Most people’s earliest food memory tends to involve their Granny. Although she does have a fond place in my memories, my cooking was encouraged by my father. Saturdays as a young kid, we’d create spicy curries and Sundays, of course, was all about the Roast. Both my parents worked during the week and I would always cook dinner after school, trying out different things, with some dishes working better than other, but mum and dad just smiled and devoured them regardless.
I’d found a hobby that would keep me out of trouble. My first real job was at The Palace Hotel in Torquay, a banqueting hotel catering for big numbers of local dignitaries. Here I learnt the basics -speed, concentration, respect for the food and the chef brigade. We offered a traditional French menu, orchestrated by a head chef who rattled away in regional French most of the time, often without me having a clue what he was barking at me. But, it taught me the fundamentals and proved to be a solid foundation.
After Torquay I moved to Bath: The Royal Crescent Hotel, under Gordon Jones. This is where my real training started in terms of cooking. The standards were set so high, I’d go to work sick with nerves. But I was a quick learner and quickly made my way through the junior ranks. Its here I learnt about ‘fine dining’: quality dining for me is not about the crockery, glassware, massive wine lists and over-bearing waiters. It’s what you do to that food when it’s in the pan, on your board, on the plate. It’s the finesse and the standard that you put into your cooking. It’s the precision at which everything is cooked and the respect that each individual resource is shown.
I arrived at the Green House in 2011, first as sous chef, assuming the head chef role in 2012. What do I now ask of my kitchen? First and foremost is passion, I use the word a lot but I need my chefs to be passionate about food, borderline obsessed. It’s impossible to be a good chef if you don’t eat, taste think about food. Sure, sometimes flavour combinations don’t quite work but there is always a way to enhance them, as long as you’re using quality fresh ingredients. Second, inspiration. I need my chefs to be able to take something and run with it; at the end of the day it’s my food on the menu but I like all the chefs to feel like they are a part of Arbor, so my chefs’ opinions are invaluable. Ultimately, I want the trainee in my kitchen one day to have his own kitchen, and if the belief, passion and inspiration disappears, it’s a gloomy future for our industry.
As well as the Great and the Good, my food heroes include my previous head chef, Gordon Jones, whose ability to see a finished dish within a stack of raw materials is amazing. He taught me not to work in the constraints of ‘normal’. He’d say ‘try and be different’ and ‘let your food reflect your personality’. Hence daily I strive to make my food look amazing, taste even better and excite. Working at the Green House this is made easier by the richness of local ingredients including fish and seafood off the Dorset coast, fresh produce from one of England’s garden counties, meat from nearby Wiltshire and game from the New Forest.
Food has to invoke emotion: it has to make the diner react. The food has to be inviting, through presentation, color, smell. It then has to start a debate: if at some point during the meal, diners don’t halt their conversation to comment on the food, then I’ve failed. That’s the challenge I’m happy to take on, and I hope you have a truly memorable experience when you visit us.
I am very proud of our very first award for Arbor, within months of launching we were honoured with Silver in the Eating Out category for the Dorset Tourism Awards.