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SPECIAL REPORT: Top chefs share their kitchen secrets (Part 2)

Paul Green, head chef, The Torridon

In the second instalment of this two-part series, some of the country’s top chefs reveal how they are preparing for reopening and why new menu creation, food waste strategies and redevelopment ideas are high on the agenda as they look towards recovery.

Paul Green is head chef at The Torridon in Scotland.

He looks after a range of F&B spaces and is already preparing for strong demand when the hotel reopens.

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What measures did you put in place to deal with Covid-19 restrictions? 

We went from a 38-cover restaurant open seven days a week to 24/26 covers open across five days. This meant less staff both in the kitchen and the dining room. We are lucky in that the restaurant’s tables were already well spaced, so making sure tables were 2m apart wasn’t too difficult. A hand sanitising station was placed at the restaurant entrance for customers. Masks, visors, more frequent hand washing were all implemented for staff. Deliveries are now dropped and signed for at the back door to prevent any possible spread.

How have you dealt with the key challenges of the lockdowns?

Due to our location and people’s desire to get out into the countryside, we have been lucky in that we haven’t encountered the same challenges that city hotels have faced other than when we could only serve alcohol outside, we didn’t really have anywhere for people to sit with a drink, but we are implementing this this year.

Where did you see the biggest growth when you were open in terms of F&B purchasing?

Since reopening in July, we were very busy in all aspects of F&B – afternoon tea sales, wine flights, tasting menus – everything was up from the previous year.

Do you think the public’s interest in food provenance has increased in 2020? 

Over the years people have become more aware and want to know more about where the food they eat comes from, and how it is produced. I do still think that price is the first thing that most people will look at and I agree that in general ‘buying British’ can be more expensive, but for those who can afford it hopefully they will consider supporting our UK producers and farmers more.

How are you approaching new menu creation? 

Our two-acre kitchen garden will become massively important to what we do in the coming years as we are putting in another large poly tunnel. The focus will be on growing enough quality in quantity to support the menu for a few months. Instead of trying to grow 40 different things, we’ll concentrate on 20.

What sustainability drives are you focusing on in 2021?

We have just become a member of leading sustainability group NOW Force for Good Alliance and will continue to work towards the commitments we have made through this. Additionally, we remain committed to achieving our goal of becoming carbon neutral, and of course find ways to continue to remove any food waste. We are currently in the early stages at looking at a food waste composter.

How are you preparing for reopening?

We are currently looking at a very strong March already, with April leading into our busiest season until winter.

“If we know our suppliers are struggling to get deliveries on time we have adapted and got the produce in a day earlier”

Steven Edwards runs the restaurant at Bingham Riverhouse in London.

He joined the hotel, with a private members club feel, in January 2020.

What measures did you put in place to deal with Covid-19 restrictions? 

We work with a Food Safety company called Surefoot who was able to help us put together a robust Covid risk assessment and ensure we are doing everything possible to keep our team and guests safe. Some of the measures we have in place is the whole team wearing masks, multiple sanitiser stations around the guest house. We have a Covid-19 questionnaire that needs to be completed daily as well as temperature checks for the team and guests who are on site, socially distanced tables, separate work benches for the chefs and a one way system in the restaurant.

How have you dealt with the key challenges of the lockdowns? 

I think communication is key. If we know our suppliers are struggling to get deliveries on time we have adapted and got the produce in a day earlier. We generally use items that are in season and readily available but the way I create the menus allows for flexibility. Cash flow has been difficult but we are trying to ease the pressure on this by encouraging gift card purchases and reservation deposits.

Did you add any more margin to your menu prices when you reopened last year?

No, we changed the offering instead. Before lockdown we operated with a more traditional ala carte menu whereas at the moment we are doing a tasting menu as we are not turning tables.

What are the biggest changes to the kitchen operation brought on by the pandemic?

The set up we had before the pandemic has allowed us to be more flexible. We work in shifts and have calculations for chefs and waiters depending on how busy we are going to be. This worked really well when reopening and allowed us to plan a successful re-launch.

What is your main focus now? 

My main focus is planning and preparing for when we do open. I have found that when we are able to open with reduced capacity we are busier than ever as the demand is so high.

 How are you approaching new menu creation?

The same way as I always have done, I map out my dishes for the year and then spend time in trying to improve or completely change them.

“We will build up gradually, starting with reduced menus and limited plates to allow the team to adjust back into the flow of things”

Robert Bates, executive head chef at The Belfry Hotel & Resort, looks after a vast operation, from the hotel’s 288 bedrooms, multiple F&B spaces and three golf courses.

What measures did you put in place to deal with Covid-19 restrictions?

We have put various measures in place in the kitchen to mitigate the risk for our teams and guests. From a kitchen point of view, we had to consider a variety of areas from how it would work from guests ordering to receiving their plate to ensure there is reduced contact. We have distancing measures in place in the kitchen, everyone is provided with full PPE and we have Covid stations in place to regularly check the team’s temperatures. We have created a one-way system in the kitchen and new policies include one in, one out in the walk-in fridges and freezers to minimise staff contact. Also, we have updated our delivery policy to limit contact between supplier and kitchen staff to minimise the number of people coming into the building.

How are you approaching new menu creation?

I had just finished creating a new menu before the most recent lockdown. We are keeping our menus simple, but of course tasty, to not over complicate dishes.

What are you predicting as some of the big food trends to come out this year?

Chefs have been very creative and offering meal kits for diners to cook at home and I think this will continue. Another big food trend is preserving and fermenting. Chefs are improving their skills and finding new ways to preserve and ferment to ensure produce doesn’t go to waste when new restrictions come in place.

How are you preparing for reopening? 

My strategy is to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do, and it will depend on what we can do first. For example following the first lockdown an ease in restrictions meant golf was able to reopen earlier than the rest of the resort so our focus was catering for golfers outside. We will build up gradually, starting with reduced menus and limited plates to allow the team to adjust back into the flow of things.

“First week after lockdown we grew steadily, and then Eat Out to Help Out happened and it went through the roof”

Jo Booth is head chef at The Grand in York, part of a kitchen team of 24, and is looking at implementing a more seasonal feel into menus over the coming year.

What measures did you put in place to deal with Covid-19 restrictions? 

We introduced one way systems around the hotel, a temperature sign in and out sheet, different changing areas for different departments, sanitiser stations at every entry point and heightened cleaning of areas that may be more frequently touched.

How do you ‘lock down’ the kitchen when the government announced the closures? 

Lockdown starts with closing the kitchen for us and this normally takes three days. All stock must be counted, fridges must be emptied clean and turned off, in the dry store all food must be checked for dates if it expires whist in lockdown. Any remaining food must be sorted, while all other food is classed as waste and goes onto the wastage log. The leftover produce is can be cooked for lockdown teams to eat whilst they are on duty, if not is it suitable for a charity. All equipment must be cleaned and sanitised and we normally then cling film most of to keep it clean as possible. HR paperwork must be finished off or updated i.e timesheets, contact information and holidays cancelled, whilst making sure all staff are aware of the current situation.

Where did you see the biggest growth when you were open in terms of F&B purchasing from guests? 

For us, the first week after lockdown business grew steadily, and then we introduced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and bookings went through the roof. Every outlet at the hotel was busy and we were operating like a Saturday, seven days a week.

How does your food buying process work? 

Will this change post-pandemic? We are in a lucky position for such a large hotel; essentially if the product is good, and the quality is there, we can add them to our list and purchase from them. We currently use several local suppliers as well as some national ones.

“We have been lucky in that we have been able to use our sister business the Three Hares Deli to prevent food waste”

The Black Bull in Sedbergh is an 18-bedroom foodie bolthole in Yorkshire owned by James Ratcliffe and Nina Matsunga, who also own and operate the café and bakery, Three Hares situated opposite.

How have you dealt with the challenges of the lockdowns?

We have been lucky in that we have been able to use our sister business the Three Hares Deli to prevent food waste by creating ready meals, selling raw meat, changed the wine list on a regular basis. Our food menu works to what’s available, so shortages are less of a problem. Cash flow involved sensible management.

Did you add any more margin to your menu prices when you reopened last year? A little but rather because it was overdue anyway. With guest room rates we held the weekend rates for more of the week, but only in the way a more established business would in the summer months.

Where did you see the biggest growth when you were open in terms of F&B purchasing from guests?

Wine and food. People ordered better quality of both, more courses, and we sold more fizz than we ever have.

What are the biggest changes to the kitchen operation brought on by the pandemic? 

Stricter booking slots, more a la carte so more focus and the same team everyday as we worked less days.

What is your main focus now for the first few months of the year? 

We will focus on opening, maximising bookings, and looking at better service, food, bar offering, whilst also looking into outside space improvements, box off events, continue to build our other business online, and to refine and improve generally.

How does your food buying process work?

Will this change post-pandemic? Brexit may throw more issues our way, at least for a year or two, but a lot of what we use is British. It depends on the effect on British producers.

What are you predicting as some of the big food trends to come out this year? 

Provenance, outside cookery, regional specific more obscure international food i.e North East Thai food. We also think that British food, more environmentally influenced choices, further development of restaurant meal kits will be popular themes.

How are you preparing for reopening and what strategies are you bedding in to ensure you bounce back? 

Focusing on how we can do everything better, and improving the Black Bull environment inside and out. This means considering our menus, wine & drinks lists, service approaches, refining the little touches and expanding the offering throughout. We’ll also be looking at brand development and raising awareness of our offering, whilst reducing costs, efficiency and trying to keep relevant through PR. One thing the lockdowns have given us is time to reflect, time to act, experiment more, which we couldn’t have done under normal circumstances.

SPECIAL REPORT: Top chefs share their kitchen secrets (Part 1)

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Zoe Monk

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