Aaron Patterson, Hambleton Hall, Rutland

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2012
Aaron Patterson is the Head Chef of Hambleton Hall, a country house hotel in the village of Hambleton, near Oakham, Rutland. The restaurant won one Michelin star in 1981, which it has maintained and has four AA rosettes. It is also in The Good Food Guide’s 50 best places to eat in Britain. Its menu includes dishes like local Longhorn beef with red wine sauce and petit chou farci and coconut and lime soufflé with coconut sorbet. After training at Leicester College, Aaron started at Hambleton Hall in 1984 before gaining experience with top chefs like Raymond Blanc at his restaurant Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and Anton Mosimann. He returned to the Hall in 1992 as Head Chef and has been there ever since. The food of Aaron’s restaurant makes use of local produce and dishes vary according to season. It is particularly known for its locally-sourced game. Aaron presented two seasons of his own television series, Wild About Food in 2001 and co-authored an accompanying recipe book.   Aaron first and foremost thanks for inviting me in to the stunning Hambleton Hall. Give us an overview of your role here, responsibilities, job title, number in your team, just an overview in a paragraph. Well I'm the head chef, partner, director of the business and so I'm overall in charge of the whole food operation. Okay so you actually have a directorship? And partnership within the business. And that's why I've been here for 20 years, otherwise I'd have probably gone off a long time ago to do my own thing but obviously Tim Hart who owns the property is a great guy and just as enthusiastic about the food and service as I am. So we've formed a relationship that has lasted so far 20 years and let’s hope it last another 20 years as far as I'm concerned. It’s maybe a model for other people to look at to retain good people? The reason why I've stayed here for so long is that I've got a young family and I've built up an environment within the kitchen where my team of 14 chefs we use the very best of ingredients, what makes me tick as a chef are the best ingredients, it’s as simple as that and I think it’s really important not to lose sight of that,  don’t lose your passion. I'm here at eight o'clock every morning through til 11, 11:30 in the evening, five days a week. The other two I'm a full time dad and that's really important to me. My father was a chef, my mother was in the industry and I never saw them, never saw them. I have created the environment for myself so I can see my children too so I do have a good balanced life which is quite rare in this industry at this level. It is rare but I think it’s hugely important. 20 years is a long time, how have you and your food style evolved in that period? Well I think it’s really important to keep evolving and I'm not the sort of guy that doesn’t like change. I love change and I love being creative and that's what really makes me tick, so it has evolved immensely over the years and we haven't stood still for a second and I think that's one of the main reasons why Hambleton has been such a success, when our clients come through the door they want to see and look forward to the latest creation, they want cutting edge food but they also want to know that they can come here and have a grouse, very, very seasonal. So they want the first grouse of the season as well. They look forward to that and the woodcock and the first cep that comes through the door or the morel mushroom ,so really important for me to stay on my toes and not become complacent and rest on my laurels, keep reinventing myself and the dishes. But not only that it’s really important for my team too because they soon get bored if you don’t keep changing the menu and inventing new things. Who inspires you then? Who do you look to for inspiration? Do you use books, other chefs, what inspires you outside of ingredients? There's lots of things that inspire me. An awful lot of things. If I go out and eat and I see something that I particularly like, an idea or a flavour I'll try and utilise that within one of my dishes, I never copy anything because that would be completely pointless. But going out and eating and tasting other people’s food is very important. But I think when actually I sit down with a blank piece of paper at home on a day off and I think to myself, ‘Right I'm going to write down today ten new first courses and ten new main courses and ten new puddings,’ and really push myself to do it, get it down on paper… That's hard isn’t it 30 dishes? Well you can do it, you can do it and the point is once you've got the ideas down and after all these years you pretty much know what goes with what and what textures I'm looking for, then when you get into the kitchen then it’s about creating those dishes and then finely tuning them and then putting them on the menu. What I do is I put them on the office wall and any spare time, at all, that we have, then bang we're straight on the new things. So we're constantly creating. And seasons are really inspirational. You go through the wintertime and you get all the game that's in season which is great, fantastic but then you go through a lull with spring where you’re sort of in no man’s land and you can't wait for the first winter truffle to appear but then as far as pastry’s concerned there's nothing. There's a bit of exotic fruit and a bit of chocolate so you've got to get inspiration and creative with that. Does that make you work harder? Make your mind work harder and challenge you more? Of course otherwise you've got to wait til the summer arrives for the first berry to appear before you can change your desserts and you can’t wait that long. So you've got to start playing with liquorice and other flavours and spices within the pastry section during the winter. Do you pretty much contain your ingredients from the shores of UK? I mean obviously people use bananas and stuff like that but are you primary UK-based? I went to eat ten years ago at a place called Michel Guérard’s, a very famous restaurant in France and I always remember as a kid on our coffee table, my father being a chef, there was always a copy of Michel Guérard and I was fortunate enough to go and stay and eat there, this was ten years ago and the whole set up is absolutely amazing, it’s incredible. I mean there wasn't a flower that wasn't perfect in the garden. So seasonal and just extremely special. What made it special was all the ingredients were local. You’d got people rearing cows and chickens ingredients that were really specialised to that region and that's what I've tried to do here at Hambleton Hall. I've got a friend that lives just down the road, he's a dairy farmer, he produces the most fantastic veal for me now whereas he was selling his bull calves off to Melton Market for nothing. So now he puts them in the car… So lovely English Rose veal. …give them some waste milk and gives them a bit of straw and after they’re four months old I take them, we've got our own hens now. We've even hatched some Poulet de Bresse eggs over here to try and rear them for the restaurant. In fact the meat wasn't great, we didn’t get the diet right but the eggs were fantastic. We've got a brilliant herb garden. We've got our own bakery - Hambleton Bakery and is at Exton, (Exton Bakery and Shop, Cottesmore Road, Exton, Rutland).  We also have 3 other shops in Oakham, Stamford and Oundle.  We take the flour from the windmill and there's a brewer in Oakham and we take the yeast from the top of their beer and put it together with our windmill flour and it’s called the local loaf. We make our own culture to make our own sour dough. There's all those sorts of things. I've got people coming through the back door with pike, hares, blewits, everybody knows around this area that anything, anything they find like that they bring it to me here. That's the sort of relationship I've formed over 20 years with all the locals and I think that's really special.   I was going to say one of the things that's always attracted me here is, in the nicest possible way, you don’t do a lot of media. Do you find being out of London frustrating that you’re not in the spotlight and there seems to be a concentrated effect of chefs in London do you look at that and admire it or do you think, ‘Why don’t you come out here? Why don’t we get some of the media and PR?’ The way I cook here is very natural, you go into the garden and pick herbs and salads and I really enjoy that. That's the enjoyment part of it for me. I've worked in London, I've worked at quite a few places, at Tante Claire, Mossimans and I hated it, I hated going on the tube, I hated going to a place in the kitchen at seven or… London's either you love it or loathe it don’t you, there's no in between with London. I personally didn’t like it at all. There's lots of people that come and work here for me that love it, but not for me, it’s not what I like at all. I don’t give a flying hoot about being in the spotlight, I just enjoy doing what I do, and it’s a successful business in a very dodgy time and the reason for that is that the food’s good, people don’t like to, gamble with their money, they want to make sure they’re coming in and they’re paying their money and know what they’re going to get and that's why it continues to be a success here I think. Last question for you then if I may. 20 years you'll be getting a carriage clock soon obviously but what does the next five years hold for you, the operation? Where do you want to be in five years time? Still doing the same or is there a bigger plan? We don’t want to extend the property in any way, shape or form, because I just think it would lose its personality. I think the way it… So no spas or anything like that going on? Absolutely no chance of a spa. Tim Hart hates spas. Really? They seem to be the hotel must have at the moment don’t they? Yeah, no he absolutely can't stand them at all. His spa is the bakery I think or a walk around Rutland Water because the views from here are amazing. Absolutely. And there's a peninsula that's got a walking track all the way around which is great. So absolutely no spas whatsoever just more of the same and let’s just continue to offer great food and great service and I think that's the key. Aaron thank you very much indeed for your time. Okay thank you. Thank you very much.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2012

Aaron Patterson, Hambleton Hall, Rutland