Nigel Mendham After Hours

The head chef of GBR at Dukes Hotel tells Lizzie Frainier about how he developed his love of traditional food, where he eats in the capital and how his signature dish has evolved as he has

What’s your earliest food memory?

My mum always used to make boiled pork belly with cabbage and potatoes – it doesn’t sound like much but it’s delicious. It’s a real one-pot wonder done in a pressure cooker and I always ask her to cook it for me when I’m home. My aunt used to make lots of old-school puddings like spotted dick and jam roly-poly. They’re the ones that stick with you; ones that are made in a muslin cloth.

Where do you travel to eat?

I really like France and Spain so I head to the Pyrenees area in southern France with all its markets along the Basque border. You get the best of both worlds. Give me bread, charcuterie and cheese and I’m happy. There’s a lot of sheep’s cheeses that you don’t get here, as well as some excellent duck and wild boar salamis.

What are your go-to London spots?

I like Smokestak in Shoreditch, which has an indoor barbecue. It’s rustic but has really good flavours. I also like Burger & Lobster and a local pub for beers after work like The Blue Post or The Clarence.

Do you have a favourite bit of kitchen kit?

My Thermomix, it’s an investment for any kitchen. I have one at home and work.

What ingredients do you like best?

I follow the seasons really. At this time of year it’s asparagus. My mum and dad used to grow it and I grew up with it. It’s a completely different ball game when you pick it straight from the garden and cook it.

Which dish are you most proud of?

I like the variation I do on goat’s cheese and beetroot. I’m proud of how it’s evolved and you could call it my signature. When I look at pictures of when I first made it I see how much it’s grown and how it’s changed with me. I use three different types of heritage beetroot – purple, golden, candy – and do them with all different techniques like water bathed, salt-baked and carpaccio (pickled raw).

Where’s your favourite place in the UK for produce?

Before moving to London, everywhere I worked was a country house so I was lucky enough to experience different areas of the country. Stapleford Park in Leicestershire is bang in the middle of the country, so there was lots of great fruit and vegetables. At South Lodge Hotel in Horsham we got South Downs lamb as well as top fish, as it’s only 20 minutes from Brighton. At The Samling in the Lake District there was the best of everything.

Where do you eat in the Lake District?

I still have a cottage in the Lakes and go up every now and again. It’s a close-knit community of chefs: we all know each other. I go back to the restaurants at the Gilpin Hotel & Lake House and Holbeck Ghyll. They’re the same concept, so they’re quite good to benchmark yourself against. There are four or five Michelin stars in an 8km radius, it’s quite the foodie hot spot.

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