A Head Chef from Afonwen who trained with Michelin starred TV celebrity Tom Kerridge is cooking up a new culinary experience at the Downton Abbey of North Wales.
Scott Graham, 27, has been appointed as the man in charge of the kitchen at Soughton Hall Hotel, near Northop, which recently underwent a £150,000 refurbishment by its new owners Elle R Leisure.
Scott, 27, is looking forward to seeing hotel guests enjoy his a la carte menu served in the stunningly reinstated first floor dining hall at the historic mansion house built in 1714 as a Bishop’s Palace. It was remodelled in the early 1800s by the famous Sir Charles Barry whose iconic work includes the Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame.
One of Scott’s first tasks was to create a special festive menu, which will start on Tuesday November 29, and will be on offer to both residents and non-residents throughout December from Tuesday evening through to Sunday lunchtime.
Scott brings more than a decade of culinary excellence to the Soughton Hall kitchen, having started out in hospitality at the age of 15. His enviable CV includes time spent doing work experience with celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, presenter of BBC’s Food and Drink and the Bake Off: Creme de la Creme programmes.
Scott has long been inspired by Tom’s award winning British French cuisine fusion.
He said: “I had heard on the grapevine that he offered mentorship schemes and so when I was younger I just emailed him and asked if I could do some work experience in his kitchen. To my surprise he said yes.”
Scott subsequently spent a week working with Tom and his team at The Hand and Flowers pub in the beautiful Georgian town of Marlow, the only pub in the UK to have been awarded two stars in the Michelin guide.
Scott said: “It was only a short time but it was the most intensive learning period of my life. I came home equipped with so many new skills and invaluable pointers about getting the best out of my food.
“I really admire Tom Kerridge’s instinctive style and concentration on authenticity. It’s not just presentation that’s important with him, it’s about cooking food which people love to eat, and is packed full of beautiful flavours.”
Scott is delighted to have taken charge in the kitchen at Soughton Hall Hotel where he says his initial focus will be on a menu of tried and tested classic dishes.
It is his most significant career move to date and coincides with exciting times at the hotel which was taken over in February by Manchester-based bar, restaurant and leisure experts Elle R Leisure.
They have since completed extensive improvements to the Grade II* listed venue, including updating the main guest areas, revamping the elegant library, entrance hall and reception. They have also transformed the bridal suite, to include a new dressing room and luxury bathroom.
In addition the new owners have also decided to move the main dining area from the former Stables restaurant, located in a separate building next to the hall, and reinstate it in the impressive first floor rooms, which look out over the hotel’s grandiose driveway.
The hall’s original stable block will in future be used for exclusive events and parties when a separate space is required.
“It really is an exceptional dining area,” said Scott. “It’s incredible to think that people will be enjoying my food in such impressive surroundings and it is perfect for the festive period. It has such a great atmosphere.”
To win his new role, Scott went through a rigorous selection process by James Ramsbottom, owner of family firm Elle R Leisure, who organised a ‘cook off’ with several prospective Head Chef candidates where they prepared both a dish of his choosing and one of their own signature dishes.
James said: “Scott’s cooking was very clean. It has a lot of finesse and what impressed me most was the balance of flavours he managed to get into his food and his seasoning was perfect.
“I am pleased to also employ a local chef who has good contacts with local suppliers which is something we are keen to encourage as much as possible.”
James added his main ambition with the restaurant was to establish its reputation as a place where people could come for consistently high quality meals in spectacular surroundings.
He said: “Soughton Hall is not in a town so we need to give people a reason to come here and enjoy what we have to offer. Moving the dining back into the main hall gives people a very special venue for dining but we don’t want people to feel it is just aimed at formal or special occasions.
“Our priority will be to provide good quality food, full of flavour, at all times whether it’s for our hotel residents, diners who are looking for a good meal out or for a wedding party.
“We hope that by coming to enjoy our restaurant, people might then have us in their mind when they come to plan a big event such as a wedding. The restaurant will act as a showcase for the standard we are aiming for at Soughton Hall.
“There is no better time to come and see what we are all about than during the upcoming festive period. With its Downton Abbey connections and Scott’s terrific Christmas menu, I think our guests will enjoy a full, festive experience from the moment they walk through our doors.”
Scott, a former pupil of Holywell High School and Deeside catering college, cites his mum, Shirley, as being the instigator of his career in food.
He laughed: “When I was at school I never wanted to be a chef at all. The thought never even occurred to me. I wanted to be an accountant and I even did my school work experience placement at MBNA, Chester. But a week later, when I was 15, my mum found me a part time job not far from my home town, the Springfield Hotel, Holywell, and I discovered how fantastic cooking can be. I really loved it.”
Scott worked there until he was in his 20s and says he will be forever grateful to his former boss John Rae for teaching him the skills which are now at the foundation of his career.
He subsequently went on to work at the four star Deganwy Quay hotel and spa, Welsh coastal resort in Conwy and the New Blossoms Hotel in the heart of Roman city, Chester.
At Soughton Hall he is very much a hands-on head chef, in the kitchen from early breakfasts through to late evening dinners, taking charge of starters, mains and desserts.
He said: “The most important thing for me is to get the quality right. We are a small but highly dedicated team here at Soughton Hall and our clients have rightly come to expect first class standards. I want to perfect the detail, to give diners total confidence in the consistency of our plates.
“I’m a big advocate of creating my own stocks, sauces and jus from scratch, reducing them down to a rich piquancy. Good seasoning is essential and I’m a perfectionist about getting the basics right.”
Elle R Leisure is well-known for recognising and nurturing up and coming culinary talents, having successfully developed the Dukes 92 and Albert’s restaurants in Manchester.
It also owns the boutique Woodlands hotel in Leeds which specialises in weddings.
With its rural location in scenic countryside on the Wales border, Soughton Hall lies just 10 miles from the north west tourist hub of Chester.
There is also easy accessibility to the major M56 and M6 road networks so both Scott and the Hall’s new owners aim to appeal to diners from an ever wider radius, attracted by the enticing combination of its quality restaurant, stylish rooms and outstanding wedding venue potential.
Scott, who lives with girlfriend, Tayla, says the hotel has become his virtual ‘second home’ since his appointment as head chef.
“It’s true to say I currently spend most of my time here,” he smiled. “Fortunately Tayla is understanding as she once worked in hospitality herself and knows how time absorbing it can be. But that is the nature of the job and it’s a job I love. There will undoubtedly be lots of challenges ahead but I feel honoured that the owners have put their trust in me and given me the chance to make my mark at such a prestigious venue as Soughton Hall.”
For more information and to find out more about the upcoming festive period at Soughton Hall, go to www.soughtonhallhotel.co.uk