Head Chef: Constable Burton
What inspired you to become a chef?
As a very young child, perched on a stool at the worktop in the kitchen, I used to help my parents to cook. That experience must have planted a seed in my subconscious because years later, when I was preparing to leave secondary school, I realised that I didn’t want to spend my working life in an office, deciding that a career in the kitchen was calling.
My teachers were initially resistant as I had done well with my academic studies, but thankfully, I was lucky enough to have a mentor at school who listened as I described to him my interest in cookery and, in particular, how I had been following the work of Gordon Ramsay for some years. Through him, I discovered that Gordon was involved with the Tante Marie School of Cookery in Woking. The fees were daunting, but with my mentor’s help I was awarded a scholarship, and graduated in July 2010 as Student of the Year.
Eager to return to Yorkshire to start my career in an area that has some of the best fresh produce in the country, I began my career at The Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey where I learned about working in a professional kitchen. Since then I have honed my skills and discovered the areas in which I prefer to work. Of which the principal is game cookery, a preference reinforced by making the final of Game Chef of The Year in 2016.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Here in Yorkshire we are surrounded by fabulous scenery and also fabulous game. At the Constable Burton Estate, near Leyburn, I have some fabulous game right on my doorstep, brought to the kitchen by the gamekeepers, ready for me to turn into amazing and delicious dishes for our guests. This gives me the opportunity to try out new recipes and create dishes that not only look fabulous but taste truly delicious. There’s no excuse for not using the best and freshest ingredients, and aside from our own local game I have a network of reliable, quality suppliers who enable me to turn out the best dishes possible.
Of course, days can be very long and tiring, and often extremely hot. There’s a fair amount of stress involved when numerous dishes are required at the same time, and the business is well known for having some very unsociable working hours. However it’s something I truly enjoy and in which I know that I can excel, and thoroughly enjoy both my day (and evening) job and the cookery demonstrations where I can show people just how easy it can be to create amazing dishes with just a few top quality ingredients. So I’ll never regret the decision made all those years ago to spurn the office for the kitchen.
How would you describe what makes game different?
There is no other meat that is wild and has such unique flavours. Each type is different, and requires different preparations and cooking styles and methods, but it’s so versatile. And best of all there’s an abundance of it in the UK that we need to make more use of.
What is the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking game at home?
Cooking time. Game meat is wild, very lean and low in fat, so it is imperative not to overcook it.
What is your favourite game bird to cook at home?
That would have to be pheasant. It is so underused: any dish you can cook with chicken can be made with pheasant.
What game in particular benefits from hanging?
Pheasant and venison, in my opinion. It helps to build a stronger and more mature flavour, and allows the meat to relax. It doesn’t have to be done for days or weeks; sometimes 24-48 hours is enough.
You are cooking for a dinner party at home with game as the primary ingredient, what would you serve for starters and mains?
I’d serve a terrine, which is a great way of showcasing game flavours as well as being all in the preparation, making serving easy. For the main course a venison Wellington: quite a bit of prep, but again once in the oven you’re free: it’s a lot simpler than juggling pans and a great showoff spectacle carved at the table.
Is there a particular game dish you serve regularly in your restaurant?
One of the most frequently served at Constable Burton Hall is the ‘KFP’ on p.79, southern fried pheasant with our unique (and not secret at all) spice mix. We serve this regularly for elevenses: it goes down really well, is a great way to treat the pheasants shot on the estate, and is really enjoyed by guests ‘not keen on game’; a surprising and slightly baffling proportion of those who come here to shoot.
What is the best way of encouraging people to eat more game?
Replicate non-game dishes with game ingredients, such as the venison Wellington, ‘KFP’, or pheasant carbonara. Another key point is to ensure it is cooked properly – overcooked game is generally unpleasantly dry enough to put anyone off – but there again you could say the same thing about any ingredient.
Is there any game you don’t – or wouldn’t – eat?
I eat all types of game, and have cooked, eaten and served pretty much every available type in my time as a chef, from pheasant and partridge through wildfowl, rabbit, hare, venison, and yes squirrel. I’d recommend anyone who enjoys game and adventure to try them as well; they are all so tasty but ever so slightly different from each other.