Chef of the Week: David Kelman of Cowley Manor in The Cotswolds

How long have you worked at Cowley Manor?
Since August 2017.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
It all started at the age of 13 as a kitchen porter back in North Wales. I was involved in prepping for the chefs and loved it. I then went to Llandrillo College to do my NVQ and was lucky to work at Bodysgallen Hall for several years, which taught me a lot about fine dining.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Every day is different, from service to customer expectations, to types of ingredients. I also enjoy mentoring chefs into developing themselves as chefs and as individuals.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Patience, belief, understanding. We are lucky as chefs to use amazing produce but without these three things we couldn’t showcase the ingredients in the best possible way.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My sharpening stone – chefs should always know how to keep their knives sharp.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
We are seeing a lot of vegans coming to Cowley Manor. It’s hard to think on the spot what to do and to try and give a guest a dining experience without making them seem different is hard but one we try to embrace.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down? 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Assumption is a really bad thing for chefs so don’t be afraid to say you have made a mistake. Learn from mistakes and this will make you a better chef.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why? 
Winter – I love the braising and slow cooking of food.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’m happy with all my dishes, so far. From simple bread to slow-cooked belly of pork, I love them all.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Looking at the season and the ingredients, looking at what I have done before and trying to make it better.

Who was your greatest influence? 
Mike Penny was my real first Head Chef at Bodysgallen Hall – he was an amazing chef and I learnt a lot from him. I also learnt a lot from Andy Goode, who was my Head Chef at the Imperial, Llandudno. He saw something in me and pushed me into competition work which was invaluable.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park has the talent to develop chefs into something great. Daren Bale (of the Hop Pole Inn in Bewdley) is a driven chef who always made me believe in what I can do, almost like a big brother who I could always ask for advice. Kenny Atkinson is a great chef, down to earth and still the best food I have eaten.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I always love the old ones from Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes for the clean and simple flavours.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
There are too many to name as we have an amazing pool of talented chefs in this country. Let chefs be chefs and create amazing food and do what we do best.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Restaurants open all the time, it’s hard to keep track.

What advice would you give to young chefs?
The most important thing for me is people understanding that a chef’s life is hard, even harder for our families. To be able to balance work life and home life is important, our families keep us going all the time. One person said to me that it is important to have thinking time, to be able to clear your head and just think. Chefs are creative people and need to be able to think and create ideas, which is good for our industry but also for the customers who eat our food.