres away and then seeing how the daily menu is developed and how each element is carefully treated in the kitchen, before Simon’s style is presented on the plate. It was an incredible week and had a massive effect on my thinking.
FT: So chef, more than two decades on from when you started how would you describe “Luke Tipping’s Style” and the “new” Simpsons.
LT: It’s sometime very difficult to describe something like that but I would say my style is ‘very natural, very seasonal and free flowing’
I have been incredibly lucky here at Simpsons and fortunate to have formed a partnership with legendary chef and restaurateur Andreas Antona back in 2000. We have worked very hard to establish Simpsons as one of the region’s best restaurants and the recent refurbishment has enhanced and improved all areas of the restaurant.
FT: Tell us more about the Professorship from University College Birmingham.
LT: I feel very strongly about training and have run many in house programmes and the brigade have seen lots of talented chefs come up through the ranks (Glynn Purnell is among his protégés) being a Professor of Culinary Arts has helped me in this area.
FT: Thank you Chef we have enjoyed our time with you today and being able to see all the improvements and enhancements made to Simpsons recently. Now it’s time for the fun part – tell us about restaurants you have dined at and been back to…
LT: Locally my wife and I enjoy an evening at Pure Bar & Kitchen, it’s very relaxed and social and the matching of food and craft beers is done very well.
Somewhere I have been to a number of times and have already booked to go back to is L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s restaurant. Knowing what it takes to hold one michelin star here at Simpson’s, I know that L’Enclume thoroughly deserves two stars.
Favourite Tables talks to Chef Lee Redman of the newly opened The Jetty at Brighton’s Harbour Hotel for “Chef’s Table”
FT: are you a born Chef?
Lee: it does feel like that! I’ve been in kitchens since the age of 13. Like most teenagers, I wanted more cash in my pocket, so took on a weekend job working in a local pub. Like a lot of chefs I talk to, I started as a pot washer and stuck at it… it must’ve been the £3.15 per hour! Then slowly I started learning how to prepare and cook (I remember endless amounts of peeling and sorting parsley!) Once, when the owners were away, the agency chef covering messed up and from then on I got more and more involved in the kitchen.
FT: How did thing progress for you?
Lee: I completed a three year course at a local college, 2 years studying an AVCE in Hospitality & Catering Industry, then a further year completing Level 3 NVQ Practical Cookery & Food Service. I moved from that first pub to a local bistro/restaurant and then to a local hotel. I landed my first Head Chef job at the very young age of 22 at a beautiful gastropub near Arundel and retained 1 Rosette, before moving on to London as it was always a wish to further my knowledge working there.
Here I started working at The Stafford Hotel in St. James’s as Junior Sous. After three years moving to The Bluebird in Chelsea which is a 2 Rosette Brasserie, then on to Galvin at Windows in the Park Lane Hilton which has 1 Michelin Star and 3 Rosette where I ran the the fish section.
FT: Who has influenced or helped you along the way?
Lee: After a few years in London the Head Chef from The Stafford Hotel, Chef Mark Budd, approached me. We had worked really well together and our styles of cooking complemented one another. Mark asked me to come and work back in Sussex as his Senior Sous at Alexander House Hotel & Spa. Here I was given the opportunity to work across the kitchen and we took the Hotel from a 4 Star to 5 Star, and the restaurant to 3 AA Rosettes, whilst retaining 1 Rosette in the Brasserie
FT: Would you say you are settled in your style and how would you describe it?
Lee: I would say my approach to food is to always strive to get the best out of the ingredients, from sourcing the correct quality and as local as possible through to executing precisely on the plate. My style would have to be classic French / British with modern touches. As to being settled, I will focus on the classics, however I am keen to learn new techniques and styles and will incorporate those that can help me deliver exciting seasonal dishes with great flavours to our customers.
FT: How did you find yourself working in Brighton?
Lee: I believe I have built a good reputation working within Hotel restaurants and was approached about the possible position of Head Chef for what would be a totally refurbished Brighton Hotel, which had me already interested. When finding out the group was Harbour Hotels, it was literally a no brainer. The company is extremely well set up with good solid knowledge through all departments in all venues, award winning & great place for a chef. We have developed a great menu and I am lucky in having an incredibly talented brigade working with me. The Jetty has really achieved incredible results and we are getting full services every day and incredible customer feed back.
FT: What are your favourite dishes to cook at home and in the restaurant?
Lee: That is a hard questions for any chef to answer because of using seasonal ingredients and what’s available……….You’re not going to let me away with that answer are you….
OK, If I’m cooking at home for my wife then it has to be my Beef Chilli and I add a few squares of dark chocolate (trust me!) It has to be good quality chocolate I use Valrhona
In the restaurant the best dishes are those when you don’t do too much to the signature ingredient. I love to use Hand Dived Scallops and my favourite dish is Scallop, oyster emulsion, oyster leaf, oyster foam, tempura cockles, razor clam, pickled kohlrabi, seaweed butter. It is great to eat and really keeps the freshness of the sea.
FT: now chef, where are your two favourite tables, the restaurants you like to visit when ever you can?
Lee: Locally I’ve been eating at one of the restaurants belonging to a small group called the Gingerman company, the Ginger Pig in Hove is a real favourite at the moment, great menu, lovely presentation and flavours with all locally sourced produce and clever usage of it.
When I get up to London then it’s Gilgamesh right by Camden Market. The presentation of the food is just brilliant and so fresh. As it’s Pan-Asian you can have dishes from across the region Sushi, Dim Sum, Tempura and Wok dishes
FT: When we asked if you were a born chef you laughed, can we ask why…..
Lee: Ah you noticed.. I know many chefs would say they were inspired by their Grandmothers or Mothers and in a way my mum did get me interested in cooking, it was a survival thing………..(her cooking was terrible). please don’t send this to her! But she did burn most things and then just flip it over and dish it up, sorry mum! So I was inspired to to become a good cook……my mum still tells me how to cook when I visit, thanks mum!
We met with the Nikkei Boys, Chef’s Jordan Sclare and Michael Paul at their central London location Chotto Matte.
The guys first met at Thames Valley University and became great friends. Leaving TVU they went their separate ways, but stayed in touch. So much so, that over the following years a number of job offers and opportunities arose that could have seen them working together, however circumstances and timings seemed to get in the way of the pair teaming up.
For Jordan, his career saw him finishing a five year apprenticeship at the Savoy Hotel, his time at TVU being a part of this. His next position was with Gordon Ramsay at his 3 Michelin star restaurant in Chelsea, where he spent the next 30 months. Jordan describes this period as one of the hardest: working 95 hours a week under extremely stressful conditions. He admits that only the powerful values and teachings he inherited from his parents prevented him from abandoning the job after just a few weeks. He then moved to Nobu restaurant in Park Lane, London where he spent the next six years of his career working his way up to being the youngest sous chef at Nobu and eventually Head Chef, and maintained a Michelin star throughout his lead. Jordan has also held Executive Head Chef positions at Buddha Bar London, where he was not only involved in the opening but also bringing the concept over from Paris, and at Aqua Kyoto London winning 2AA rosettes in his 2nd year. His amazing CV also includes cooking for Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani on his private yacht.
Michael, in the meantime believes the secret behind great food is to keep it fresh, seasonal and as simple as possible, with a strong emphasis on taste! And most importantly to be happy – “A happy chef means happy food!” laughs Michael. Happy Food perfectly describes the Bento Box we sampled as the conversation continued.
Following his graduation from TVU he began his career at the Royal Automobile Club with Head Chef Phillip Corrick. Developing a stronger passion for food and quality, Michael continued his career working alongside David Cavalier at Charlton House, where he gained a large amount of knowledge, which he instills in his methodology today
Then in late 2013 that “opportunity” and the timings all worked out, with restaurant entrepreneur Kurt Zdesar looking for a team to help bring his dream of a “Nikkei” style restaurant into the heart of London’s West End and the Nikkei Boys were born. Chotto Matte opened at the end of 2014 and has become one of the most talked about restaurants in the area.
We then asked our favourite question – where do they love to visit, when they can. Do we get two each came the cheeky reply.
Chef Sclare went first:
Central in Lima Peru is just incredible. Chef Virgilio Martinez creates some amazing dishes with the freshest of ingredients, some from their own gardens in the middle of the city. I recently visited again with Kurt when we spent a month in Peru sampling every type of food from restaurants to carnival and street food markets.
Tetou – this restaurant in Cannes has so much history from its very humble beginnings as a beach hut, to now being considered one of the “Homes” of Bouillabaisse. This simple fish soup beats some examples I have had in Michelin Star restaurants. They do one thing and do it very well.
And Chef Michael gave us these Favourite Tables locations:
I have to say that my all time favourite has to be Ferran Adria’s – El Bulli which sadly closed back in 2011.
Most recently I have revisited Restaurant Martín Berasategui near San Sebastian Northern Spain Simple but very clinical and relaxed dining very enjoyable
In London i’m almost a regular at The Chiltern Firehouse
Favourite tables do enjoy the most outstanding good luck! We recently had the good fortune to enjoy some of Chef Nick Bennett’s food at a Pop-up event he had put together with a Chef’s Table featured chef Danilo Cortellini, more of that in a minute, but we could not pass up the chance to chat to this BBC Masterchef finalist and invite him to join our Chef’s Table.
Born in Royal Leamington Spa, he first became interested in cooking at school through lessons called Food Tech “My mum and grandmother were both keen cooks, at home constantly baking and cooking amazing food. I was therefore able to experiment and practice with their gentle guidance and encouragement” Then Nick had the chance to working part-time in a family friends local pub and loved it there. Starting off pot washing, prepping for the starter courses and sometimes serving at table. One Monday evening he was thrown the challenge of running a service and he was hooked. Nick chose to go the Stratford-upon-Avon catering college, taking 3 courses whilst taking on a part time apprenticeship.
The apprenticeship led into a position as a commis chef at the Brasserie at Mallory Court working under the direction of Executive Head Chef Simon Haigh. A year later Nick moved to work alongside Head Chef Andrew Scott in the Michelin starred main restaurant. Nick’s career developed there and he became junior sous chef
In late 2012, Nick and Andrew both left Mallory Court to take up positions at the Curlew restaurant in East Sussex. Nick said “working with Andrew has helped refined me as a chef, as well as influencing my creativity, without limits”. During their time at the Curlew the restaurant won and retained a Michelin Star.
Nick is now senior sous chef at Restaurant 56 at the Sudbury House hotel in Farington Oxfordshire and his partnership with Head Chef Andrew Scott has continued. Sudbury House holds 4 AA Silver Stars and Restaurant 56 holds 3 AA Rosettes.
Late in 2014 the BBC approached asking Nick if he would be interested in taking part in MasterChef 2015. “I entered the competition to push myself and to see how I stacked up against other chefs in the country. I’m extremely proud that I got to the final three, the final tests with Scott Barnard and the eventual winner Mark Stinchcombe in front on Monica and Marcus were the most challenging.
Nick has stayed in touch with all the chefs from the final weeks of the competition. That’s how the pop-up came about. Held at Venturi Tables in West London, Nick and Danilo shared the four courses, with Nick presenting the starter of Salmon Mi-Cuit, Violet Potato Mousse, Watercress and Salted Lemon:
and the desert course of Cherry and Pistachio Cheesecake, Cherry Sorbet and Cookie Crumb:
It was an amazing evening and a fascinating collaboration, which we hope will be repeated sometime soon.
Favourite Tables then asked Chef about places he would call his “favourite tables”
“The Hand & Flowers is a firm favourite” he replied. “Its not too far from home and we have enjoyed evenings and Sunday Lunch. I really like what Tom Kerridge has created and the food is always excellent”
“Then, when I feel like spoiling myself and loved ones, we visit L’Enclume Simon Rogan’s restaurant in Carmel. I believe this restaurant is as near to perfect as you can get. Food is always of a very high standard and the service is perfectly balanced, attentive but never over bearing”
“Can I mention a couple of other great places locally… is that ok?” – how could we say no.
“These are two “Gastropubs” I love going to and I think a lot more people should know about and try, they could become peoples Favourite Tables” ( we see what you did there chef….)
“Firstly the Star Inn in Sparsholt, great local with amazing food, Sunday Lunch is very good”
“And the Maybush in Witney great location right on the Thames by one of the oldest bridges across the river. It has recently undergone a major refurbishment, but kept lots of it’s charm”
It may be an overused phrase but “living the dream” could really be applied to Chef Lee Clarke. Now back in his home town of Peterborough and with his own recently opened restaurant Prévost, Lee is now able to apply his Michelin class experience at this rarity of a high end fine dining restaurant in the Peterborough city centre.
Why Peterborough, we asked Lee when we recently met with him at Prévost. “Well, I grew up in Peterborough, and having all my family around me including grandparents, my early influences were from within the family and based in Peterborough.” He has also held one local ambition for a very long time which we will return to later.
“My mother and grandmother were a big influence as they encouraged me to help them and try different things to cook. I attended Peterborough Regional College and got my diplomas for Hotel and Catering on a two year programme. I then started work in London to gain experience and to develop my style of cooking, working in 5 star hotel kitchens and at The Ivy, Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and Daphne’s. Two years at Marco Pierre White restaurants including Mirabelle and The Oak Room followed and then I spent four years with Roux Fine Dining. This was followed by a spell in a corporate dining environment at Shell London working for the Compass Group. During this period I was a Roux Scholarship finalist three years running achieving a third place in 2004”
“In 2006, I was given the opportunity to take on the Head Chef position at Ickworth Hotel in Bury St. Edmunds, slightly nearer to home. It was here that I started to really develop my style of cooking. The ground provided lots of opportunities for foraging and the estate keeper helped with catching rabbit and hare for the menu. The lamb came from farms on the edges of the estate. Under Lee’s guidance, the restaurant gained and held two AA rosettes.
In 2011, with the help of a group of investors, Lee opened Clarkes in Peterborough. “I was employed as Head Chef and really enjoyed most of my nearly six years at Clarkes. But, as Head Chef, I could only take things so far and had to be mindful of what style of restaurant the owners wanted.” Clarkes was listed in the Michelin guide 2012/14 and was included at number 62 in the BMW square meal guide of Best Restaurants outside London.”It is still my main ambition to have the first Michelin starred restaurant in Peterborough and I could not see it happening if I was not the owner. You can only suggest and push things so far, I understand that.”
Fast forward to April 2016 and Lee and wife Teresa have just opened Prévost on Priestgate in the city centre.
Housed in what was once the “Flying Services Club” founded in 1939 by RAF members in the local area.
Following some major remodeling, it is now a relaxed fine dining restaurant where he can create dishes that he has long wanted. Lee has created a place that is not only welcomed by the local diners but is also welcoming visitors from outside of Peterborough. The six years Lee was at Clarkes has created a very strong local reputation, reaching the West Midland where chefs like Alex Claridge of the recently renamed The Wilderness (formally Nomad) has already express an interest in possible pop-up collaborations.
The regularly changing menu offers 3, 5, and 9 course tasting menus which favourite tables was lucky enough to sample elements (too tempting to say no!) and were told to expect brilliant ingredients and bold flavours as Lee guided our palates on an exploration through freshness, texture and taste. Everything on the plate is meticulously sourced, made from scratch and as local as possible: beef aged by local butchers in Stilton; wild mushrooms foraged from nearby woods; artichokes picked straight from their own allotment. Our verdict – the recent visits by Michelin and the AA should soon see a star and rosettes being bestowed.
Our final conversation was about his favourite tables.
“The Olive Branch in Rutland is a favourite for my wife and I. Being local to us here in Peterborough it was a really delight when we first discovered it and we have been returning on a regular basis, which is unusual for us”
“Whenever possible I will head to London to visit one of the restaurants that are pushing to develop further. So either they are driving for their first accolade or maybe their next Michelin Star. I really do like Simon Rogans food and what he is doing at Fera but recently I have been very impressed with Tom Sellers at Restaurant Story”
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- #Win Tickets for You and a Friend to cook some great Thai Food on
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About Favourite Tables
Our ethos is about places people love – always has been, always will be.
We know that most people choose where to eat based on recommendations from friends and family, a social interaction – a Social Marketplace
Favourite Tables is just that – our recommendations and reviews are from people who love where they go and go back to.
The popularity of each Favourite Tables restaurant is assured on the Social Marketplace and through the restaurant reviews they receive.
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