Garry Hollihead, Corinthia Hotel London

The Staff Canteen

Garry Hollihead started out in life as a drummer but soon switched to that other profession with a reputation for attracting crazy people – cheffing. He worked under three-Michelin-starred chef Louis Outhier at L’Oasis on the Cote D’Azur as well as with Anton Mossimann and Anton Edelmann.

He has won Michelin stars at Sutherlands, L’Escargot and Les Saveurs. In 2010 he became executive chef at the Corinthia Hotel London where his seasonal menus showcase exceptional produce from across the UK.   

You’re very big on seasonal menus at the Corinthia; how are the spring and summer ones looking?

We’ve just launched the spring menu. Something that we started last year and I’ve really pushed on this year is having market stalls in the restaurants. If you go to our restaurant now you’ll see our spring lamb promotion where we’ve created a meadow and commissioned a DVD from Lake View Farm, our meat supplier, which plays in the background behind the meadow. When it comes to the tomato and strawberry season, I’ve had a glasshouse built on the roof here which is growing strawberries and tomatoes for the display.

Is it true that you’re planning on putting beehives on the roof?

I haven’t done it yet, only because we have to be a little bit careful because the bees can tend to swarm and we’ve got seven penthouses on the roof. It’s still in the back of my mind and I have sent our chief engineer away on a bee keeping course to get lots of good ideas and work out exactly how we should achieve it. It’s definitely still on the back boiler.

You’re very keen on provenance and using quality British producers.

If you look at our menus, you will see that every single dish has its provenance. If you look at the oysters it will tell you they’re from Brandy Hole Oysters on the River Crouch which is on the Essex Marshes; all our smoked products are from the Severn and Wye Smokery; a Lake District farm cure our hickory bacon, make all our sausages and black puddings and we buy off them short horn Cumbrian beef, lamb and Middle White pork. For fish I’ve used Matthew Stevens in Cornwall since I was 12 years old; any cured meat comes from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire; fruit and veg comes predominantly from Watt’s Farms in Kent; scallops and langoustines come from Keltic in Scotland; and ducks and chickens come from Reggie Johnson who’s based up in Cumbria. I’ve worked with many of these guys for a number of years and it’s really about showcasing the great and the good of British suppliers. I serve nothing in the Northall except British cheeses. We have some fantastic cheeses in this country so let’s shout about it. We’ve got some great restaurants in this country but I think now the suppliers are starting to follow. What I tend to say is that in this hotel it’s not about the chefs, it’s about the produce; there’s no ego in me or the chefs; the ego is in the food and that’s what I enjoy working with now.

What about your special relationship with the Petworth Estate in East Sussex?

I’ve known the head game keeper, Dave Whitby for about 30 years and I’ve always bought my venison and game from him. We have a lot of Russian and Chinese clients who are very into their shooting so we thought about not just buying our game from them but doing some activities down there – so we’re looking at fly fishing, deer stalking and pheasant shooting during the season. We kicked it off this year and we’ve done three trips so far. We drive the clients down in Range Rovers; I cook a full buffet breakfast; then you go out to do whichever activity you’ve chosen before coming back mid-morning for a hot breakfast; you then go back out, come back for lunch, go out again and come back for tea. It’s a nice day and they’ve all gone extremely well so far.  

As executive chef are you responsible for the menus across all the outlets at the Corinthia?

I’m the executive chef for the whole hotel so that includes Massimo’s and Northall but I would say my main focus is Northall. Also under my control comes banqueting where we’ll comfortably seat about 180. We have another small room of around 80 covers as well which tends to be used more for pre-function drinks and canapés; then we’ve got six small meeting rooms on the mezzanine level which tend to get used more for working lunches and canapé parties. Then we’ve got the Northall which is about 150 covers and two private dining areas – one is semi-private on the mezzanine level and one is down by the bar which is about 28-30 covers. On top of that we’ve also got the ESPA spa which has about five tables and that’s obviously nutrition led so I work in conjunction with a nutritionist on that. There’s also the lobby lounge which is another busy operation – we’ll do 80-100 covers a day most days there and there’s also the all-day dining menu which we also have in the lobby lounge. And the last area is room service, which with 296 rooms, can be extremely busy; we can quite easily do anything between 50 and 90 covers a service; so all in all it’s quite a busy operation!  

How does the Corinthia compare to other things you’ve done in your career?

I’m 55 now and towards the latter end of my career as such; I’ve been there, done it and got the T-shirt I’ve done 300 cover restaurants, I’ve done three Michelin-starred restaurants I’ve cooked for Princes William and Harry at their mother’s tenth anniversary. It’s a pretty wide spectrum I’ve covered but I’d say at the moment this is probably the most enjoyable because I feel a lot more relaxed about my food, working with the suppliers and growing things, which is close to my heart, so this is a nice time for me which I’m enjoying immensely. c

Who has been the biggest influence on you as a chef?

The biggest influence was when I went to work for Louis Outhier in the south of France. The quality of the produce was just absolutely fantastic. He was keeping it simple and letting the produce speak for itself. I still use some of the sauces now that he taught me then. It was all about the simplicity of the cooking and having confidence in that simplicity. When you put very simple things on the plate they have to be done correctly because there’s nowhere to hide, so everything has to be perfect. It’s that love affair with the produce that really enthused me and made the biggest mark on my career.  

Top 5 ingredients:

Herdwick lamb from Lake District Farmers.

The Herdwicks are a hardy slow-maturing native British breed that love the foraging life high upon the Lake District Fells. The meat is extremely tender and succulent with a slightly gamey flavour due to the sheep’s love for the heather grass lands. The spring menu at the moment features a number of Herdwick dishes; my favourite is Carpaccio of spring Herdwick lamb with minted mayonnaise, caper berries, anchovy and red vain sorrel.

Reggie Johnson Goosnargh corn-fed ducks.

When you have been using Reggie’s duck’s for as long as I have, you will never want to use any other duck again. The duck’s for me are quite simply superb, the best.

Cornish hake from Matthew Stevens.

A member of the cod family, with a flakey texture that is a little more subtle. Must be extremely fresh as the flesh goes soft very quickly. Hard Roasted with the skin on and then finished with plenty of butter, Maldon salt and lemon.

Wild garlic

Spring is definitely here when we get the wild garlic leaves arrive. The wild garlic is featured on the spring menu – wild garlic and white onion soup, Innes goats curd cheese with caramelised pistachio. The garlic also forms part of the garnish for the Goosnargh chicken, whole leaves deep fried in a thin crispy tempura batter.

Calvados crème fraiche from Premier Cheese.

I have never used this on any menu but I would always pick up a pot from the cheese van when it came around. Died and gone to heaven when you try this for the first time. Simple self-indulgent and extremely fattening, sadly that have stopped supplying this now.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th May 2014

Garry Hollihead, Corinthia Hotel London