One Magazine’s Rachael D’Cruze-Sharpe talks to Exeter’s most loved chef about his MBE, cooking for the Prime Minister, eating local and being a mentor.
You’ve been Head Chef at Gidleigh Park for twenty years now and have been recognised with many accolades – which ones stand out most?
Achieving two Michelin stars, an MBE, AA Chef of the Year and Number 1 in the Times are all landmarks I am very proud of.
Tell us about your MBE?
I received if for services to the Hospitality Industry. It is amazing to be recognised for my contributions, not just at Gidleigh Park but also the Acorn Scholarship and my work at the Michael Caines Academy at Exeter College and as a role model.
We read you cooked for the Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street – can you tell us about it?
It was in 2006 and I cooked for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s birthday and the Prime Minister of Poland. It was a fantastic privilege and an experience I will never forget. It was also the quickest service I have ever worked due to the scheduling but an amazing achievement!
How important is using West Country produce to you?
Very important. We have the best larder in Europe in the South West – we’re surrounded by sea, pastures and the moors. There is also a huge farming and fishing heritage here, as well as great dairy, pork, poultry and seafood. We are blessed in the SW and creating these wonderful food memories is what keeps people coming back.
We know you have a kitchen garden at Gidleigh Park – have you always enjoyed growing food, as well as cooking it?
As a child my father was a keen gardener and I would help him with the fruit and vegetables in the garden. We celebrated what we had grown in the garden by making it into something really delicious and wholesome to eat together as a family around the dining table.
Where to you look for inspiration for your innovative dishes?
All around me – the seasons play a big part but I enjoy eating out and trying the work of my contemporaries as well.
Does your passion and commitment to food step from your childhood?
Definitely – my mum was a brilliant cook and I remember as a child helping her baking and cooking in the kitchen. These are really special formative memories for me that in hindsight make me realise even then I knew that good food was meant to be shared with people you love.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Gidleigh Park?
At the moment it’s the roast Cornish cod with lemon puree and chorizo foam and the pheasant with pumpkin and cumin puree and lentils.
Is nurturing the careers of the chefs working under you at Gidleigh Park a part of your role?
Yes, I love it! For me it’s about giving something back. Raymond Blanc did a lot for me – he focussed my direction – and I like to do the same with my Academy students as well as the chefs at Gidleigh Park and within the ABode hotels. Future stars are Sam Moody, Robby Jenks, Alistair Barsby – I am incredibly proud of what they have all achieved.
You started your career at Exeter Catering College, where you now have your own Michael Caines Academy – what would your advice be to aspiring chefs in the area?
It’s a marathon not a sprint! Be patient and learn by absorbing all the details and know what people want when they dine out.
Who are your culinary heroes?
Raymond Blanc, JoeI Robuchon and the late Bernard Loiseau. Anyone who achieves a Michelin star is an inspiration – it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to achieve a Michelin star!
Can you tell us about your work with Families for Children please?
It is a cause very close to my heart – it’s great to see adoption work and the additional care and support Families for Children provide is hugely important. My life could have been very different but I see adoption as a positive. I am also involved in other local charities such PORTER and Farms for City Children. Charity work has to mean something to me which is why I support these organisations.