Chef of the Week: Richard Allen, Head Chef at Herb Garden Brasserie at Ye Olde Bell Spa in Retford, Nottinghamshire

Richard Allen is Head Chef of the Herb Garden Brasserie at Ye Olde Bell Spa. Allen joined Ye Olde Bell in 2014, where he worked as Head Chef for Restaurant Bar 1650, achieving its AA Rosette. Away from the kitchen Allen has a passion for health and fitness, which saw him qualify as a personal trainer, with expert knowledge in nutrition. When the hotel built a new spa along with Herb Garden Brasserie in 2017 he was keen to oversee the cuisine and saw it as a great opportunity to combine his passion for health and fitness.

How long have you worked at your current restaurant? 
I have been running the Herb Garden Brasserie at Ye Olde Bell Spa since it opened on the 1st June 2017.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I was introduced to cooking both by my mother and grandmother at an early age. I remember visiting my grandma at weekends with the bread on the rise and she would be busy putting the finishing touches to millionaire shortbread. I always remember watching Gary Rhodes on my little black and white television cooking things like roast marmalade chicken and couldn’t help but be inspired by the passion and enthusiasm for food that he clearly had.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The feeling you get when completing a successful service with no hiccups. There’s a great amount of adrenaline leading the kitchen, a real buzz and a great sense of pride when all has gone well.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Butter, onion and garlic and in that order. The cost of butter at the moment is enough to bring a tear to the eye but is worth every penny.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
At work it would have to be my induction top. It has been hard not to have the naked flame to add flamboyance to the cooking in front of guests in the open kitchen but the speed in which pans heat and are ready to cook with, I wouldn’t change. Plus the bonus of not burning your hands.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I don’t tend to follow food trends but I did get inspired by the street food on my last visit to London. For me culinary plating has become more of an art rather than the pleasure of creating a well-executed dish that is cooked emphasising the quality of the produce and getting the optimum flavours and textures. I like good hearty food that tastes amazing and can still look great.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
I can only go with what I said above and say that I think some chefs try too hard to make over flowery presentations which may compromise the dish as a whole. I have dined out too many times to be disappointed, simplify things and do them well.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I love the change into the autumn season with the warmer, more hearty dishes and also the end of spring with an abundance of produce at its optimum.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Without sounding arrogant there are so many dishes which have given me a great sense of pride. My main focus is delivering flavoursome dishes, using local sourced produce, which guests can expect on every return visit.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I work with my team and brain storm new dishes out for menus. I feel it is important that everyone is involved in the menu writing in the hope that they get as much satisfaction and pride in what we produce as a team. Every member of the team put their heart into their work which helps give the guest the best experience possible.

Who was your greatest influence?
My greatest influence in my career would be Andrew Cafferkey from a little pub in Lincolnshire called The Inn on the Green at Ingham. He taught me about the importance of standards and consistency. I learnt a great deal in my 6 years of working with him.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Gordon Ramsay, not only an incredible chef but a good businessman, Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes from my childhood.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Gordan Ramsay Passion For Flavour. I have nick-named the book ‘The Kitchen Bible’ having all the building blocks for many dishes and all my trainees find it really helps them to be inspired.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
James Shuttleworth. My trainee chef going from strength to strength.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
There are so many new openings so wouldn’t be able to give an answer. I just focus on our own guests and their satisfaction in the hope that we are offering the best food and service possible.