Can you keep a secret? Mark Stinchcombe can, and he had to from mid summer last year until the airing of the finals of BBC Masterchef the Professionals before Christmas. Only a handful of family members and the owners of Elkington Manor knew that Mark had been crowned champion before the rest of us in the last couple of weeks in 2015.
Having grown up in Bath, Mark was just a teenager when he set out on a career in the kitchen. He attributes his early eagerness to cook meals and to experiment with ingredients to Mrs May, his home economics teacher “She was so passionate about food that her enthusiasm really came across to us.” Straight out of school he secured himself valuable work experience with the team at the esteemed Royal Crescent. After the Royal Crescent, Mark moved to the nearby Ston Easton Park.
Mark’s culinary CV lists some very impressive experiences at top British restaurants such as The Fat Duck, Le Manoir and The Square. Following this, he started working at Lucknam Park under Chef Hywell Jones. It was later at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, where he also met his future wife, Sue, that he focused on classic French cuisine during his two and a half years there. He also mentions amongst his influences Chef Chris Eden at the Driftwood Hotel under who’s tutelage Mark began to hone his fine dining chef skills. Taking a year out Mark and Sue traveled extensively visiting Australia, Thailand and New Zealand, on a gastronomic culinary adventure.
Mark now runs the kitchen at Eckington Manor with wife Sue, who he married on the 3rd of October last year.
When we spoke to Mark he had only just returned from a delayed honeymoon in Boston and New York. Why the delay, well he had been a little busy with some television and media interviews brought about by winning a certain major cookery competition on the BBC. It was because of the couple’s passion for what they are both doing at this restaurant and cookery school that he took part in the show in the first place. “I entered the competition to share with a wider audience the style Sue and I create at Eckington Manor, our style of cooking could be considered unique as we are able to select the very best of ingredients, at the perfect time and our menus and recipes are developed using produce direct from Eckington Manor’s award winning farm, orchard, vegetable and herb gardens.
What parts of the competition did you enjoy and which were the most challenging: I struggled in the critics round when we had to cook for three of the U.K.’s best-known food critics: Jay Rayner, Charles Campion and William Sitwell. You have to produce eight plates of food in an hour and a quarter from raw ingredients. It’s a phenomenal amount of preparation, and the time just flew by.
My highlight has to be when we cooked at the Law Society. We all had to cook together as teammates in the kitchen and then went back into the television studio kitchen and we all produced some amazing food. That was the episode that everyone went through to the next round. The guys in the finals week were fantastic chefs and that really made me push myself. Fellow finalists Scott Barnard and Nick Bennett were incredible and we have stayed in touch.
Where are the places you like to dine at, where are your Favourite Tables:
And I would have to also mention Michael Wignall when he was at the Latymer at Penny Hill, but I will have to now plan to visit him at Gidleigh Park as he has moved there in January this year.
Scott Barnard may have ultimately missed out on becoming a MasterChef champion at Christmas, but he believes his starring role could be a springboard for his career. However, cooking and fine dining are far removed from his home life growing up in Plumstead, South East London. As we talked he joked about growing up on Pie and Mash, which this life long Millwall supporter still enjoys from time to time.
His family relocated from London to near Bedford when Scott was a teenager and he admits to not having a clear idea as to what he wanted to do on leaving school. My interest in food started around this time and I remember between the ages of 13 to 16 spending family holidays in France, Spain and Italy. Staying in a tent was never glamorous but I would always get up early in the morning and visit local bakeries for the freshly baked croissants and baguettes, to eat with regional cheese and cold meats. As I grew older I became a little more adventurous trying rabbit, horse and the smelliest of cheeses.
On his sixteenth birthday, he remembers getting a surprise from his Mum. She had signed him up to work in the kitchens of a local North Bedford hotel and this he attributes to being the real start of his food career. He attended Barnfield College near Luton and spent three years studying Catering and Hospitality. In his final year he focussed on patisserie, as he saw this as a key skill he would need in later life if he ever got the chance to run his own kitchen.
Flitwick Manor was his first role as Chef starting as CDP and progressing to Sous. The restaurant received two rosette status during this period. During 2006 he moved to work under Dean Timpson at The Complete Angler in Marlow.
Scott is now senior sous chef in Colettes restaurant at The Grove hotel and Golf complex in Hertfordshire and has been here for eight years. Living locally with wife Deanna (Dee), daughter Esme and a soon to arrive addition to the family, he says that he is really happy with life in Hertfordshire and throughly enjoys life as a chef.
When I applied for MasterChef, The Professionals, back in January 2015, passing two phone interviews and a screen test. I knew roughly what to expect as I’d been encouraged to enter by close friend and chef Steve Barringer, who had been a finalist in the programme back in 2011. I had worked with Steve at Flitwick Manor ten years ago and we are former students of Barnfield College in Luton. His skill in the kitchen saw him progress all the way to the finals week of the cooking contest, which featured just the three surviving chefs. Judges Monica, Marcus and Greg had praised his food throughout but ultimately it wasn’t quite enough to take the title which went to Mark Stinchcombe from Eckington Manor in Worcestershire. Scott reflected: “I did want to win it for my family, but I can hold my head up high.” My wife has been a huge influence. She has stuck by me and supported me through my career, being alone most nights and weekends which I know has been tough.
What had been the highlight of being involved in the programme and what had been the toughest: The highlight of the whole thing for me was the Chef’s Table. I’ve had so many influences on my food style; the chefs I’ve trained under, the books I read and the places I’ve eaten, but mainly the really great chefs like Adam Simmonds, Simon Rogan, Michael Wignall, and the legends like – Marcus, Michael Caines, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey. To have the chance to cook for and serve my food to so many of my heroes in one room was daunting at the time, but they really liked my Malt Ice Cream, Chocolate Cremeux, Banana and Milk, Pretzel and Peanuts dessert and I got some great comments that I will always remember. For me the toughest round was the Critics in the quarterfinal, and pastry Invention Test, well all of the Invention tests, working without recipes is extremely hard, especially with pastry as it’s such a science. Oh and the no meat challenge, my wife Dee is a vegetarian so you’d think I would have found it easy, but with such a short amount of time to think that was difficult.
So what’s next: I just want to be able to have the opportunity to express my food and develop as a chef. It’s not all about accolades at the moment, it’s about achieving excellence and making customers happy and wanting to return, then hopefully accolades will follow.” Colettes and the management at the Grove have been brilliant and are supporting me in a special pop-up event where I will be serving many of the dishes that featured on the BBC programme, including my Chef’s Table dessert. I have also got the chance to work with a local restaurant to do a similar event next month
I would have liked to add the restaurant at Danesfield House, loved it when Adam Simmonds was there, but I’ve not been back for a while now and I would like to mention what I think was one of the most inspiring restaurant around London was The Latymer, Pennyhill Park with Michael Wignall. I plan to go back soon now that Matt Worswick has been appointed the new head chef.
My wife and I have a local place that we would say is a favourite tables for us and that’s the Artichoke Restaurant in Amersham. It’s not far from where we live and is a regular treat for us. The food is terrific, service brilliant and I love the chef Laurie Gear’s cooking style.
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