Mehdi Amiri, Executive Chef, Swinton Park

The  Staff Canteen

Mehdi Amiri is the Executive Chef of Swinton Park which includes fine dining restaurant Samuels and the more casual Terrace restaurant.

Mehdi Amiri is the Executive Chef of Swinton Park which includes fine dining restaurant Samuels and the more casual Terrace. He has always wanted to be a chef, realising he could use the trade to travel around the world. Since starting in a gastro pub in Oxford he has worked in hotels in France and Austria before taking his first step into fine dining aged 18 at two Michelin-starred Le Manoir. He also spent time at Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road, The Fat Duck, Dormy House and Wynyard Hall.

As well as honing his skills in some of the best kitchens in the UK, Mehdi also has a degree in culinary arts. Now at Swinton Park situated on one of the largest privately owned estates in England, comprising of 20,000 acres, The Staff Canteen spoke to Mehdi about his role at Swinton, his desire for accolades and the abundance of produce he has available from the Swinton Estate.

Granny Smith Essence SEAN ELLIOTT PHOTOGRAPHY   WYNYARD 297 low res

Granny Smith Essence

Sean Elliott Photography 

How did you end up at Swinton Park?

My passion is in fine dining so I was looking for a property which would allow me to focus on this and Samuels Restaurant at Swinton Park was the outlet for that. Swinton has many strings to it's bow the Terrace restaurant, a glamping site and cookery school we also have our luxury new build spa and country club. I really enjoy it and I like knowing what is going on across the whole site. It’s good to have that synergy and having all sites work together in terms of utilizing the produce we get from the grounds.

One of the reasons I picked this role is the produce here, it’s unrivalled in the area in terms of the yields we harvest from the garden. The apples get pressed into apple juice which we cook with, there’s honey from our own hives, we have a trout farm so trout is always on the menu and venison from the estate. This winter has seen some of the best Jerusalem artichokes I have ever tasted!

Having all of that in abundance is amazing but sometimes when the produce arrives by the truck load you are thinking what can I do with it all? But I’m very happy to have it as not many chefs are as lucky.

How did your time at Le Manoir influence your cooking?

It instils a work ethic into you and it creates a resilience. It’s very demanding and you could see people who struggled in that environment but if you could absorb information and retain it you would be alright.

What I liked about it was regardless of what level you are at when you go in to the kitchen they would always push you to become a better. It opens a lot of doors.

Info bar

5 rising stars:
Mathew Ball (Pastry Chef De Partie Northcote Manor)

Christopher Mcphee ( Head Chef The Terrace Restaurant)

Jon Ingram ( Executive Chef Dormy House Hotel)

Gareth Rayner (Head Chef The Coach House Middleton Lodge)

Ahmed Abdullah (Senior Sous Chef Swinton Estate)

Guilty pleasures:

Chicken Wings – not the whole roasted fresh chicken kind but the “bucket Variety” …I’ve said too much.

That’s not even a guilty pleasure… just a pleasure!

Top 5 restaraunts

5 – Chez Domonique Helsinki Finland (closed)
4 – The Orangery Rockliffe Hall
3 – The Black Swan Oldstead
2 – Restaurant Sat Bains
1 – Michael Wignall Gidliegh Park

Favourite Cook Books:

Harold Mcgee
The Science of food & Cooking

Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals

You left a head chef position to take a chef de partie role at Royal Hospital Road, why?

It was that whole ‘I would like to work at the only three star in London just to say I can do it’. Clare (Smyth) had just taken over as head chef at the time and it was renowned for being a really disciplined place.

It was the same ethos as the other places I had worked – despite what you know, go in knowing nothing. It was difficult but I really enjoyed it there and it made me realise I could go a lot further than I thought I could.

Whitby Crab & Mango Salsa low res

Mehdi Amiri: Whitby Crab &

Mango Salsa

What are you looking to achieve at Swinton?

We are looking for a Michelin star and we’ve had recent inspections which is quite exciting as they haven’t visited here in years. It’s all about consistency and having that throughout the year. I’d also like to see the Terrace as a standalone restaurant which will attract diners from the local area.

Swinton is fantastic, we always get the residents at Samuels and we are so busy for a country house hotel in the middle of nowhere but I thought the Terrace would also take some of that trade but it hasn’t. Now, we are establishing both restaurants with their individual styles and creating a more varied and accessible dining scene here.

Talk us through the menu at Swinton and your style.

The great thing about the menu is that there are aspects of global food influences. I’ve travelled extensively and acquired varied techniques and recipes, here we use local produce but there are flavours from around the world within the dishes. We use beautiful wild halibut and we add an Egyptian dukkah crumb recipe that which tastes fantastic. It’s those subtle notes throughout the menu that I feel reflect my style.

Swinton Farm Trout%2C Tartar%2C Wasabi%2C Dill Sorbet low res

Swinton Farm Trout Tartar, Wasabi

and Dill Sorbet

What is your biggest success to date in terms of your career?

It’s probably cooking with my idols. I said to myself when I was younger that I wanted to cook for Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay and Michael Wignall. It sounds naive but cooking a meal for these chefs and having them validate your cooking is probably the thing that is the most inspiring for me.

Michael (Wignall) had a big influence on me, I’ve been following his food for many years now and I went to see him at The Latymer and Gidleigh. He’s an inspiration because he is constantly evolving, in terms of the market I’m in which is hotel dining he has held that bench mark, with his own style, and I aspire to be like that.

You have several outlets under your control, how important is it to have a good team and how easy is it to attract staff?

It’s a nightmare! You try and attract the right people and you have to have the right kind of operation. At the moment we are very driven and passionate so in a role here you have to find something you enjoy otherwise it becomes very taxing. I’m looking to surround myself with like-minded people, I want chefs who are excited to be working with me and excited to create the food. The biggest thing for me is keeping them inspired, you have to be creative all the time and constantly keep evolving both for the client and the chefs.

How has social media changed the industry?

Chefs have a perception of a role and the restaurant before they even go and they see the dishes being produced and they want to go and work there. They get an understanding of what they will be cooking before they even get into the role. That can sometimes be a negative because they see this fantastic produce and then they arrive and they are pealing 90 kilos of asparagus and they probably think ‘it was more glamorous scrolling through the pictures on my phone!’
Overall I think recruitment is a little easier thanks to social media and being offered new roles can come from a good social feed too. I always check candidate's social media to assess what level of technical ability they may have.

Swinton Park Autumn by Echo YIN low res
Swinton Park in Autumn by Echo YIN

What about your front of house team, how important is communication with them?

It’s key. There is no point in me producing any food if there’s no one there to deliver it at the standard you want. It’s difficult because you are looking for people who are as passionate about FOH and the service as you are about the back. That’s where everything stems from so you don’t want someone at the top of the pyramid who is non-productive or not passionate because that filters down to all the junior staff.

What are your thoughts on the food scene in northern England?

I’ve been up here for three or four years now and I feel like the food scene has just erupted. It seems to have really kicked off and a lot of chefs seem to be really upping their game. I like that because it pushes me and my team to improve. 

And what are your plans for the future?

I’d like to see this place expand more and maybe the restaurant redevelop again, modernise a little bit. I’m happy here, having your own place is a nightmare! I’ve consulted on a few new builds and when I start seeing the bills and the responsibility….I sleep easier looking after a multi-outlet business rather than owning one. It sounds extremely uninspiring but given the opportunity I wouldn’t take it, I think there are other avenues I’d rather invest in which are financially more beneficial.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th January 2018

Mehdi Amiri, Executive Chef, Swinton Park