Tell us about yourself. I was born in Devon and grew up absorbing cooking techniques from my family, following the breadcrumb trail left for me by my late grandmother. My formal training came in the British Army, then I took on my first chef role with Michael Caines at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter and the two- Michelin Star Gidleigh Park. From there, I went on to head up the kitchen at the Five Bells in Cullompton, during which time it became one of the UK’s Top 50 Gastropubs.
You took over as head chef at Hotel Meudon in August. Have you been busy? Oh, it’s been crazy! I had to hit the ground running. Like so many restaurants, we have been short-staffed and just had to keep things going; now I have a great team, and a waiting list of people who want to work with us, which is a much better position to be in.
What rules do you live by in your kitchen? Kindness, equality, patience and nurture. The stereotypical idea of a head chef shouting at people and bullying them isn’t my thing at all. I like to build a really strong team and give everyone a voice in my kitchen. Like Tom Kerridge, I see them as a little gang of pirates and treat them well. It works – I’ve got people on my team who have been with me five or six years, and have moved around with me.
You’ve been working on the menu – what should we expect? The previous chef was very good – fish, fresh ingredients, classical style – so I didn’t want to fiddle around with it too much, just put my own touch on what’s already there. I’ve gone for more seasonal variation – we’ve got Bodmin venison on the menu at the moment (and on New Year’s Eve) – and foraged ingredients.
Are you using ingredients from your doorstep? Yes, we’re right on the cove, and I’m out there most days looking for inspiration. When I first came, it was fresh seaweed and herbs; now it’s mushrooms and rock samphire, which is great with turbot. We also have an exotic garden to pick from – I have made fig leaf ice cream, which is so fragranced and fruity, and the fruit of the dogwood tree is like a lychee and delicious in sorbet.
How would you describe your own food? My food is quintessentially English but drawing influence from my Nordic descent (on my father’s side) and time spent in Japan – I’m a third degree blackbelt in Aikido, and while studying in Japan on a ten-year hiatus from cheffing, I immersed myself in the local cuisine and studied that too.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your cooking career. Earlier this year I competed in BBC2’s Great British Menu. The theme was 100 years of the BBC, so for the South West heat I cooked dishes with a local flavour – based on Wallace and Gromit, which originated in Bristol, and a duck dish to reflect the classic episode of Fawlty Towers in Torquay. While I felt I didn’t achieve as much as I’d have liked on the show, people seemed to like the way I came across – real and honest.
Did it lead to other opportunities? Yes, off the back of GBM, I was invited to cook for Boris Johnson PM at 10 Downing Street in June. Most recently, I’ve been busy filming content for an upcoming campaign with Italian cheese brand Galbani and Lactalis UK to introduce their products to a British audience. So far, I’ve devised recipes for canapes, Christmas snacks and family meals.
What ingredients couldn’t you live without? My Japanese vinegars, dashi powder, seaweed and nature!
What is your guilty food pleasure? Something comforting and sweet, decadent and indulgent.
Hotel Meudon, Maenporth Road, Falmouth TR11 5HT.
Tel 01326 250541, www.meudon.co.uk