Paul Boorman, Wivenhoe House, Essex

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th December 2012
The Staff Canteen talks menus with Paul Boorman, Executive Chef at Wivenhoe House in Essex. Their partnership with the Edge Hotel School offers a unique training program for culinary students and provides the hospitality industry with graduates that have not only achieved their BA Honours or Foundation degree, but essential industry experience.  Tell us more about Wivenhoe House and its partnership with the Edge Hotel School  Wivenhoe House is a four-star luxury country house hotel property, but we're also the home of the Edge Hotel School. When we first say ‘Hotel School’ you often see a look of fear in people’s eyes but in actual fact this is the first of its kind in the UK – where the Edge Hotel School is working within a fully functioning establishment. Our partners include the Edge Foundation and the University of Essex. We are a wholly owned subsidiary of the University, but the most important bit is that we are a completely commercial, professionally staffed hotel. We have front of house, the kitchen, F&B, housekeeping and the Edge Hotel School; who provide the education and support for students to do a BA Honours in Culinary or Hotel Management. What sets Wivenhoe House and the Edge Hotel School apart from other catering colleges?  I’m not here to train the students how to be a chef. They learn through the real-life scenarios any hotel would find themselves in, in a day-to-day operation. All the students are here to study specifically for Culinary or Hotel Management; we don’t have kids here doing media or sports science. The students really care about what they’re doing; they’ve chosen this as their career. We also have a high staff ratio, which is fantastic and allows us to provide a high-end experience for the students and our guests. The students work on a rota within the hotel; I currently have three first-year students in my fine dining kitchen and five or six in the brasserie. At the moment they’re working as my commis’, but after two years they leave the Edge Hotel School not just with their degree but also with two years experience working in a four-star property. What has the reaction been from the industry? The industry is very interested in what we’re doing; we have partnerships with Hilton Worldwide, Portico Corporate Reception Management, BaxterStorey, Nestlé, Charvet, Grant Instruments, Thermomix, Rational UK, Churchill China & Glass, Riddell, Laurent Perrier (UK). They’re all partners because they all get it – they all understand this is what our industry has been screaming out for. At the same time, we’re careful about the names we work with; we want the partnership on our terms. It’s key to us that everything the students do is of a high quality and the brands we work with need to reflect that. How many outlets are there in the hotel and does the food on offer differ across the operation? We have a 28-cover, fine dining restaurant called Signatures a 2 AA rosette restaurant , which is serving modern British food and opens five evenings a week. We serve  the food I was too ashamed to cook back in the early 80s; melon and Parma ham used to make me cringe, but if you get some decent ingredients, work with some cool techniques you can create something that’s fun; something that the guests will appreciate. In Signatures we offer nine courses: half tasting, half à la carte. It gives the students an opportunity to learn and showcase the high-end techniques and presentations. We also have the brasserie, which is exactly what a brasserie should be about – all things, to all people – with 85 to 95 covers. It’s about the favourites, the classics: Caesar salad, steaks, shepherd’s pie, but again it’s about quality – no shortcuts. For the shepherd’s pie we use the mutton shoulder, not lamb, which is cooked for three days sous vide – the flavours are amazing. Finally, there is the function room, which does up to 120 covers. The way we use ice cream in the hotel best illustrates how the students are working; in Signatures the students use a Pacojet; in the brasserie they have a sorbetière; and we have an ice cream bar and ice cream cart for functions, where we use Mövenpick ice cream. There are three different styles, but the whole way through it’s about quality. How much access do the students have in terms of menu writing and development, costings and recipes or is it more about hands-on training?  They have the same access as you would have in a professional kitchen. If one of my commis’ has an idea I listen to it, because it would be daft not to. Anyone that doesn’t listen to those ideas is losing half their inspiration; ok, most of the time, the idea needs looking at again, reworking, but that’s ok because they’re young, and that’s what they are there to learn. Compared to professional kitchens, I would say there’s more access and openness about the bookwork. It requires more mentoring, but it’s rewarding when you see them getting it right and it will set them up for their future. Are the menus seasonally driven? I’m pretty much self-taught; I’ve always worked in the local area and always worked closely with my suppliers. To maintain your GP you have to work with seasonality, you have to establish good relationships with your suppliers. As a chef, you want to use something that is at the top of its game, that’s reliable and at a price you can afford. ‘Seasonality’ has been the in word for the last five or ten years, but it makes sense. With bad weather, erratic seasons, rising fuel prices, the economy, how do you get the most out of the products you’re buying? I like to champion the wobbly bits: the offal, the unused bits. I like cheek, tail, ear; the bits that have fallen out of fashion. And the public like it too – in Signatures the beef or ox cheek dish is by far the most popular. It’s a lovely dish, with smoked bone marrow mayonnaise and it’s flying out the door. Fine dining doesn’t have to be extortionate either; we offer nine courses for £45 that allows us to be accessible to everyone coming through the door. We can no longer refer to the seasons as spring, summer, autumn, winter, but what’s your favourite time of year for produce and flavours?  Each season has great produce on offer. Writing menus for the summer is always easy as there is so much available. Writing menus for autumn and winter can be more challenging, but it’s rewarding because you’ve got to really think and play hard. Flavour-wise, I like full, earthy, rustic flavours, usually associated with late autumn. You’ve got your game around, still some nice late summer fruits, the root vegetables have started coming through – there’s a nice mix. By February you’re crying into your swede purée, so when March and April come around it’s like a weight is lifted off your shoulders when all the new stuff starts coming in. It’s a politician’s answer but every season has so much to offer.

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th December 2012

Paul Boorman, Wivenhoe House, Essex