National Chef of the Year 2013: Hayden Groves - guest chef at L’Ortolan

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th May 2014

This is the second in a series of regular blogs by executive chef of BaxterStorey and winner of the National Chef of the Year 2013, Hayden Groves.  Tonight Matthew, I am going to be a guest chef at L’Ortolan!

Another February and another message from Alan Murchison with yet again another challenge. This time it involved not sitting on a saddle and riding from London to Edinburgh in two days, (those of you that love reading about sadistic challenges) click here

The brigade, Hayden Groves National Chef of the Year

Hayden Groves, National Chef

of the Year 2013

“How does the new National Chef of the Year fancy doing his first guest chef evening here at L’Ortolan” as with previous challenges from Murch, he had me at hello. After a few weeks of diary ping pong the date was set Thursday 8th May, for one night only, all sounds very dramatic eh? Now to decide on a menu.  It’s a bit like trying to pick your favourite relatives for a soiree; you don’t want to miss any one however there has to be a limit.

As is my style, the food would be flavour-driven with simple ingredients cooked sympathetically so from a dining experience it had to be spot on as there was nowhere to hide. There would be no plumes of smoke, long ingredient lists or a remote control switch. I’ve seen some things in my 23 year culinary career but a 14 inch plastic and fabric witch with glowing red eyes and a frightening cackle as a centre piece was certainly a first for myself, fellow judges and salon director James Tanner at the live theatre at Hotelympia a couple of weeks earlier.

As this would be under the banner of National Chef of the Year, I chose to use and tweak dishes that had featured in some form throughout my previous competitions. The Thursday before Easter I went to meet the team, check out the equipment and visualise service. I know Alan well – yes far too many hours had we shared the same stretch of road talking nonsense! – it was the brigade that I wanted to meet. Tom the head chef and Charlotte the pastry chef in particular, they were the ones who were truly going to help deliver the food. When I entered the kitchen it was a nice relaxed group of young chefs, I must have brought the average age down to 26 and that’s with me being two months shy of 40. Fast forward to the Saturday before the event, prep lists, recipes and photos were emailed.

Hayden Groves

Hayden Groves, National Chef

of the Year 2013

42 brave souls had booked the seven-course menu, with just one table of two short of a full restaurant, not bad for a rainy
Thursday evening out of town. Arriving at 8.30am after a two-and-a-half-hour battle with the M25 (the London orbital clearly won that round), a couple of hours of prep followed after almost suffering from caffeine overdose as double shot after double shot was handed to me out of courtesy by the front of house team; then it was clear down and set up after lunch service.

It was approaching 6.30pm and the first guests were arriving, show time! Canapés and aperitif were served in the large lounge and selected tables were brought through to the dining room.

For someone who has looked after corporate dining for a few years now it is almost common place for food to be considered as fuel or because business dictated that they should be offered some sustenance.  Yes we serve tasty plates but this is often overshadowed with requests of just a two-course, in 30 minutes or choosing not to order off our ever-changing a lacarte menu and have a simple smoked salmon salad, I know about giving the customer what they want.

Alan called the checks with Tom marshalling the brigade allowing me to drop in and out of the sections with the guys as it was
called away. To say it was strange to work the night with a completely new brigade was an understatement but I would like to think we all picked up a few tips along the way. As the final desserts were served I put my head out into the dining room andDiners photos from Twitter recognised some familiar faces. Not just table ten, the six top from BaxterStorey and David Mulcahy organiser of the NCOTY (who said I was clearly missing a trick by not featuring the aforementioned witch!), but more poignantly were faces I recognised of guests who had mentioned via twitter several weeks prior that they were coming to enjoy my food cooked by
Alan’s brigade and delivered by L’Ortolan’s service team.
It was a surreal experience; day to day I work in a secret dining room very rarely meeting the powerful decision makers that the brigade and I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for. I drove the 80 miles home and although it was in half the time it took to get there, I realised the simple joys of cooking for an appreciative audience was missing in my day to day job and as I saw twitter messages, photos and retweets in the morning I felt proud to be a cook once more. Naturally I would like to mention some thanks to Tom, Charlotte and the kitchen brigade, the service crew, Sally and the marketing team at l’Ortolan.
My BaxterStorey team for allowing me to play ‘Chef’ for the day and steering the Deathstar in my absence, Penny my pastry chef for making the excellent ‘Chocolate and Soy Caramel truffles’ that we gave as a gift to take away at the end of the night. Last but not least ‘Le Murch’ for asking me in the first instance and giving me the opportunity, as always I am looking forward to his
next challenge!  
Hayden Groves
Hayden Groves-FI

Hayden Groves

National Chef

of the Year 2013

Hayden Groves is the current Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year, having won last year’s competition at the Restaurant Show in October. He is the executive chef at contract caterers BaxterStorey previously having worked as the executive chef for Lloyds of London. Hayden Groves joins a long line of great chefs to have won the prestigious award including Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-MatthiasSimon HulstoneMark SargeantSteve LoveAlyn Williams and many more.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th May 2014

National Chef of the Year 2013: Hayden Groves - guest chef at L’Ortolan