Meet Head Chef Charles Dundas
It’s been nearly a year since Charles was appointed Head Chef here at Hadley Park House Hotel, we caught up with him to find out what has been going on in the last year and a bit more about the man behind the chef’s whites.
What inspired you to become a Chef, was this always what you wanted to do?
I actually started working in a kitchen at the age of 14 when I was still at school doing my NVQ Level 1. To be honest it wasn’t my first choice, I love nature and wanted to be a geologist but there are not a lot of career options for geologists in Shropshire!
Who have you worked with that has enhanced your skills or inspired you?
While I was working at the Malt House in Ironbridge, Dan Forber persuaded me to go to Radbrook College, where I studied for 3 years. Later on, I suppose he head hunted me to work with him at the new restaurant in the Theatre Severn. It was Dan that really got me passionate about food and encouraged me to get into pastry work, which I still love. He also taught me to keep a balance between work and home and I enjoy my hobbies and spending time with my fiancee, my daughter and dog.
Who is your current culinary inspiration?
I would have to say Tommy Banks, who you might have seen on Great British Menu. He runs the Michelin Starred, Black Swan Restaurant in Yorkshire, where he serves fresh, simple food sourced from their two and half acre garden and his parent’s farm.
What has been the highlight of the last year?
As someone that enjoys the pastry side of cooking, I’ve worked hard with the team to improve our Afternoon Teas. They are now so fashionable that every restaurant, hotel and tea shop is offering Teas so we decided we had to up our game.
We now offer probably the best range of Afternoon Teas in Shropshire, from the Cream Tea and Traditional Afternoon Tea to our Pimms O’clock and Festive Teas. Our sweet treats and pastries are prepared with great care and attention to detail, the sort of quality you would get in a top London hotel and our bookings have increased significantly, so we must be doing something right.
What are your challenges day to day?
Running a busy kitchen there is a lot or ordering and checking stock and making sure the kitchen is spotless as well as rotas and looking after the staff. But the biggest challenge is keeping on top of all preparation needed for the various services from a simple breakfast to a large wedding. Just finding enough time to prepare and pre-cook anything we can the day before is tricky but doing that takes pressure away from service on the day and we can all be a bit more relaxed and pay attention to detail and not rush the final plating.
What do you like about working in a team?
We have a good team, young team here, in fact I am the second oldest at 28! I get involved in all the interview, trials and decision making so I am building the team that will work together and complement each other. We also have an apprentices and I enjoy training, teaching and passing my knowledge onto others, seeing how they develop and how much they enjoy their work.
How do you use seasonal ingredients and what ingredients are you currently working with?
We create a new menu each season and look to improve popular dishes as well. I am constantly researching new techniques, ingredients and equipment to improve our dishes and make them different. This winter we will have calves liver, venison and butternut squash on the menu as well as a new pork, mustard and apple terrine.
What is your favourite dish on the menu at the moment?
I particularly like our starter of seared scallops with buttered salsify served with an orange and shrimp beurre blanc. I have also created a twist on a Black Forest gateaux with a chocolate yoghurt cake, chocolate and cherry mousse, Chantilly cream and coco nib tuiles.
What are the advantages of work with local suppliers?
Fresh ingredients are everything to me, when food is local you know everything is fresh. We have some great suppliers for our meat, bread, cheese, veg, dairy and fish right on the doorstep.
Do you have any pet hates when it comes to food trends?
I really can’t stand foams – it doesn’t add anything to a dish!
What food do you like to eat when you are not working?
Simple food, something like corn beef hash with a twist.
Do you have any top tips for any budding chefs?
Just to be patient and work your way up in the kitchen. Too many young people want things too quickly, they want to know everything straight away but you really need to put in the time and effort. It takes a lot of practice to be a good chef.
What have you got planned for the future?
My main goal is to get a second AA Rosette for our restaurant, we have already won awards for our weddings and our Afternoon Teas are very popular so I would like to see the restaurant gain a good reputation regionally as well as locally.
Tell us why we should come and taste your food?
There is really nowhere like the Conservatory Restaurant in Shropshire, our food is simple but really high quality with modern twists that make it a bit different and anyone can experience that. It’s not just for special occasions, we have burgers and pastas on our menu but everything is freshly prepared and cooked.
If you want to experience Charles’s food then join us for an informal lunch, exquisite Afternoon Tea or come and enjoy some high quality dining in the Conservatory Restaurant.