Oli Martin, Head Chef, Hipping Hall

The  Staff Canteen

He started as a pot wash aged 14 in a one rosette restaurant in Lythan near Blackpool, but he has since worked in France where he got the bug for Michelin and he continued his travels in Asia, before staging in Australia and then heading to Europe. Oli Martin is now head chef at Hipping Hall, where he is pushing for his own accolades after honing his skills at Northcote and Gilpin Lodge.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Oli to find out about where his love of fine dining came from, the menu and his style at Hipping Hall and his plans for the future.

Did you always want to be a chef?

White Chocolate, Hibiscus, Apricot 

Like a lot of chefs, I think I fell into it. You start as a pot washer and you fall in love with it – that was how it was for me. I was 14, a lost little boy, didn’t know what I wanted to do and I got a job at a little one rosette restaurant. I loved everything about it the atmosphere, the artistic side, the passion everyone had – and no two days were the same.

Did the food and cooking interest you more than washing pots?

I started cooking very part time when I was 15, I did my GCSE’s did my final exam and then started an apprenticeship with the same restaurant.

You worked a summer in France, how was that experience?

I was in a tiny village called Elne in the south of France, I was working under a two star chef although the place itself didn’t have any stars. It was very different, I was only 19, I was living in a tent and working for pennies but it was a fantastic experience.

It was the first time I started to realise where things came from, we used to go down to the markets every morning and hand pick all the vegetables for the day. It was a great insight.

It was my first introduction to Michelin stars and what they were all about, he told me when I finished I should go back to England and get a job in a Michelin-starred place. So I went back and applied for Northcote.

Info bar

Rising Stars

Kevin Tickle

Jacob Meikle

Lee Westcott

Adam Smith

Tom Parker

Guilty pleasure

Any chocolate biscuit…there’s always a pack in the kitchen

Top 5 restaurants

Akrame

Tickets

Kokkeriet

The Fat Duck

Mielcke & Hurtigkarl

Favourite cookbooks

The Wizards Cookbook - Ronny Emborg

Alinea - Grant Achatz

You headed to Northcote and did a year there with Lisa Allen?

Yes, it was a massive eye-opener for me, I’d gone from a tiny kitchen in France just the two of us to the famous Northcote Manor. I didn’t know what to expect walking in there, I was quite young so I walked in there feeling quite cocky and thinking I knew more than what I did. Lisa was brilliant she had a lot of time for everyone and  a lot of time to teach and help the chefs develop.

She’s been taught very well by Nigel Haworth so she carries very much the same traits. I took a lot from my time there, although at the time I probably didn’t realise how much.

Why did you leave?

Because I was young, I didn’t respect it enough to hang around and continue developing. I just wanted to switch things up again but I knew I wanted to be working in fine dining. I decided to move to Gilpin Lodge from there.

You worked for Russell Plowman at Gilpin, did you learn a lot?

He definitely took me under his wing quite a lot. He had a fantastic background and had spent a lot of time at the Waterside Inn and had a classical background. That was what I had started with so I felt a lot more comfortable and I really enjoyed his style of cooking. I went in as a commis chef and I left three years later as junior sous and head pastry chef.

What drew you to pastry?

Mackerel                 

There was a position available on pastry so I asked if I could go over there, learn a bit more and I really enjoyed it.

A few people left and I just progressed through the ranks. It was a great time to really bring on some of my own dishes, the head chef was fantastic for that and he would let me put my own dishes on the menu.

You then travelled around Asia, staged in Australia – what brought you back to the UK?

I spent the majority of my stage time peeling walnuts! I was offered a job but it wasn’t for me. I came back to the UK but I wasn’t ready to be working again so I went back to Europe to travel – then reality hit and I realised I can’t travel the world forever!

I decided the place I would go and work had to really mean something to me, it wasn’t about getting another name on my CV, I wanted to go somewhere I could develop more. When I came across Hipping Hall and I came up to see it I instantly fell in love with it.

You started at Hipping Hall in January 2015, how has it evolved in that time?

I went in as sous chef and took over as head chef 11 months later, the head chef at the time had been here for seven years so I never expected the opportunity to come up. The food style has definitely changed since I took over, it’s modern British and we keep everything quite clean so for example the beef tartare, it’s a classic dish and we are using the skirt form a ribeye for it. It’s with a smoked bone marrow emulsion, soured potatoes – we keep things, crisp, simple and use the best produce we can buy.

We hand pick most ingredients, we forage and we take things from the kitchen garden when we can. Just down the road we have an organic grower so we can go and pick what we want at any time. Saying that, I don’t rule out going abroad for ingredients if there is a lamb which is better than any English lamb why shouldn’t I buy it in? Customers are paying for quality and we should be able to deliver that.

Hippping Hall 

Are you enjoying being head chef and the freedom of the menu being all of your own dishes?

It doesn’t sink in sometimes, you’ll have a little moment of clarity and think ‘oh s**t I’ve got to do the whole menu’ but we are strict on dish development.

We’ll have worked on some dishes seven or eight times before its made it onto the menu. We try to keep to less than five components which go on to a dish and often we’ll start with one dish and end up with something totally different.

Do you see influences in your dishes from places you have worked?

I’ve definitely found my own style, to begin with you do produce dishes which you are used to but as you progress you find your own style. I don’t tend to think about where I’ve worked in the past I think about now.

I’m at Hipping Hall and this is my food. I think you pick up things such as how kitchens work, and I never rule anything out – I might get a new commis and chances are I can learn something from him. There are always things you can improve on.

You have seven in the kitchen now, how are you finding being in charge of your own brigade?

There were three of us to begin with which was tough and it did take a long time to get staff in. Now, all the boys I employed have grown with me and you just have to pick them wisely I suppose. Chefs can see we are progressing and that makes them want to hang around, I try to look after everyone who works here to keep them by my side.

Rabbit

What are your plans as head chef at Hipping Hall? Are you looking for accolades?

Whatever comes, comes. We’re always trying to progress in the kitchen, if it gets recognised then fantastic, if it doesn’t we still know we are progressing in ourselves.

We don’t have a Michelin star but we get a lot of comments from guests saying we should so it’s nice to excel on peoples standards. We’re not chasing accolades, we just want to continue improving.

I think every head chef aspires to have their own restaurant but I’m very much settled at the moment and I have no plans to be disappearing and opening up somewhere on my own.

 

 

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st September 2016

Oli Martin, Head Chef, Hipping Hall