Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th June 2012

Galton Blackiston is the owner and head chef of Morston Hall, a hotel and restaurant located in Morston, North Norfolk.

The restaurant has three AA rosettes and one Michelin star, the only one of its kind in a 50 mile radius. It opened in 1992 and won its star in 1999. Galton has never trained formally as a chef, having instead gained experience on the job and worked his way up. He realised cooking was in his future when, as a 17 year old high school student he set up his own stall at Rye market selling his own range of cakes, biscuits and preserves.

The stall was so successful that he abandoned his plans to become a professional cricketer in order to become a chef. He began working in the Lake District at the renowned Miller Howe hotel, eventually working his way up to Head Chef. He has also done stints of work experience in New York, Canada, South Africa and London. Some of Galton’s signature recipes include slowly braised belly of pork with apple soup and garlic puree, Stilton beignets with grape jelly and fresh cherry clafoutis with Kirsch and white chocolate.  

Morston Hall  

Give us an overview of the property, I know you’re celebrating 20 years.

Well my wife and I have owned the property for 20 years, small business but fortunate enough to be able to expand along the time until now we have 14 bedrooms and a 50 cover restaurant. We started off with four bedrooms and a 20 seat restaurant. So it’s been steady progress in that 20 years.

And are you native to this part of the world here in north Norfolk?

Yeah I was born in Norfolk in a village this side of Norwich and our holidays were always from Hainford where I was born to the north Norfolk coast. So we only went about 20 miles on holiday but they were fantastic holidays to this coast.

Galton in terms of the sort of food style here how has that evolved over 20 years? 

Yeah the restaurant has evolved and changed massively in the 20 years. You see my wife and I bought this place 20 years ago and having come down from the Lake District where we were working at a fairly well known hotel and restaurant which had very British standard ideas of cooking and I didn’t go to college so I'm self-taught.

Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

I would say it’s certainly not a disadvantage.

Because you've got no preconceived ideas?

Absolutely I would probably take somebody as a youngster who hasn’t been to college but has been in the workplace over somebody who’s had three years college experience. I had fairly basic ideas of how I was going to start off cooking and it was only through being absolutely slated by certain reviewers in our first six months that you either sit there and you think, ‘They’re wrong, I'm right, carry on as I am,’ or you think, ‘Well maybe there's something I'm doing wrong.’ Fortunately I thought the latter something I was doing wrong. So I had to quickly learn a whole classical side of cooking which I wasn't too sure on and from then we sailed along amazingly with things.

Did you take it personal what the critics said?

Morston Hall  

Yes oh crikey you do, and you never want to have that again. I mean I have to say I personally think food critics, a good food critic is worth their salt, and what they are criticising is probably extremely valid. So it’s all very well chefs who get upset about it, but look at your business, look at what you’re doing, is that right and that's fortunately what we did, and we moved on quickly. I forgot what I’d been taught up in the Lake District and started my own thing and we've evolved from there. We now, I believe, are very innovative and it’s not just a one man show mind you and we've created and we embrace modern technology and cooking methods which you need to and the kitchen is an interesting, fun, exciting place to be.

You are by nature, geographically very remote here how does that affect your business? What’s your market? Who’s your clientele?

We really only get holidaymakers, so people who come for a two and three night breaks we very rarely get businesspeople. So people are coming here for a good time they want to be indulged, they want to be looked after and cosseted and they want to have good food on a plate. So that's the clientele.

We get a lot of people from London, the Midlands. North Norfolk is a really popular area as a bolt hole from London or the Midlands, obviously as your reputation gains then it becomes a destination area, and people are coming and I'm finding this more and more and they’ve travelled miles just to come and have dinner and stay over with us, because of the advent of chefs on TV cooking has boomed massively and the interest out there is huge and so that's lovely. It’s fantastic.

Has that helped in terms of your own recruitment?

Richard our Head Chef and I go back a long time. I first employed him straight from college as a 17 year old and he was always a bit of a livewire, I have to say from an employer’s point of view and chef patron, whatever you want to call it, point of view, what you look for in a youngster is enthusiasm, you’re not looking for any particular skills but as long as they’re enthusiastic and want to learn, then you can work with that.

Would you say you can teach them the skills but you can’t teach them enthusiasm?

Absolutely, and Richard had that enthusiasm and he had that, as he went on he had that sort of desire to want to improve himself he moved on to the Waterside and spent several years there, he travelled a bit and then came back to the Waterside, I'd always kept in touch with Richard and he's a Norfolk boy as well and us Norfolk ones we go away and come back as such.

I think most people do eventually don’t they?

Yes and it’s beautiful around here. I had a position going and I put it to him and at the time he was quite young I said, “Look do you want to have the control of the kitchen? Obviously you’re going to have me on your shoulder all the time,” because I still had massive interest then and influence on things, and yes we work brilliantly almost like a father a
nd son.

So 20 years then, great critical acclaim, if you measure it by rosettes and Michelin stars, what does the future hold? What’s round the corner, for you, the property?

Right the beauty of Morston is that we are set in about three acres of land so you can always do a little bit, as I say, and we do try to each year. Last year there was an orangery put on, and it’s not given for more covers it’s just given for more ambience and more comfort. I can put more rooms on if I want to.

So there's always something you can do, you’re not restricted and you haven't reached a plateau where you can’t do any more and that's the beauty of this place and that's probably why I haven't ever looked to do anything else. I’ve got my hands full here. Yes I'm in the kitchen a lot of the time but I'm not necessarily the one getting my hands burnt and stressed out over the stove.

Asparagus       

That's a young person’s thing. I've done that. I still think I do it better than most of them, but what owner wouldn’t do? My role is to spread the word and get out to meet people and if somebody wants a cookery demonstration or something like that then I'll do it. That's how I see myself now.

So you've now got the time to work on the business rather than working in the business? 

Yeah I'd say so. I'd say definitely that.

And I guess once you’re running a kitchen to a degree sometimes you don’t see much further than your chopping block.

No exactly. For the first few years you don’t see much further than the chopping block it’s eyes down get on with what you’re doing, do it the best that you possibly can but now as I say I have a great team in the kitchen.

Richard obviously from his background is a mixture of absolute classicalness at the Waterside but also mixed with an interest with doing things in a modern way, which works for us. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th June 2012

Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk