PUBLISHED: 11:23 24 February 2015
How daytime TV turned Nik Chappell from fine art to fine food…
The more creative chefs are often attributed to serving up ‘pictures on plates’ but Nik Chappell is better placed than many of his contemporaries as he started out as an artist.
The Doncaster-born new head chef at Lower Slaughter Manor studied fine art at the University of Derby and a career in art was the original plan - until his passion for cooking got the better of him.
“I had thought about being a paid artist, working on large prints and sculptures in my own studio, but I spent my time at university working in pubs to pay the rent, and watching Ready Steady Cook - that was what made me fall in love with food.”
Chappell’s first proper cooking job was at the Royal Stuart Hotel in Derby, after which his career quickly progressed to Mallory Court in Leamington Spa, where he worked for a total of nine years, and then four years at Michelin-starred L’Ortolan in Berkshire, where he became head chef under the watchful gaze of celebrated executive chef Alan Murchison.
In an industry where many chefs hotfoot it around kitchens on a regular basis to enhance their CV, Chappell’s lengthy stints in top-flight hotel restaurants is unusual but he thinks more young chefs should spend longer in one place.
“Spending a length of time at a strong establishment helps you develop as a chef and lets you create your own style,” says Chappell, who moved to the Cotswolds with his wife and children to take up the post at Lower Slaughter Manor.
Chappell arrives in the region with a reputation for creating exciting and expertly executed fine dining menus and his new menu celebrates regional and seasonal produce in dishes such as coddled Bantam, Cornish caviar and smoked eel; veal sirloin and smoked shin, onions, liquorice and Madeira and sweet treats such as blood orange soufflé with pistachio ice cream and crumble.
His food is already attracting much praise from hotel guests and diners and Chappell says he’s glad to be part of the ever-growing Cotswold food scene.
“People seem to be really enjoying the food I’m cooking at the moment, which is a great feeling. The textures of caramel with lemongrass and lime leaf ice cream dish that I have been making for a few years now is going down a storm, as well as my pre-dessert coconut and mango ‘egg’.
“This job came at the right time and in the right place. I’ve always loved the Cotswolds, and Andrew Brownsword Hotels is such a great company to be a part of.
“The great support here will help me grow as a chef and as a great manager of people, and also allow me to deal with the business side of things too. There’s such a strong food scene in the Cotswolds - people clearly like good food around here.
“The whole family are now Cotswolds residents, the kids are in great schools and my wife will be working at Lower Slaughter Manor on reception very soon so we are already feeling very settled here.”
A few months into the job and Chappell says he’s still meeting local suppliers, but he’s impressed with the ones he’s found so far.
“I’m still getting to know the local suppliers but early favourites are the eggs from Cackleberry Farm and the pork and game from Todenham Manor Farm. I’m really looking forward to working with a wide range of local producers for our menus.
“When I arrived here, my brief was to simply cook great food that customers enjoy and attract new people to come and try our menus.
“We hope to keep on improving hour by hour, day by day. Eventually I would like to have a grazing-style dining option on offer, with little tastes of what will be offered in the evening on a grander scale.”
With a background in Michelin-star and 4 AA Rosette-level restaurants, Chappell is mindful that the restaurant guide inspectors will be keeping a close eye on his latest move and although cooking for the customers is paramount, he’s clearly got his sights on wider recognition.
“The restaurant currently has three AA Rosettes but I want to get to a similar level as I did at L’Ortolan and keep pushing from there. I want us to become the very best that we can be.”
A three-course lunch at Lower Slaughter Manor for just £20 per person is available until March 31. www.lowerslaughtermanor.co.uk