“I don't like tripe, and Marmite sandwiches are my favourite” - meet one of Suffolk's longest-running chefs
PUBLISHED: 17:43 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:43 27 September 2018
He’s been at the helm of one of Suffolk’s most iconic hotels for three decades. We caught up with Alan Ford, head chef of Hintlesham Hall…
So, 30 years…has it gone quickly?
It has yes! You look back and think, blimey, was that five years ago? I was under Ruth and Dave Watson to start with.
How has the offering changed over the years?
I think predominantly when I came here it was restaurant-led. It still is to a degree but we do a lot of functions and weddings so we’ve had to further adapt for those as well.
You’re growing a lot of produce in the gardens now aren’t you?
We are and this year we’ve had lots of vegetables and lots of fruit – raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. Plus different herbs, salads, all kinds of beans, tomatoes. We tend to let the gardener do all the picking and we collect it when it’s ready. You’ll have chefs nipping out and bringing back tarragon.
Have there been any highlights?
I suppose the biggest was the Millennium. It was a big gala dinner and that was a really special one. But you try not to make one event more special than another one.
Do you have a signature dish?
Not really but we always have scallops on. They stay on the menu all the time and come in all guises. It’s something you don’t cook at home isn’t it?
How has the menu adapted over the years?
Over the last couple of years we’ve changed the lunch setting so it’s more (for want of a better word) of a floor menu. And we’ve been doing a set lunch menu since 1999. We changed that around a bit but put it back on recently. It includes nibbles and wine and coffee, so you know what you’re spending. We’ve all done it. Gone out to a restaurant and clocked up the bill in our heads. This menu means you know where you are and how much you’ve spent.
Have there been any memorable dishes?
Like I already said, scallops are great. But I don’t tend to put the same things on over and over. It’s about the ingredients for me. We always stick to prime fish like wild bass or halibut, and use great duck and lamb. We choose it as local as possible without being over-awed by it.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?
While I was on holiday in Australia once I had rock lobster. It was so simply done in just lemon butter. Funnily enough I was there again this year and went back but the restaurant had shut down.
How about the worst?
I’m not a lover of things like tripe.
If you could eat anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
I really enjoy the food in Portugal. It’s so fresh and rustic with lots of seafood. I also like Spain and the tapas out there. We go to Alicante on the odd occasion and there are some lovely restaurants there. I really recommend it.
Your worst job?
It was a bad job within a job. I was an apprentice at Grosvenor House in London. I used to work in the banqueting kitchen as a commis and on odd occasion would get this dessert to prepare. It was baby pineapple cut out, chopped, mixed with other fruit put back in the shell with meringue piped over the top. Preparing the pineapple, it was really acidic so it made your hands sore. In those days you didn’t have rubber gloves!
Are there any chefs you admire?
I think most chefs these days are very talented so you’ve got to respect them all. I worked under Anton Mosimann and he was very inspiring to me.
Your favourite sandwich filling?
What would your last meal be?
Roast lamb with the trimmnigs.
And who would you most like to invite for dinner?
I’d like to have dinner with Billy Joel. He seems like an interesting guy.