Chris Holland, Alderley Edge Hotel, Cheshire

The  Staff Canteen

Chris Holland is head chef at the three-rosette Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire. He started his career as a commis chef apprentice at Wilmslow’s Stanneylands Hotel  before moving on to the Mere Golf and Country Club in Knutsford where he was involved in the setting up of a fine dining restaurant.

In 1996 he came to Alderley Edge as a junior sous chef, quickly rising to sous chef and becoming head chef in 2006. It wasn’t long before he realised his ambition of winning the restaurant three rosettes, a distinction he has followed up with other accolades such as Best Cheshire Restaurant for the new brasserie as well as North West Chef of the Year for himself and a place on Great British Menu. Chris’s food uses local ingredients and modern techniques to add creative twists to nostalgic classics.

At which point in your career did you realise what your particular food style was?

I don’t think I realised until I was head chef at Alderley Edge. I don’t think I’d had the opportunity to put my own style on anything up until that point, so it was a career-changing moment. I was ambitious and I wanted to achieve something yet to be done at the hotel, which was to receive three rosettes. When I got the head chef role, I already had an idea of what I thought food should be – sourcing good ingredients, thinking about things in their more natural form and using ingredients to their strengths. There was a lot of going out and meeting with suppliers and farmers and trying to find the best ingredients. As we went through that process I think my food style developed. It’s quite a simplistic style although a lot of people wouldn’t say so. For me it’s simple flavours. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel; I still like the classic flavour concepts, I just like to put my own twist in regard to the textures.

Can you give us an example on one of those twists on a classic dish?

On the menu at the moment we’ve got a tuna jacket potato with cheese; it’s obviously not as simple as it sounds – it’s quite molecular but we’re focussing on three ingredients and making sure those flavours still sing but putting it together in a very artistic and molecular style. So we took the tuna and we did it two ways – a tuna tartare and a tuna confit, slow cooked with pickled lemons so it’s got some acidity in it. Then we took the cheese element and decided we wanted it nice and creamy, so we made a cream cheese jelly if you like, set with carrageenan so when you eat it, it disperses on the tongue, then we did a very simple parmesan crackling just to get a real hit of cheesy flavour. The jacket potato element we make into a warm mousse. We fire roast some jacket potatoes at the beginning of each week. We build a fire outside the kitchen and cook them as if it they were actually roasting on a bonfire, which is a childhood memory for me. After that we infuse a milk with the jacket potatoes – we literally mash them up in milk, which will then take on the flavour. Then using a little bit of molecular magic we turn the milk into an espuma mousse which then gets fired on the top. Finally we deep fry the skins, so you get crispy potato skins. It’s a very complex dish from a very simple idea. 

The prevailing mood is turning away from molecular gastronomy techniques though isn’t it?

Yes but I don’t consider my food molecular gastronomy. It was five years ago when we were doing a hell of a lot of foams and jellies and caviars and bubbles. My food these days has become stripped back and we’ll only use those things to achieve the flavour.  The scene in Britain is now becoming very stripped back and ingredient-led and it’s only because in the last ten years the ingredients have become so much better and the suppliers so much better; the ingredients don’t need that manipulation anymore. And the customers’ understanding of food is also much more improved than ten years ago.ays has become stripped back and we’ll only use those things to achieve the flavour.

You’re very much a champion of sourcing local staff as much as ingredients.

Yes, everybody in my brigade is from the local area. When I became head chef I wanted my own team with people who believed in how I wanted to cook. How I went about that was by building a relationship with the local Macclesfield College. We cherry pick the very best students from there if we’re looking for staff. Basically everyone here is trained how I want to do food, a lot of which is in-house training. I’ve got two sous chefs that have been here for ten years and a junior sous for nine years and two others from the college who’ve been here four and five years, which is almost unheard of in the industry these days. I am very proud of all the staff. It has been an incredible journey together.

You’re also the development chef with Sous Vide Tools; what does that involve?

I met Alex [Shannon] the managing director of Sous Vide Tools at a conference in Manchester and we discussed some ways I thought they could demonstrate the equipment better. He contacted me about a week later and asked if I was interested in doing some work with them. It was a great role to get for me because for me using sous vide has been very important in almost everything I have achieved so far. The first thing we did was set up a training course which we do at MSK [Ingredients] where they’ve got a lovely development kitchen. We do that once a month and they’re always full – and we get domestic as well as professional customers. Off the back of that we decided to do a book which we launched a couple of months ago and it’s selling really well. It’s called Sous Vide: the Art of Precision Cooking.  We’re also talking about doing a sous vide app to give people easy-to-access information on times and temperatures. The development role is something I really enjoy. It gives me great pleasure to pass on my knowledge and experience within such a forward thinking company like Sous Vide Tools.

Any other exciting projects on the horizon?

Nothing in the immediate pipeline; I’d like one day to achieve my biggest dream, which would be to get my own restaurant. Whether that dream will happen I don’t know. One of the reasons I got involved in writing the book was hopefully to generate a bit of capital to invest in a restaurant. It’s something I believe I can do and would love to do. I have a concept in mind that’s not being done as far as I’m aware, so hopefully I’ll achieve that dream, but I live the dream every day anyway.  

View Chris' recipe for Asparagus “Three Ways”, Smoked Peanut, Chicken Glace by Chris Holland here. View Chris' recipe for Smoked Salmon here. Have a look at head chef vacancies on our jobs board if Chris's story has inspired you to find a new job in the industry. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th March 2014

Chris Holland, Alderley Edge Hotel, Cheshire