Chef of the Week: Martin Blake, Head Chef at The Manor House at Castle Combe

What is the name of the restaurant you currently work at, and how long have you been there?
I am Head Chef at The Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe, working under Executive Head Chef Rob Potter who holds a Michelin star in our restaurant The Bybrook.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I studied art and design, media studies and general studies at A-level as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my GCSEs. I had a fond love for cooking so decided to pursue it. I did my level 2 and 3 Professional Catering and my level 3 Food Hygiene as a workplace apprenticeship with West Nottingham College.

I left college and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in catering as I loved to cook. My fine dining career started at Bowood Hotel in Derry Hill where I progressed from the all-day brasserie to conference and banqueting, then to the Shelburne restaurant which held 2 AA rosettes.

I moved to Homewood Park Hotel just outside of Bath as a Chef de Partie. After a couple of years, I moved to the Bath Priory and worked under Michelin-starred chef Sam Moody, this is where I began to understand the importance of quality ingredients and kitchen discipline.

I took the role as Sous Chef back at Homewood Park and did another couple of years there until I realised that I wanted to get myself back into a high end kitchen and learn as much as I could, this then took me to the Manor House Hotel initially working under Michelin-starred chef Richard Davies. Five and a half years of graft and I am now Head Chef working under Robert Potter. We retained a Michelin star and 3 AA rosettes six months into Rob starting and have been pushing ourselves since.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The thing I love most about being a chef is the constant learning, I guarantee you will never stop learning, evolving and progressing in a career as a chef, that’s what makes it so interesting. Everyday has a different challenge and its never dull!

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I don’t really have a single dish that I would say I was most proud. As the seasons change and you start to see dishes from the previous years you do realise how much you have missed doing them.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I think coming up with new dishes is all based on the produce, you find a great piece of meat, fish or veg and you just work with it adding elements that complement the main ingredient, the dish just falls into place after that.

Who has been your greatest influence?
I have so many influences in my career. A chef called Wojciech Nawalka was one of the chefs that pushed me early on in my career he got me into competitions and organised stagiaires for me in kitchens like Le Manoir. I am very fortunate to work with Robert Potter who has supported me and really pushed me to better myself as a chef. He has become a very big influence in my career.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I’ve got a huge collection of cookbooks; they are all so different. The one I open the most is “Larousse Gatstromique” it really is the kitchen bible.