Neil Bentinck, Chef Patron, Skosh

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th October 2016

Neil Bentinck, Chef Patron of Skosh in York hails from both Yorkshire and Indian roots and his CV includes Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass, Van Zellar, Northcote and The Star Inn at Harome.

He took his first steps into hospitality working front of house in bars and restaurants before heading into the kitchen at 18. He began formal training in his twenties at the Sun Inn at Colton but despite having to learn the classics his experimental style remained. 

He opened Skosh earlier this year and it’s named after the Japanese word Sukoshi, meaning a small amount or a little – a giveaway for his small plate concept.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Neil about his experimental flavour combinations, fusing traditional Yorkshire cooking with Asian influences and sourcing ingredients for dishes.

You have an interesting mix of food influences as your mum is from Yorkshire and your dad is from India.

It’s like chalk and cheese really! There was always traditional British cooking and traditional Indian cooking at home which was a massive influence. It’s progressed, as you will understand if you eat here, into an eclectic Asian style.

Do you think that gave you a good palette from quite a young age?

It was just normal for me, having those different flavours provoked the interest to learn more about them in a professional sense. I started as front of house but the more I saw the food from a FOH point of view the more I wanted to be in the kitchen.

I went travelling in Australia and that really opened my eyes and cemented what I wanted to do. The fusion they have there, they have such big influences from the surrounding Asian countries it and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of flavours.

Would you say your dishes have always been experimental then?

Yes but dishes are about your style, what you want to do and what you are passionate about.

You’ve worked in a variety of kitchen including Michelin-starred, where did you learn the most?

Starred kitchens were later on for me, now kids seem to go straight into Michelin-starred kitchens at 17 years old and stage all over the place – which is great. But it just wasn’t like that for me, I went to the Pipe and Glass in my mid-twenties, then Van Zellar before I became self-employed with the aim to set this up. It gave me flexibility and I ended up working at Northcote with Nigel Haworth and Lisa Allen, and with Andrew Pern at The Star in Harome. So I suppose all the training and experience came from everywhere.

Because I was a bit older I went in with the experience of how to work in a kitchen, so I wasn’t getting screamed at all the time but its high pressure so I learnt a lot quickly.

Why did you choose to open Skosh in York and tell us about the concept?

I like York, all my friends and family are obviously here but I also know the suppliers and the producers. If this is home and where your family are then you obviously want your business in the same place. This is a great location and I wanted to do a complete refit not take over somewhere with a half-arsed kitchen already. Skosh is from scratch and is exactly how I want it, its awesome designing your own kitchen, expensive don’t get me wrong but it’s an investment.

Skosh means a little bit, I always wanted to do small plates because that’s how I like to eat. To get loads of little dishes as a meal is really common in other countries like India, Thailand and Japan. In England we do a lot of tasting menus but I didn’t want to do that as I find it a bit monotonous as a chef. It can be a bit boring sometimes, I wanted the buzz of the kitchen but with smaller plates so people can have what they want.

Was it easy to create a menu to fit this style?

The menu is the easy bit! Setting up a restaurant for the first time was the tricky bit. Some of the dishes on the menu are tried and tested but we did pop ups in the spring before we opened which gave us a chance to not only test different dishes but service and the practicality of certain things.

Bread is something which changes quite frequently one of my chefs is incredible at baking, so we’ve had naan bread, cheese bread, a pretzel roll. But it’s seasonal as well, the reason we put the pretzel on is we wanted to do something with all the courgettes we were getting in so we made a dip. We thought what would go with it? And came up with a cheesey, mustard, pretzely American thing.

Do you enjoy having an ever changing menu?

It’s all little tweaks which are governed by the seasons and what we get from local farms. One of the most popular dishes we do is the octopus with black bean, then the lobster which often changes. We do the tails in different ways so we did a corn dog, the tail was dipped in a sweetcorn batter and lobster pakoras with local basil, green beans through it and I made a lime pickle – my little bit of heritage.

We do a lobster mayonnaise and a lobster ketchup using the shells to make an oil and a bisque, we serve them with all the lobster snacks. Our food is simple but it’s really fresh and tasty, the dishes have been done before so I’m not experimenting on the customers! It’s also about being clever from a cost point of view, British lobster is a bit cheaper in the summer but when they get expensive I’ll stop using them.

Do you have an ingredient you really like to work with?

Scallops especially in the summer and I like making desserts as well and working with chocolate, although I don’t eat a lot of chocolate myself I‘d rather have a packet of crisps. But customers love chocolate so it’s really good to create dishes and pastry is a bit of escapism. We developd the cone and popsicle dessert for here to go with the snack concept - it’s a childish, playful and sweet.

cone and popsicle dessert

It’s a parfait dipped in chocolate which is nothing new but putting it on a lollipop stick and making it mini makes it fit with our style. The waffle cone is sorbet and a foam, they are all elements from dishes I would have done before but put together in a more Skosh style.

It will never come off we will just change the flavour so it’s been strawberry and elderflower but we have rose to use so it will be strawberry and rose then bramble and pine.

Clearly your style of food and concept helps you stand out in a city like York?

People have walked in here and said they don’t feel like they are in York, it feels different which we like - we want to stand out. The concept I think is drawing people in but it’s not expensive either, I think it’s important to deliver good value.

The average spend per head is half what it would be at a tasting menu style restaurant with matching wine flight. We can’t afford to be a special occasion place. It’s a relaxed environment but it’s refined, what you get on the plate may look simple but it’s all about the taste and flavour combinations.

As you’ve mentioned you use an eclectic mix of flavours, does that make sourcing ingredients difficult?

We use two organic farms at the moment, they can’t always supply big numbers of things but luckily we can tweak things as and when. But we use Wellocks as well because we can’t get everything from those farms. So it’s mostly local ingredients but the seasonal aspects are certainly worldwide.

So we’ve had fresh lychees on which come from Thailand as you obviously can’t get them in England but that’s my style. There are worldwide flavours but where possible it will be picked the day before and we’ll have it on the menu.

And if you were coming to eat here, which dishes would you choose?

I’d eat them all! Two of everything!

You are only a few months in but do you have any future plans?

I’ve got a rough idea but we’ll see. I don’t want to tempt fate. I just want to make money and have happy customers – there are awards out there so we will see what happens.

 

 

 

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th October 2016

Neil Bentinck, Chef Patron, Skosh