Meet Ben – Head Chef at Rockbeare Manor – Rugby, Fishing and Camping fan and all-round lovely guy!
Where did it all start?
I was 14 and did some work experience in a bakery in Thame. I really enjoyed creating the produce and would have really liked to become a baker, but I received some sound advice from my boss at the time who said that it might be best to develop a wider range of skills.
As soon as I started my formal training at college I knew that I wanted to become a Chef – something just clicked, I loved it. I have worked at lots of different outside events over the years; Twickenham, Wentworth, Woburn and I was also lucky enough to spend some time at the Savoy. It was there that I really got to experience a fine dining environment, which really inspired me to progress my career in this industry.
I have very fond memories of Combe House Hotel in Devon where I worked for over 15 years, culminating in a role as a Sous Chef. I enjoyed every moment. The atmosphere that was created by serving exceptional food in such a grand country house drew people from far and wide. I was really excited though when the opportunity arose at Rockbeare Manor near Exeter; it’s great to be part of the team in this new phase of it’s life, turning from family home to a wedding and special events venue. The refurbishment has been completed to such a high standard and in a sensitive way. The house works perfectly as a venue – there are bright spacious areas to chat, dance and chill. I’m really glad to be a part of such a great project.
What do you love most about what you do?
Experimenting and creating food that people find pleasurable to eat which encourages them to go away talking about their experience. Food is always changing and that makes the job so interesting. You are always learning something new and there are always different ideas to explore.
What is your favourite thing to cook?
I still have a passion for cooking bread with lots of different flavours, and if not at work I’ll do this with my children at home, teaching them about where food comes from and how it is made. However, you cannot beat pan-fried trout especially if you’ve caught it yourself. I do enjoy cooking most types of seafood and fish…linguine packed full of local seafood or sea bass fillets with sauce vierge. Alternatively, you can’t beat a rare fillet steak served with a rich red wine reduction and wild mushroom beignet.
Who are your inspirations?
Tom Kerridge cooks my kind of food, and I also think that Phil Howard at The Square is fantastic – the attention to detail his dishes have is second to none and his cookbook is one that I use at home a lot.
And of course my gran who was a fantastic cook – eating was an event and she made the best treacle tart!
How do you spend your down-time?
My favourite day out is spent on the beach with family – normally involving a spot of sea fishing for mackerel which I’ll then barbecue on the beach. I also love course fishing, and more recently I’ve been trying fly fishing too. I love visiting the amazing coastlines that Devon and the South West has to offer – so I’ll often go camping with friends and family where we enjoy lots of outdoor eating, long dog walks and relaxed evenings.
Where would you go for dinner?
I have been to many of the great restaurants over the years, Pied à Terre was one of the best, but the restaurant that I would recommend to anyone is Rick Steins seafood restaurant in Padstow. The whole experience was superb – the ambience, the service, the food – it was a complete package whilst feeling relaxed and welcoming. Locally, we’ll visit the Otter pub and sit by the river while the kids have a paddle and we have a bite to eat. It’s really family friendly.
What trends do you see?
Eating out is becoming much more relaxed and sociable. There has been a big shift in our clients choosing sharing foods and platters instead of more formal three course meals and I think this is going to continue for a while still. I’ve noticed people taking more of an interest in where their food is sourced as well – they care about how ethically produced the menu is and that’s really important. It’s something that I feel really strongly about and so at Rockbeare Manor our focus isn’t on the cost of our produce, it’s on the quality, where it comes from (the more local the better) and the flavours we can create with it. We cook from scratch – everything that we possibly can, to make sure that the guest experience is the best it can possibly be.