Nick Edgar, Head Chef, The Samling Hotel

The  Staff Canteen

Nick Edgar wanted to cook from a young age and he is now the head chef at Michelin-starred The Samling Hotel.

He spent five years at Le Manoir where he worked his way up the ranks to become head chef, before moving to The Samling, and in the 12 months since he started he has successfully retained its star in the Michelin Guide.
The Staff Canteen spoke to Nick about working at Le Manoir, why he decided it was time to leave and his future plans for The Samling.

halibut, miso, dashi by Nick Edgar at The Samling

halibut, miso, dashi by Nick Edgar

at The Samling 

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

Since a very early age my dad was a baker and I remember going to see him at work and he’d always bring cakes back so I got into cooking at a very early age. It was my first memory where I knew I wanted to be a chef.

You started your career working for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, how would you describe your time there?

The best time ever of my career. It was hard but it was the biggest learning curve ever. The great thing about Le Manoir is that not only does it train you to be a chef, but it trains you to be an adult and gives you life skills. It teaches you to be respectful to the environment, your work colleagues, food, money, just the whole package.

What would you say is the most important thing that you took from your time there?

There isn’t just one. But Gary Jones, he taught me how to taste and understand food. It’s an important thing that young chefs don’t understand now, how to put food into their mouths and understand what’s happening, why it’s happening and what do we need to do to it.

Would you say it has had quite a big influence on developing your own food style?

Massively! A question was asked to me just before I did TSCLive. The question was ‘What’s more important modern gastronomy or the classics?’ And for me, you can’t have one without the other and what I love about Le Manoir and what it taught me was the fundamental basics of everything I do is related to the classics. I have put modern interpretations on it but it always comes back to the understanding of food that Le Manoir taught me.

Info Bar

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Luke Selby – Young National Chef of the Year
James Goodyear
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Tom De Keyser from The Coach
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Guilty food pleasures
It’s definitely a homemade Lasagne

Top 5 restaurants
The Hand and Flowers
Le Manoir
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Favourite cookbooks
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Eleven Maddison

Why did you decide to move to The Samling?

I’d worked my way from the bottom to the top at Le Manoir and been there for about five years. It was time, at the age of 33, to step out and test myself. I needed to challenge myself and put my interpretation of food onto a plate. I felt like I had gone back to Le Manoir at the right time in my career to learn the business side of being a chef. I had done the foundations at the beginning, then I left for 5 years and then went back.

the samling
The Samling

I felt like I had all the tools in the box ready to go and be a head chef on my own. And I love The Samling because of its ethos on food and the idea of the property being very natural, the garden, the growing projects that we have got going on here and the livestock. It’s very similar to Le Manoir, but not identical. It means I can keep some of the influences from Le Manoir within my own cuisine.

Do you think that being at The Samling has challenged you?

Massively. I went back to Le Manoir this week for a meal. I was honest and I said to them, ‘I thought I was ready to be a head chef when I left but it was only when I stepped into The Samling kitchen that I realised there was still a lot I had to learn.’ At Le Manoir, there was one person dedicated to do one element of the kitchen, such as health and safety, recipe writing, running the kitchen, dish development. Whereas at The Samling I am in charge of doing it all and creating food, as well as training the team.

gazpacho by Nick Edgar at The Samling

gazpacho by Nick Edgar

at The Samling

You’ve been at The Samling for just over a year now, how’re you settling in?

I’m loving it, I’m loving being able to create what I want and what I believe in without having any limitations. But also, creating a team around me that shares my vision - like I used to share Raymond Blanc’s vision – they’re all on board with what we’re trying to achieve.

>>> Related: Read more about Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir here

When you moved to The Samling, did you adapt to suit the clientele? Or did you bring your own style into the food?

I didn’t adapt. I think what was lovely was that I was welcomed with open arms from guests, the team at The Samling and the chefs in the area. I felt like I could just come in and create my style straight away, I didn’t feel I had to do anything in particular. The great thing about all the restaurants in the Lake District is they’re all cooking very different from myself. It wasn’t like I had to find my own niche in the market, my niche was my personal niche and there wasn’t a market for it here already, so I didn’t have to adapt. I adapted only to suit myself, not everything else.

You retained the Michelin star, how did that feel?

I have always been one of these chefs that as long as I am happy in the job that’s enough. I’ve never gone out and said ‘I want a Michelin Star, I want 2 Michelin Stars, I want 3 Michelin Stars’. Because the more you force it, the less it comes. The more you force it, the less natural it is and you end up being something you’re not. I think people can see that in the food.

Whether it’s Michelin, AA or even just for guests, they can see the fact that you’re trying to force something. My idea was just to come up here and basically hit the ground running. I knew that we had a very small deadline. I knew that Michelin would be looking at us very early and I had to be ready from day one. But for me, it was the biggest achievement of my life. It’s a building block for me and now it gives me the hunger to go on to the second star.

rhubarb, white chocolate, saffron - Nick Edgar, The Samling Hotel

rhubarb, white

chocolate, saffron - Nick Edgar

The Samling Hotel 

Did you feel that there was quite a lot of pressure put on you to retain a star? 

Every day you feel pressure, even now. It’s as much pressure today as it was the day I walked in. When you’ve got a CV that’s got a Michelin star on it and you’ve been the head chef at a 2 Michelin star, I think the expectations are that you’re guaranteed to get one and it’s far from the case. It is difficult, but I have the support of everyone around me and my whole team, including Alasdair Elwick, our general manager at The Samling. He really helped me a lot when I started.

How important would you say accolades are to you?

Accolades bring guests. Guests bring revenue. Revenue, in the bigger picture, helps you buy the equipment and employ the team to go to the next level. Accolades are massively important, but not only for a chef’s ego. The second star, it is a dream. I think it’s something that over a period of time is, of course, more than achievable. But we’re not talking anytime soon. It’s about building for the future and keeping the standards as they are.

Would you say that you’re still putting your stamp on The Samling?

The reputation at The Samling in the north of England is very good. So it is a case of building that reputation and building my reputation and that takes time. We’re still going through a massive refurbishment in the hotel. We’re in a brand new restaurant and kitchen. These things take time, it’s never an overnight thing, it’s a long steady journey.

Can you tell us more about the refurbishment?

nick edgar dish low res
Nick Edgar, The Samling

It had been in the pipeline for quite a few years but being in the Lake District, with planning permission and changing the landscape, everything takes a long time to go through planning. It’s taken 12 months to build and finish the brand new kitchen and restaurant. The old kitchen and restaurant has been turned into a lounge area for the rest of the hotel. It’s an extension on the building and we’ve gone from 22 covers to 50-55 covers and we now have a chefs table. The kitchen is about 10 times the size of the last kitchen and it’s such a different space to work in.

The problem with the old restaurant was that if every room was occupied the restaurant was full, so other guests couldn’t dine here. That was the reason for the extension. The Lake District has become a bit of a food destination and in the summer, we’re fully booked all the time – lunch and dinner. So it was the most sensible thing to do so anyone can visit the restaurant, not just those that were staying a night at the hotel.

You were a finalist in the National Chef of the Year 2014, would you enter the competition again?

Gary Jones who is my biggest mentor in life has now just become the chair of the judging and he’s very interested in me doing it. I think with the new restaurant being open it’s probably one thing too much for me this year. It is something I would definitely think about because I definitely enjoyed doing it.

>>> Read more in the Britain's Got Talent series here 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th March 2017

Nick Edgar, Head Chef, The Samling Hotel