George Blogg After Hours

The chef at Sussex’s one-star Gravetye Manor talks to Imogen Lepere about his love of Kiwi food, smothering asparagus with butter and how he will only cook what his gardeners recommend

Where’s the best place in the world for food?

What I ate on honeymoon stands out. We went to New Zealand and stayed at Huka Lodge. We’d catch trout at first light, which they smoked and served for breakfast. The food scene in New Zealand is an underdog; lots of local chefs emigrate to Australia but the produce is amazing. They have huge farming communities and, like Japan, they have a tropical north and much gentler south, so there is a great variety.

What ingredients inspired you growing up in Dorset?

My parents had their own allotment and they used to grow all of our vegetables. I remember picking asparagus and running home to boil it before smothering it in butter. My mum made lovely stuffed marrow. She’d fill it with mince and rice and cook it with white wine and parsley.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

I’ve been very lucky to work with Phil Howard [Elystan Street] and David Everitt-Matthias [Le Champignon Sauvage], because it’s only after working with these guys that you understand how good they are. They both nurture young chefs rather than court the limelight. Phil believes in classical combinations but his dishes always feel like more than the sum of their parts because there is so much movement in the presentation. David loves modern technique and really understands the progression of flavour on the palate. They both run their kitchen with one chef on each section, which makes everyone shoulder responsibility.

Have you eaten anywhere recently that impressed you?

I had an incredible Japanese meal at Umu in London. I sat at the bar and had the tasting menu. The best dish was sea urchin infused with seaweed. Bohemia in Jersey has top-quality ingredients, while Ynyshir in Wales is fantastic. Gareth Ward is a very modern chef.

Sussex’s produce – what’s so special?

We’ve got a fish company called Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, owned by a cooperative of fishermen. There is no middle man, so it’s always hyper-fresh. They have a shop next to the harbour in Brighton – the local John Dory, squid and turbot are all excellent. The Cheese Man, also in Brighton, sources really good local cheeses. I particularly rate Brighton Blue, Brother Michael and Flower Marie, which is a ewe’s cheese.

Where do you take the team to eat near the hotel?

The Cat Inn is a top gastropub. I also like the National Trust cafés at Wakehurst and Standen House. Tristan in Horsham is the only other starred restaurant in Sussex and it does superb dishes with elegant presentation.

What is your food ethos?

My food represents what we grow in the kitchen garden. We make a huge effort to make sure that the flavours on the plate bond with the setting. The menu changes regularly so we can really use what is at its best in terms of the garnish. I always go for a chat with the gardeners, which influences what I’ll serve that day.

We’re eating at your restaurant. What should we order?

South coast crab with cucumber, borage, brown crab emulsion and caviar, followed by the chop, loin and shoulder of Southdown lamb.

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