10 Minutes With: Craig Atchinson, The Grand Hotel York

The  Staff Canteen

After 16 years working as a chef across the UK, achieving a number of accolades and being part of several successful restaurants, Craig Atchinson, who is from Horden in County Durham is now based in York where he has been for three years.

Through his experiences, he's coined his own style and now works as the head chef at Yorkshire's only five star hotel, Grand Hotel & Spa.

Craig Atchinson
Craig Atchinson

“We try to give our food real identity,” said Craig. “People can look at our sea bass and see a big, fat piece of sea bass not hidden under smoke or crumbs. It's got more substance than what I would describe regular modern food to have.

“I think it's important to stick with the fundamentals but I also think it's important to move with the modern times and not get caught too far behind and not lose touch with what's coming up and what's trending.”

Craig says he “really started learning” about quality of ingredients, the pure technical skill of cooking and his classic cooking during his time at Seaham Hall in Country Durham in 2001.

Since then he has worked at the Talbot hotel in Malton where he opened the hotel with James Martin and worked there for two and a half years in 2012, Costwold House where he gained a Michelin 'rising star' and three rosettes while working as a senior sous chef, and Hambrough Hotel where he gained his first position as head chef at the five star restaurant. 

His style of cooking is inspired from ‘the changing seasons’, and focuses on locally sourced food. The vegetables, fruit and herbs are grown near the hotel, and the meat and fish are mostly sourced around the area as well. It focuses on using ‘classical flavoured pairings’ which he believes have worked ‘for centuries’. Alongside that, he uses modern methods and technology, including nitrogen - hence why he thinks modern technology has its place but still uses classical cooking techniques.

The Yorkshire-based chef's signature dish is stone bass, served with langoustines, different preparations of fennel, crispy buckwheat and lightly steamed sea vegetables. He says the dish is reliant on origin and nature.

When asked about his influences, Craig said he worked under several head chefs, though the two he pointed out were Matt Weedon now in Lamb Inn, Crawley, and Steve Smith, currently at Bohemia in Jersey. With these two head chefs, he got the opportunity to try two different styles: classic cooking and technical cooking.

“We didn't have water baths or nitrogen,” said Craig, talking about his time working with Matt. “It was proper cooking; everything had to be spot on.

Carrot Cake, spiced cream cheese, pecan crumble, mandarin sorbet

Carrot Cake, spiced cream cheese, pecan

crumble, mandarin sorbet 

“With Steve,” Craig continued. “I learned to be a bit more creative, introducing technical skills and modern technology into cooking. So it was the best of both worlds, really.”

Of course, these were only his influences after he began cooking; Craig had influences and inspirations from being with his family as well: “My grandmother and family gatherings sparked an interest for helping out. My grandmother demanded a chocolate gateau every single day so I took on the challenge and started baking Victoria sponges. Simple stuff but it really got the fuel burning for an interest in cooking.”

Craig has also developed a ‘passionate’ interest in photography, which he believes ties into the creative and artistic nature of cooking. Like with cooking, he initially got into photography from spending time with his family, capturing moments with them, and eventually gained an interest in food photography which continued as his chef friends started to show an interest and he co-operated to promote them. Craig currently posts images and videos on his Twitter, showing the work behind the kitchen doors as he shows his progress in developing dishes.

Craig feels his family have been an important part of what has inspired him in life. Another reason for pursuing his career as a chef was due to his brother. He watched his older brother go to college to do a catering course, watching his brother's success as he became one of the top students, even being named student of the year. Craig felt like he had to fill his shoes.

So after working in so many different places, why has Craig settled back in Yorkshire where he first began?

“Having spent the last sort of 16 years going across the Scottish borders and the Isle of Wight, I think my wife and I have really, really found our home within York. We've been here now three years and it's an amazing city to work, it's amazing for the children to grow up and it's just an amazing place to be around.

“It hasn't got the hustle and bustle of London, Leeds or Manchester. It's an intimate sort of town.”

Another promising opportunity was made available around the same time Craig got the chance to go back to Yorkshire, but he said that it only “made sense” to go back, adding that the Grand was an ‘incredible property’.

He said: “We are not a large branded hotel, we are very much a hotel of our own standards, our own food styles, our own ethos, and the management support we receive alongside that is just incredible. We have absolutely everything to do our job.”

The hotel is currently undergoing a refurbishment which will see it double in size with the investment of over £15 million. It will include just over 100 more bedrooms which will have an Oriental Express feel and the furniture will be handmade in Italy. The hotel will be one of, if not the largest, five star outside the capital.

Along with the rooms will be a 96 seat restaurant, this will be a contemporary room with stylish banquette seating with a relaxed informal service that is slick and unobtrusive.

Craig explained: "The food style will be led by myself and will be focused on building on food ethos and beliefs. The food will be simple but keep within the style of our fine dining concept so there is a clear theme throughout the restaurants and a clear identity.

"Once the new restaurant opens we will then transfer our existing restaurant Hudsons into the small room we have reducing covers and we'll really be able to push our standards forward. The skies the limit and we have stars in our eyes. We are out to achieve big things and put York’s dining scene well and truly on the map."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th May 2016

10 Minutes With: Craig Atchinson, The Grand Hotel York