Ernst van Zyle, Chef/Patron, The Lord Clyde, Cheshire

The  Staff Canteen

Ernst van Zyle is a South African self-taught chef. He came to the UK aged 21 to take up a position with the Hilton Hotel group. He soon found his first head chef position at the Stanneylands Hotel, a four star hotel in Wilmslow.

After three years there he then moved to Etrop Grange in Manchester where his bold experimental style started to earn him attention and comment. Last year Ernst moved to The Lord Clyde in Cheshire, fulfilling his long-term dream of owning his own establishment. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how it’s going.

What first attracted you to The Lord Clyde?

What attracted me was the intimacy; it’s 24 covers and it’s impossible to do more unless we turn tables, which isn’t what we do. We can look after everybody and everybody gets a hundred per cent of our attention’; everybody’s looked after in exactly the same way and most of the time we can prep on the day for the day. It’s the location as well. You walk out the door and two minutes to the left is the canal which goes all the way to Macclesfield; it’s a beautiful walk. There’s a field behind us with horses and a field in front of us with cows and sheep. There’s loads of good foraging; we’ve found lots of stuff that we use on the menu.

What do you want to achieve at The Lord Clyde?

It’s something we don’t want to shout from the rooftops about but the dream is to get a Michelin star and working towards that. The food we serve is modern. We use all the powders that are on the market; it’s water bathed; it’s foraged; it’s a little bit unusual – we cook with hay and pine needles or the yellow beetroot or purple carrots. So it’s very modern but it’s also very relaxed; we are a pub at the end of the day so we try to deliver that kind of upmarket experience but in an extremely relaxed atmosphere where, if you want to walk in in shorts and flip fops and a T-shirt, it doesn’t matter.

You were quite well known before for being experimental; do you feel you’ve had to tone that down now that you’re cooking in a pub?

Definitely not, we’ve set out to be that little bit different. There’s too many similar pubs doing fish and chips, deep-fried prawn tails or the twenty-stack burger. When we took over here, yes it was a dramatic change but we felt it had to happen. There’s no other pub like us in Cheshire doing that experimental, sometimes crazy stuff. The closest competition to us is the Alderley Edge Hotel; Chris Holland cooks pretty much as modern as we do, but the advantage we have is that we’re a pub so people are a lot more relaxed coming to us than having to get into a car and go to a hotel. So no, we never wanted to tone down; we never wanted to be cautious.

Was it at your previous job at Etrop Grange that you first began to develop your own food style and really start to experiment with your cooking?

Rising stars Maeemo, Oslo Ronny Emborg, Copenhagen Guilty pleasures Chocolate (particularly Mars Bars) Dominos Pizza Custard doughnuts Custard cream biscuits dunked in coffee Egg mayonnaise sandwich with cheese and onion crisps Favourite cookbooks Noma, René Redzepi The Wizard’s Cookbook, Ronny Emborg Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian, Sat Bains World-Class Swedish Cooking, Bjorn Frantzén and Daniel Lindberg Eleven Madison Park The Cookbook, Daniel Humm

Etrop Grange is where the fires really started to burn. It was at Etrop that I did my four stages: The Fat Duck then Noma, Le Manoir and then Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm. The general manager at Etrop was happy for me to just keep on going and going. Stannilands was the first kind of freedom I got but Etrop was where I really went for it.

Is it possible to sum up the key things you took away from each of those stages? The Fat Duck for me was about fun, making people smile and the magic that I’d seen on the tele. The Fat Duck showed me that food should be fun and if you can create a bit of theatre then you should go for it. The massive attention to detail was also utterly phenomenal; across the board of all four stages, it was the attention to detail that made The Fat Duck stand out. Noma was the most educational time I’ve ever had. It’s all about the product and the quality of the product, the complete freshness and respecting the ingredients – that’s what Noma taught me; really looking after what comes through the door, treating it right and if it doesn’t need cooking serve it raw; don’t mess around with it. As intense and difficult as some of the dishes are that Noma produce, at the core is still the ingredient. photo (20)Le Manoir wasn’t really my style but it was still amazing, again with a massive attention to detail. There are nearly 50 chefs at Le Manoir; it’s a massive operation serving 80 for lunch and 80 for dinner to a two-Michelin star standard every day - that’s impressive. The sheer volume was impressive – loads of prep and probably the most deliveries I’ve ever seen; some mornings the boxes were from the floor to the ceiling. Frantzen I think out of all, four I enjoyed the most because it was a very small team – 20 covers and that was the restaurant full. There was dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and lunch only on a Saturday, so only five dinner services and one lunch service. There was lots of time to prep, which 95% of the time was on the day for the day. I learnt a lot again about ingredient. Four things on the plate is enough if those four things are phenomenal, and again if it’s fantastic raw, then serve it raw. You said when you were at Etrop Grange that you wanted to cook as few ingredients as possible; are you still following that philosophy? Yes, we have a Jacob’s Ladder on the menu, which is well-known for being a long, slow-cooked piece of meat that you have to cook on the bone; we literally pan fry it for 30 seconds on each side and serve it as raw as possible – that’s a phenomenal piece of meat. We do the same with monkfish cheeks – we make a cure of salt, sugar lemon and lime zest and some coriander seeds and we cure them for three hours and that’s it, that’s the only cooking that happens to the monkfish cheeks. We do the same with mackerel. We do a scallop dish where one scallop is pan fried and served alongside one scallop tartare; we do lots of pickling. So yes, I do try not to cook; I know it’s a strange thing to say but if it tastes so good naturally then just have (15) Is this the end of your staging days? I would love to do more. Obviously for the foreseeable future it’s about getting established so I’m on the stoves 24/7 but of course I’d love to know more; I’d love to learn more. If I could, it would be Scandinavia based I’m sure. There’s some amazing places in Copenhagen; the new one star is phenomenal; there’s Maaemo in Oslo which I think is ground-breaking. I think staging is the only way to see new things and learn new things but that jacket has been hung up for now but the door isn’t shut forever. Do you have creativity like Ernst? Then check out our available head chef jobs for a job where your creativity can shine.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th September 2014

Ernst van Zyle, Chef/Patron, The Lord Clyde, Cheshire