Hywel Jones Lucknam Park Wiltshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st July 2011

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  Hywel thanks for inviting us here. It's wonderful to come to Lucknam Park especially when the sun shines One of the things I've noticed today with your cooking and talking to you earlier is you're a chef in the nicest possible way that transcends two eras. You've worked with some absolute legends, Peter Kromberg, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis, to name a few and not discredit any that I've missed, how have you seen cooking evolve and change in that time? We're using different techniques now. So talk us through the changes and whether you feel personally it's a good or a bad thing or it's just evolution. I think in the 20 years, or 21 years I've been cooking there has been a massive change in technique definitely, some of the old traditions such as pot roasting and the braising seem lost in a lot of kitchens now. I personally haven't got anything against using some modern methods such as water baths, but I think the key is you still need a solid foundation. I think for me the key with anything is to use something to enhance what you already know, what you already do. My concern is that some people coming  into this industry no longer have the basic skills. They can cook a piece of meat pink because they know they need to water bath it to 56 degrees but if you just give them a raw piece of meat and a pan and say, "Cook that medium," would they actually have the skill? So as long as you balance it I think it's a good thing. Chefs have become more consistent haven't they with modern technology. But has it taken away a skill element? I mean you mentioned earlier when we were cooking you used to have six different meats on the menu and if you got a table they've all got different meat, all got a different cooking degree, that's a lot of pans I think for me certainly if you take water bath cooking as the example what it does offer is consistency which is why I think it's become so popular with chefs now certainly in restaurant outlets where you're trying to do 60, 70 cover service. What I'm not really into is all the use of all these different chemicals and different agents. I don't mind the odd little tiny influence, but for me the basis of a dish is still your key ingredients, buy top quality ingredients, prepare them sensibly and well and then if you want to tweak them with a few little twists that's all well and good but it should only ever be to enhance and not replace them. Do you not think though sometimes things like these chemicals that it almost becomes a fad and a fashion and, it just becomes a bandwagon almost. It does but I don't feel we should ever follow trends or fashions, certain things will always stand the test of time and for me the quality ingredients and the classic combinations they're always going to be there. You can tweak them slightly to make them a little bit more modern and up to date but there are certain things you need to respect. You had a very successful career in London, Foliage, Lolas, and we've seen you on the front cover of the Caterer when you were at the Pharmacy is there a different perception, press-wise when you're in London and when you're out of London? Do you feel you get the same coverage now that you're not in London? I think London is and always will be the place in the UK really for cooking. However, saying that at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to a lifestyle choice. You know I loved my time in London, really did love it but for me the ambition was always to move back to Wales and Lucknam Park's enabled me to do that even though it's a totally different challenge running something like Lucknam Park to running Foliage.  At Foliage you couldn't tell if it was a Tuesday or Saturday, every night felt the same"¦"¦ Every night's full? Yeah whereas Lucknam you come to a country house hotel and you do get into a routine but with the best will in the world you're never going to get 80% occupancy in a country house. You know Tuesday and Wednesdays are going to be some weeks stronger than others but you get into a routine and you need that because you're so flat out on the weekends. With Lucknam it's a proper captive audience whereas Foliage they'd come just for a meal, here they'll arrive on a Friday and then they don't leave until Sunday evening and during that time they want feeding and watering non-stop. It's about an experience here isn't it? They might use the spa, they might want afternoon tea, they'll  have breakfast whereas Foliage they'll come in there for dinner. Yeah I mean Lucknam Park, it's an experience, people come here and they want to shut off from the outside world. People can leave all their worries and all the stress at the front gate and collect it again on the Sunday night. So when they're here they want to be pampered. As a chef then do you have to change your mindset because I'd imagine you were running at 100 miles an hour in London, do you have to change the way you do things and how you approach your staff? I don't think you change just because you go to a country house as opposed to a London restaurant.  I was always taught to treat your staff as you would expect to be treated yourself and I don't think that should change weather you're in London or in the Country But we've seen chefs come out of London who haven't been as successful. Well it depends what reason they leave London for. I'd done my time in London, I did 12 years more than I was ever going to do in London and then  I decided to move to Lucknam Park. It's a huge responsibility being a chef at somewhere like this, guests' expectations, my own expectations, my obligation to the team, there's a lot of pressure on. It's different to London yeah but you come in, in the morning and you could be walking into a London kitchen. From seven, eight in the morning the kitchen's flat out until ten, 11, at night. In a way it's a tougher pressure than London because it's relentless, it's non-stop throughout the day and you never know when you're going to get called for a sandwich, afternoon tea, for room service, the brasserie's getting hit, the Park's busy tonight. I guess as well almost that there's probably a little bit more added pressure in as much as if somebody comes to Foliage and doesn't have a nice meal they probably won't come back, if they're in here for four nights and their first night isn't very good you've got to try and convert them before they depart from the hotel. I think the thing that I found tougher than being in London was people come to Lucknam for a number of reasons, whether it's the gardens, whether it's the manor house itself, whether it's the spa, the equestrian, the food is one small element and I think what makes Lucknam so successful is that each individual thing is performing well. So the pressures are to make sure that what I'm responsible for, i.e the kitchens perform well and contribute to the overall experience. We talked earlier about great Chefs one being Peter Kromberg and in your own words he was a master chef a lot has changed with the hotel chef, many hotel restaurants, all now occupied by leading restaurant chefs you've got Heston in Foliage and Alan Ducasse in the Dorchester, why is that will it will generate instant success and it's almost like the Premiership I guess it's about making an instant impact The way certainly the big hotels and operators change is mainly because through media, decades ago the biggest high profile job to get as a UK chef was one of the top hotels and you think of the Savoy and the Dorchester, the Ritz, if you were in charge of one those you were the top dog. Nowadays through the world of media and TV it's celebrity chefs so at the end of the day they're what's going to sell the product for a hotel"¦as soon as one of them does it then the others have to do it to catch up. Okay you can argue the point that that's no longer breeding hotel chefs of a calibre but it's opening up other opportunities. It gives people who possibly wouldn't have the funding to have a three star restaurant the opportunity now to do it. Have you as a business at Lucknam Park have you changed the way you do things because of modern media? I mean for example somebody can come here now and they take a photograph of their main course, they can have it on Twitter and it can be out in the world before the waitress has even come back with the tray. So are you conscious of the way media's changing and do you embrace that? Yeah I think you have to embrace the changes with things like media but the key with anything as long as you don't lose track of what you're here to do. I mean my job is to cook for the guests, whether it's breakfast, a sandwich or dinner in the park, you shouldn't worry too much about if it's going to end up here there or anywhere as long as you do things to the best of your ability and you get good feedback off the guests How has your cooking style evolved over the last seven years? My style over the last seven years I would say has definitely simplified. I think I've grown up a little bit. Maybe when I was in  London I was being a bit experimental because I felt I had to but I never felt comfortable with it. I think  the key is to  get to a stage where you think, "˜Okay maybe I'm not doing what Jo Blogs is doing, but this is what I'm comfortable with, the food I cook is the sort of food I'd like to eat, if I went out that's the sort of stuff I'd choose on the menu. You've got to have faith in the style of food you've put on  the plate. Last question I guess from looking at your cooking today you've almost taken some very, very classic flavour combinations, mushrooms, Madeira, lamb, mint, and I've noticed everything you've used i.e. you've cooked the sweetbreads in a poaching liquor, then used that in the dish, does that highlight your cooking style, how you like to cook? I think with my cooking the aim is to let the ingredients do the work for me ,to try to capture the natural flavours and build on them not mask them. We go to a lot of trouble to source fantastic ingredients so why mess about too much. Actually I lied last question where do you see yourself in five years time? You've had great success here, seven wonderful years, where's Hywel Jones going to be in five years time? Five years time I'd like to think I'm still going to be at Lucknam, it's been seven and a half years now but it only feels like yesterday that I travelled down the M4. There's so much happened here already from refurbishing kitchens, the spa, the brasserie, training the lads in the kitchen, developing the team and I think I'm at the stage now where if you like a lot of the donkey work is out of the way but there's so many other things we need to get done now. We're looking at the veg garden, got a few other things in the pipeline so it's about keeping my head down and working as hard as I can, motivating the team and producing consistent food. Well I genuinely wish you every success. Thank you Mark. Thank you Hywel thank you very much.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st July 2011

Hywel Jones Lucknam Park Wiltshire

IN ASSOCIATION WITH