Mike Hendry is our Head Chef here at Llansantffraed Court. Originally from Ayrshire, he began his career as a chef aged 21 and moved to Wales in 2003, after being offered a position at the Michelin-starred Crown at Whitebrook.
He has built up a wealth of experience in fine dining, he is passionate about using produce from trusted Welsh suppliers and especially from our large walled kitchen garden.
He has recently devised new six or nine course tasting menus which will be presented with carefully selected matched wines from our award winning list. During a break from the busy kitchen, he gave us an insight into life at the pass:
Your menu varies. Do you feel it’s important to mix inventive recipes with more traditional ones?
The current trend is to mix old school classics with a modern twist. I know what ingredients work well together and it’s always good to use new techniques.
As a chef who has been cooking from an early age, who would you say your biggest influences have been along the way?
My dad and grandmother were always in the kitchen and inspired me with their cooking, which I will always be grateful for.
What did you find most challenging as a young cook learning your trade?
When I started off I was given jobs that weren’t necessarily enjoyable. The most important thing is having the willpower to continue – it’s not a trade where you expect praise very often, but that’s what drives me.
You use a lot of locally sourced ingredients, what is your favourite dish to cook?
I don’t have one, as all my food is fresh and follows the seasons. Dishes taste the best when they are made out of the fantastic vegetables, fruit and herbs picked in the garden, sometimes literally minutes before they are on a plate in the Restaurant. I use a trusted network of around 75 local suppliers to help the community and it is important to cook with top end, fresh produce.
Monmouthshire is renowned for its culinary scene and with so many suppliers to choose from. How do you pick?
We choose whatever is best for us, building a good working relationship over time, for example, we use suppliers in Brecon who are fantastic. For our venison, we use the Welsh Venison Centre as I have known the guy who runs it for years and he always provides top quality meat.
How do you learn what ingredients work best together?
Training is really important. However, some people have a natural flair with ingredients, for example my Sous Chef is Mediterranean and a natural cook. There are tried and tested ways of putting things together and he has been doing it for a while. I normally test new dishes by putting them on the menu and gaining customer feedback from a usually very willing audience!
Is there a technique you have mastered that you’re most proud of?
New techniques such as liquid nitrogen, paco jets, water baths and so on are great, but it’s important to get the basics right. I’m proud of my fish preparation skills. I spent some time at Ashton’s in the fish market in Cardiff to master it and was even put behind the block, which was great experience.
What are your favourite cookbooks that you would recommend every home cook own and why?
For the home cook, I’d say Keith Floyd and Elizabeth David are really inspirational and have good techniques. As a chef, I think Eleven Madison Park is a great book as the recipes are amazing. The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is the cookery bible for chefs as it lists all the classic techniques and ingredients.
You’ve just developed new tasting menus for LLCH? How did you plan it?
We don’t have a set tasting menu as we like to create dishes suited to the customer, and to show off the ingredients, for example, if a diner has a preference we can tailor the menu to their tastes but with a few surprises thrown in.. We try to plan in whatever is fresh that day and do something nice with it.
Have your team influenced your cooking in any way?
It is a real team effort here and if somebody has an idea, we will cook it and test it. If something is good enough, we will put it on the menu – I’d be daft not to use their skills.
What does LLCH offer that similar restaurants don’t?
It’s top quality- high end cooking, but the price is very reasonable. For example, customers can get a three course lunch for just £19.50. It’s excellent value in beautiful surroundings.
If you were to eat out in any restaurant in the world, where would it be?
Eleven Madison Park in New York as it has a great standard of food and is a really nice place to eat. I would also love to eat at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, which has been voted the world’s best restaurant.
Who is your favourite chef and why?
There’s so many, it’s difficult to choose. Heston Blumenthal has good techniques and Tommy Keller’s attention to detail is phenomenal, especially when he pioneered cooking with water baths at The French Laundry in California. He is a genius.
You’ve been appointed as a Head Chef, but what are your dreams for 2013?
I would like the team to keep motivated and build on their strengths, but most of all I want to please the customer. Ultimately, I want to continue with what we’re doing and develop the menu. Hopefully the recognition will follow.