Mark Stinchcombe and Sue Stinchcombe, Eckington Manor, Cotswolds

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th March 2016

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Mark Stinchcombe, winner of MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 and Sue Stinchcombe are the husband and wife head chef team at the helm of Eckington Manor.

Sue started working in cafes at the age of 13 and knew form a young age she wanted to be a chef. She did three years at college before starting out at The Wood Norton Hall under John Campbell where she became sous chef after four years. Sue went on to work at Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road, French Laundry, Belle House in Pershore and then Le Champignon Sauvage where she met Mark.

Mark became a household name when he won MasterChef: The Professionals 2015, he has had an equally illustrious career including working at Driftwood, the Fat Duck and Lucknam Park.He has also won Young National Chef of the Year and the Academy of Culinary Arts. The Staff Canteen caught up with the couple to find out more.

Mark and Sue Stinchcombe, Eckington Manor

Mark and Sue Stinchcombe

Eckington Manor

Becoming a chef and career to date

Did you always want to be a chef and was your route into the industry similar?

Sue: No, I went to college and Mark learned on the job. But I was just one of those lucky people when you have your careers advice, I knew from an early age what I wanted to do. My mum is a really good cook and I was allowed a lot of free reign when I was a kid to mess around in the kitchen.

Mark: I wasn’t academic but I liked practical things and I had an amazing home economics and art teacher, the natural combination of both of them lent itself to cooking. I did work experience at a hotel in Bath and my career went from there. I didn’t know what half the things were when I first walked into the kitchen but it opens your eyes and you experience a lot more than you would at college.

Was it tough Mark at 16, being in the kitchen five days a week?

Yeah, everyone was older than me but I had some amazing people around me at the time. They helped me grow and they showed me the ropes.

Yeah, everyone was older than me but I had some amazing people around me at the time. They helped me grow and they showed me the ropes.

Yeah, everyone was older than me but I had some amazing people around me at the time. They helped me grow and they showed me the ropes.

Sue, you staged at French Laundry, how was that?

It was absolutely fantastic. Everyone had the French Laundry cookbook and it was like the bible so for me being there rekindled the reason why I was doing this job. I would go every morning with the gardener and pick the ingredients before I even started my shift there because I loved it. They design a proportion of the menu around what they are picking that morning and it was lovely to see. It’s what we try and do here at Eckington and it has come full circle. We now have our own allotment and growers. It’s back to basics which is how it should be and in the summer we were ninety percent self-sufficient.

It was absolutely fantastic. Everyone had the French Laundry cookbook and it was like the bible so for me being there rekindled the reason why I was doing this job. I would go every morning with the gardener and pick the ingredients before I even started my shift there because I loved it. They design a proportion of the menu around what they are picking that morning and it was lovely to see. It’s what we try and do here at Eckington and it has come full circle. We now have our own allotment and growers. It’s back to basics which is how it should be and in the summer we were ninety percent self-sufficient.

It was absolutely fantastic. Everyone had the French Laundry cookbook and it was like the bible so for me being there rekindled the reason why I was doing this job. I would go every morning with the gardener and pick the ingredients before I even started my shift there because I loved it. They design a proportion of the menu around what they are picking that morning and it was lovely to see. It’s what we try and do here at Eckington and it has come full circle. We now have our own allotment and growers. It’s back to basics which is how it should be and in the summer we were ninety percent self-sufficient.

Mark, you spent some time at the Fat Duck, what was that like?

That was amazing. It was when they still had the a la carte menu on so the variations in the jobs were massive. There was so much to do in such little time, you were prepping for the unknown! But it was an incredible place to be a part of. I remember picking out the grapefruit segments for the salmon dish, which are dipped in liquorice – you have to pick out the individual cells from the grapefruit…it’s a fun job.

Do you have a similar style?

Breast and leg of pigeon, artichoke, cherry, pistachio

Breast and leg of pigeon,

artichoke, cherry, pistachio

Sue: We are really lucky in that we complement each other. We are a business mind and an artistic mind together. Our style has become one and it has happened quite organically. Le Champignon Sauvage had quite a big influence on both of us and you always take on bits from everywhere you work.

Mark: We just like to use the best ingredients we can and showcase their potential. We are not about fancy potions we present the ingredients as they are.

Maintaining a relationship within the hospitality industry

So how did you end up together?

Sue: Everyone always asks if our eyes met across a stock pan! I’ll probably tell you a different version to mark but the thing is in this industry it is hard work and it’s hard to keep a relationship unless you find someone in the trade. There was just a natural spark from the beginning and now we are married!

Is it hard to live and work together?

Sue: People always ask how the hell are you doing this, you are 24/7, 20 hours in the kitchen and you’re working alongside each other but we wouldn’t have it any other way and it works for us. We do work in a pressurised environment but we are both after the same goal so even if things get heated it’s all for the same reasons. mark stinchcombe quote

Mark: You are with someone who you trust and respect, not only in the kitchen but personally. It’s amazing to have that person who is there for you and is going through the same stuff as you. It’s such a vicious industry to try and keep a relationship going.

You both have the title of head chef at Eckington but who is the boss?

Sue: You are speaking to her!

Mark: Sue is very good at organising and I prefer to stay behind the stove.

MasterChef: The Professionals 

Obviously Mark got a lot of attention winning MasterChef, was that difficult for you Sue?

No, loads of people have said to me ‘are you going to do it next?’ But I’ve already done Great British Menu and Hairy Bikers so I don’t feel like I have missed out. It’s hard when you are competitive not to have won but I was so proud of Mark for winning. And it’s team effort here and everyone was still here running the restaurant while he was away doing it. It’s done exactly what we wanted it to do because it’s put us on the map.

No, loads of people have said to me ‘are you going to do it next?’ But I’ve already done Great British Menu and Hairy Bikers so I don’t feel like I have missed out. It’s hard when you are competitive not to have won but I was so proud of Mark for winning. And it’s team effort here and everyone was still here running the restaurant while he was away doing it. It’s done exactly what we wanted it to do because it’s put us on the map.

The menu at Eckington Manor

Talk us through the menu at Eckington and are the dishes a joint decision?

Sue: We sit down together and go through each dish. I can’t imagine trying to brainstorm on my own now so I feel really lucky we can do it together and it doesn’t seem such a hard task. As for the dishes we always keep the Eckington beef on, it evolves all the time and at the moment it’s a ribeye beef, the shin which we braise, caramelised onions, mustard and horse radish butter. We get the whole beast in and we just change the cuts as we run out.

Mark: We tend to pull a dish in and pull one out throughout the seasons so we can use the best ingredients at the time. We’ve got an amazing rhubarb soufflé on at the minute with gingerbread ice cream and a rhubarb pouring syrup.

Eckington Manor
Eckington Manor

I think throughout the year we will keep placing in the MasterChef dishes so we can showcase them to people.

Has winning MasterChef: The Professionals had a positive effect on the restaurant and why did you choose to do that rather than say Great British Menu?

Sue: We have a different clientele now, they are obviously foodie people who watched the show and they have a preconceived idea when they book. Before we were trying to convert people. We are pushing for a star and so we are pushing that style of food. It was a brave choice to do that style of food and I think now we are getting people who want to eat that type of food so MasterChef has done us the world of good.

Mark: I wouldn’t be ready for GBM. There are some amazing chefs doing amazing things like Michael O’Hare last year. What he is doing hasn’t been seen in the UK, that artistic style, I imagine it sent shocks up and down the country within the industry. What he is doing is very unique. I did MasterChef to get our name out there, we had people in the next village not even knowing we were here! I wanted to showcase our food to a larger audience.

Mark, was MasterChef an enjoyable experience?

Mark Stinchcombe
Mark Stinchcombe

I absolutely loved it and I wanted to showcase the food the MasterChef team were getting in for us. The hardest part was the critics, you’re working within an hour and fifteen minutes and you are trying to produce eight plates of food. I’d do it again - I think it’s a brilliant competition!

I absolutely loved it and I wanted to showcase the food the MasterChef team were getting in for us. The hardest part was the critics, you’re working within an hour and fifteen minutes and you are trying to produce eight plates of food. I’d do it again - I think it’s a brilliant competition!

Mark you’ve won a few competitions, are they something you enjoy?

It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and push yourself

It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and push yourself within a time limit – plus it’s fun, coming up with something which gets your style across. It’s an amazing experience and it’s nice to push yourself against other people and see how good you are.

So, what would you say your style is then?

Sue: We’ve both been classically trained but our style has a modern twist to it and we obviously use as much produce as we can.  

As a woman working in the industry Sue, how have you found it?

You just have to hold your own. When I was at Ramsay’s and I first stepped in the kitchen I was really shy and timid. I was lucky enough to have someone coax me through it and I didn’t get it beaten out of me. That’s the reality, when you go in it’s sink or swim - but I got a lot more ballsy and feisty. I wish I had spent more of my time proving myself as a chef not proving myself as a female. You end up pushing really hard for the wrong reasons.

Eckington Manor
Eckington Manor

So, it has been hard but I really enjoy it and we have another female chef in the kitchen here and I’m really proud about that. Having women in the kitchen changes the dynamics and I think that’s really healthy.

Cooking style

You’ve both done a lot of travelling, is there a particular cuisine that has influenced your cooking style?

Sue: I think Thailand had a big influence and the way they cook there. It’s very clever and some of the places we went to were absolutely amazing and they really pushed the limits.

And out of all the chefs you have worked with who has influenced you the most?

Mark: I think Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park was an amazing mentor for me. I was at a stage where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on in the fine dining industry. But he kept that passion and the competitions really helped me find my own style.

Do you have any ingredients or seasons you enjoy working with more than others?

Sue: Spring – it’s like Christmas day for a chef. The broad beans, the asparagus, the peas, wild garlic, all that comes through. Then there is the spring lamb, all this produce just makes your job so much easier.

Eckington Manor
Eckington Manor

Mark: Having our own farm and allotment where we can get most of our vegetables from is amazing. And when the carrots get too big we pickle them or when the quinces are ready we make jam. It’s taken a long time for us to get used to it but when you have an abundance of something it will last you through the quitter months.

What are your plans for the future?

Sue: We are pushing for Michelin standard and what has happened with Mark and MasterChef is our launch pad.

Mark: I’ve worked at a Michelin standard for eight years and that’s where I want to be. I hope one day we can get a star, I think that is most young chefs’ dream.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th March 2016

Mark Stinchcombe and Sue Stinchcombe, Eckington Manor, Cotswolds

IN ASSOCIATION WITH