Fernando Stovell, Stovell’s, Chobham, Surrey

The Staff Canteen

Fernando and Kristy Stovell are a husband-and-wife team that co-own and run the kitchen at Stovell’s in Chobham, Surrey. The couple first met as students at Westminster College and went on to have rich and varied 
careers, working for the likes of Jamie Oliver and Eric Chavot before going on to run Private members clubs, The Wellington Club and The Cuckoo Club. In 2012 they finally realised their dream of owning their own restaurant, Stovell’s, where they produce elegant, ingredient-driven, modern European food. After one year at Stovell’s, The Staff Canteen caught up with Fernando to ask how the dream is working out and about his love of traditional wood fire cooking and wild ingredients.
Between you and Kristy you have quite diverse backgrounds; how do all those influences feed into your cooking?

Yes, I was born and grew up in Mexico. My father is Mexican. My mother is English and was born in Farnham. My mum’s mum was born in Austria but married an Englishman and lived in England for over 55 years; and my dad’s mum was born in Cuba. Kristy is a Kiwi so it’s quite a diverse mix! Food from all over the world has influenced me. As a child I travelled quite extensively with my parents and my mother was the wedding co-ordinator for the English embassy in Mexico so there were always a lot of big events that she was involved in and I always helped out in the kitchen and front of house.

You went on to work for and with some great chefs; which of them have influenced your food the most?

There are two chefs that, even to this day, when I speak to I get goose pimples; one of them is Eric Chavot .He’s the one who disciplined me in the kitchen. The other is a man called Victor Arguinzoniz [of Michelin-starred Basque restaurant, Asador Etxebarri] and he is one of my three closest friends. We speak once or twice a week. Every time there’s a World’s 50 Best, I accompany him to the ceremony and if I have some time off it’s always the first place I go to get inspired. He’s a phenomenon. He’s the humblest chef I’ve ever met. He’s not really interested in recognition, just working with the ingredients he loves. He inspired me to use the wood fire technique along with my best friend Lennox Hastie who went to college with me and Kristy and who worked with Victor for five years.

How were you first influenced by Victor’s style of wood fire cooking?

I’ve always believed in what Victor was doing but I wouldn’t say I was inspired by him directly; for me it was more of a reminder that this is one of the most original and primitive ways of cooking. I’ve always been pro very natural, clean ways of cooking and, from the grilling side of thngs, this is a very clean way of cooking and very primitive and I’ve always loved that.

How does the process work of choosing which wood to go with which ingredient?

Citrus wood, for example, would be outstanding with any type of fish. Oak is really good with slightly denser things like pork or beef. Something that can give a really outstanding wood flavour is vine embers – the remains of grape vines after all the grapes have been gathered. We use those to cook our beef. We also use cherry wood which we use to smoke our own butter.

As a husband-and-wife team, how does dish and menu creation work?

In terms of recipes and dishes, we both write them and design them; Kristy does the desserts and I do the starters and mains; then we go to the kitchen and practise them and get the input of the whole team. We see it as very important that the whole team feels like they are an important part of the operation and that we have a very warm and inclusive atmosphere amongst the staff as well as towards the guests.

How is the local produce near Chobham?

There are several good local cheeses produced in Surrey and we have a wonderful local supplier of honey who is a customer of ours; it’s really earthy and has beautiful notes that go really well with our roe deer carpaccio. We also grow some ingredients in-house like herbs; at the moment we have a lot of borage flowers. I wanted to have my own beehive too but my wife said that was one toy too many! We also forage a lot; the prospect of working with unfamiliar herbs and plants really excites me.

Next door we have Chobham wood and every other day I go out for a walk and use the forager, Miles Irving’s wonderful book on wild plants as my guide. I’m also often on the phone to another forager and friend of mine, Fergus Drennan, talking about wild products. One of the wild products we’ve been using on the menu is called Fat Hen. It’s a type of leaf with a beautiful story; it’s very similar to spinach but it’s very creamy in flavour.

In the old days, in Indian cooking, it was used as a substitute for raita to cool down the spices in a curry; so we use it in a soup with some goat’s cheese and some Indian spices to reflect that history as well as this region. Another ingredient that I love using a lot at the moment is stone crop; it’s like tiny little green bulbs with a really lovely crunchy texture and it’s ever so slightly astringent.

We use it on the cod dish on the lunch menu. We also have sea buckthorn on the desert menu.  It’s got a kind of kumquat-y, citrus-y flavour and we do it as a jelly with a chocolate mousse and damson and blackberry sorbets.

What’s the next step for Stovell’s?

With all the guides coming out recently we’ve had a few busy weeks. We got in the Good Food Guide with a score of five which I was really pleased with. We’ve been in touch with the AA Guide and they’ve said if we keep doing what we’re doing we should have our third rosette in January. With Michelin we had high expectations but it’s only our first year and I guess Michelin didn’t want to make any mistakes. My goal next year is definitely to have a star as well as having higher than five points in The Good Food Guide and three rosettes; but most of all I want to have happy customers and to keep doing interviews with you guys!

View Stovell's recipe for Foie Gras here View Stovell's recipe for Ginger Cheesecake here    

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th November 2013

Fernando Stovell, Stovell’s, Chobham, Surrey