Colin McGurran, Winteringham Fields, Lincolnshire

The Staff Canteen

Colin McGurran is the chef-patron at Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire, a destination restaurant that is almost fully self-sustaining.

Colin worked at two-Michelin-starred Domaines Haut de Loire in Onzain, France and for Rotana Hotels chain in Abu Dhabi before moving back to the UK in 2001 to open the acclaimed The Woolpack Country Inn in West Yorkshire. In 2005 he bought Winteringham Fields where he has steadily worked towards his vision of a local, sustainable food destination, as well as managing to be a finalist in three series of Great British Menu along the way.   

Where do you think your unique food style first developed; was it at Winteringham Fields?

Yes, because I’ve not worked for a Gordon Ramsay or a Marco Pierre White or a Koffmann I’ve never had somebody say, “This is how we do chicken stock and if you dare change this chicken stock I’m going to kill you.” So because it’s just me I can say, “Why has this guy got this many bones and this much white wine in his stock and this guy hasn’t?” I can kind of study that and take what I want out of it and say, “This is the chicken stock I like.”  

How would you describe the food style at Winteringham Fields?

It’s all about exploration. It’s all about finding out why a recipe works and finding out how I understand it. Maybe if I’d worked for a Koffmann I’d have been told to work the flour in this way and cook it at 45 degrees and this and that, but of course I didn’t know any of that so it’s all about me finding it all out, so that exploration into recipes is definitely at the heart of my food style.  

Is it right that you are now 85% self-sustaining in terms of producing your own ingredients?

Yes, four years ago we started keeping chickens and we wanted to have our full English breakfast, that we charge twenty quid for, so to justify it we wanted to say everything on that English breakfast is ours; the eggs are going to be ours, the bacon, the sausages, the tomato, our own black pudding and so on. And then we thought, why not grow more of our own stuff? So we took over a piece of land that was next door, eight acres. I had no idea – I wouldn’t have been able to plant a seed if you’d asked me, but I asked the farmer next door if he’d show me how to plant carrots and courgettes and he said yes, and we went on a lovely winter’s morning in a 60-year-old tractor turning over a field.

We sowed the seeds in February / March and they started coming up in May / June. I started off with the very basics, the large broccoli and whatever, and I learned about how they grow, what time of the year is best to plant and how many I needed. The first year I bought a bag of 500 grams of seed and I looked on the back of the pack and it was 10,000 carrots, and I thought what the hell am I going to do with 10,000 carrots? It was all a bit of a learning experience for me as to what I wanted from my business. We are a destination place. We do have to be doing something different from the guys in the city. Why should someone drive an hour and a half to come see my foie gras parfait which is gonna be the same as someone else’s? What is it about my restaurant that’s going to make it different?

When I see the guys in the kitchen cooking lamb and it’s my own lamb that we’ve bottle fed, and they’ve gone to slaughter and they’ve come back with their ear tags in and they’re lying on the butcher’s block and they’re slowly carving this lamb up - the level of concentration and love for the product is ten times more than what it was if you’d just bought it from the shop. I think it’s very difficult to teach that level of respect to a chef who’s getting their lamb from a supplier because it’s just another lamb that’s come through the door.  

What do you consider some of the star ingredients that you produce at Winteringham?

We have the most beautiful courgettes and courgette flowers; we do one dish that is just literally courgette flowers and lamb and it’s the simplest thing in the world but it’s gorgeous. Our Brussels sprouts are amazing. What I’m not very good at is sweetcorn and celeriac. I want celeriac on the menu that’s mine so we plant them and grow them but they look pathetic so we end up buying them from our local supplier anyway! It’s just about learning about that particular thing.

We’re very proud of our animals too – pigs and lambs, and to see that the lamb we’re producing is just as good as the lambs from Aubrey Allen – they’re just as fat and just as tasty – because we spend so much time on them and we buy just the right kind of food that’s going to make them plump and juicy and we give them the right amount of space in the field and we’ve got this beautiful pasture to graze on; we’ve got everything ready for them.  

Is it an aim to ever go 100% self-sustaining?

Yes absolutely, every year that goes by we’re creeping up another few per cent. We did very well this winter; through December, January, February we still had our own produce in the fields because we plant later on so we started to spread out the time differences better; so we’ve still got leeks that are young enough in January, which is quite difficult for an organic farmer like myself. March and April is normally when you’re planting so we struggle a bit then but it’s just about being creative enough with the menu. We’re pretty much self-sustaining with our meats; we’ve got lamb from September to November; we have suckling pigs from April to June; we have game over the winter which is locally shot; we have our own pens for quails and partridges and we release them in late September, then the local farmers shoot them and give them back to me.  

What’s the next step for you and Winteringham Fields?

The big thing we’re doing is next April we’re opening a new pub; it’s literally in the next village. We don’t have any decent pubs in the area – it’s very much two for a fiver, deep-fried Camembert with cranberry sauce and beef that’s been sitting there a week. It’s a pub that came up on the market, a beautiful little place, so I’m going to take that over and turn it into a very simple pub, something like the Hinds Head in Bray, somewhere where the food is going to be very simple and affordable and again it’s going to be my pork, my cabbages, my Brussels sprouts, so it’s going to be a pub with a big sustainable element.

Check out our interview with Colin about his experiences on Great British Menu here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th July 2014

Colin McGurran, Winteringham Fields, Lincolnshire