Tom Biddle is executive chef at Hoar Cross Hall in Burton-Upon-Trent. We went along to meet the man behind the food
Since he took hold of the culinary ropes at Hoar Cross Hall in 2017, Chef Tom Biddle has made some serious impact. Last year, it received its first AA Rosette award after the inspector dined in the Ballroom restaurant. And more recently it achieved major success at Salon Culinaire, the UK’s most prestigious chef competition.
There’s no denying that 32-year-old Tom, who was born and bred in Birmingham, has big plans for the Grade II listed stately home, which is set in sprawling countryside on the outskirts of Burton-upon-Trent. And he’s had no trouble putting them into action.
So, with so much going on in the kitchen, we took some time out with him to find out more.
Where did it all begin?
“When I was at school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And it got to that stage where you get forced into a job because you need to start earning your own keep a little bit.
“I got myself a job in a local pub and got straight into the kitchen just helping out really. Before I knew it, I was doing a little bit more than I was expecting and I kind of fell in love with it.
“The people I was working with pushed me to go to college and learn food, so I did. I went to UCB (University College Birmingham) and did my NVQ 1 and 2 and really it just kicked off from there.
“I got into a hotel; the majority of my career has all been hotels. And I just worked up the ladder.”
Who and what are your inspirations?
“I don’t know… some people go around and say a specific chef. For me, it’s generally everything and anybody. You get little quirky bits from everything.
“When I was going through the younger stages of my career…you look up to a couple of the chefs that you’re working with. I’ve had a very good core team above me and I kind of learnt from them. So, I was kind of moulded to how they were which is great and has done me really good.
“But you do get inspired by everything. You get inspired by social media and seeing everything that comes up and it’s just a photo and you imagine how that’s plated but maybe with different ingredients; and the seasonality calendar just inspires you. It is just everything and anything – different trends, different colours on a plate and how things are plated, flavour combinations…”
What is your favourite dish?
“I like doing duos, trios; showcasing one ingredient in various forms.
“One of the starters we’ve got now is a beetroot cured salmon with a poached salmon. So it’s kind of two different textures, different looks, different flavours, and it’s just accompanied with a beetroot macaroon and apple gel. It’s quite a simple dish but it’s showcasing the same ingredient and that’s what I like.”
What should we be cooking now?
“We’re obviously coming into spring now and one ingredient that we’ve started using quite a bit is wild garlic; it screams spring, doesn’t it? Wild garlic and lamb – winner.
“Asparagus will be coming in soon; berries will be coming along too. There is so much when it comes to spring and summer. The Jersey Royals are coming along. It’s a lighter season,so it’s lighter colours, you’re not so much using braising, heavier cooking, that’s more autumn/winter…”
Do you have any tips for our readers at home in the kitchen?
“Don’t be too afraid to try new things. Push the boundaries, try different flavours and different things… Cooking is forever redeveloping.”
Tell us about your recent awards at Salon Culinaire
“I did a lot of the competition scene a few years ago before I was an Executive Chef; you had a little bit more freedom and not so much weight on your shoulders!
“I really enjoyed it…there is really good live theatre, you know what you’re cooking, and you’ve got your time allocated and it’s there, it’s your dish.
“We knew the NEC was coming up so I wanted to put myself forward for a couple of the competitions, and I pushed my pastry chef into it because I thought she was at the level to do it. She got to the final eight in the pastry competition and she came out with a bronze third place which was amazing. And then the afternoon teas won best in class – the pastries – so it was great all round.
“To compete in four competitions between us and come out with three best in class was really good.
“I’ve very favourable for Salon Culinaires and I think when the time’s right it’s a good learning stage for the rest of the team as well.
“It’s something to take them out of their comfort zone of being in the four walls of the kitchens here; it’s good for them for their career as well.”
What are your plans for Hoar Cross Hall?
“Just to grow the property in every manor. We are moving in the right direction. The food quality is coming along which is good, we’re getting a lot more outside diners coming in, and we want more of that. We want to put Hoar Cross on the food map. We want to be that destination restaurant as well.”
And for you?
For me personally; grow and develop and learn new skills and keep up with the trends and keep this team that we’re forever growing as a team unit. That’s one key thing is to have a team that works for you and the team as a whole. They all look out for each other. You see your team members more than you do your own family, so you’ve got to look after each other’s back and learn together and grow together. So as long as you’re moving in that right direction, you grow personally, and the hotel does too.”
Would you recommend becoming a chef?
“Definitely, it’s a very rewarding career. It’s hard work but the hard work does pay off. You’ve got to show that passion and commitment to it and just get your head down especially in those first years. Just get your head down and learn as much as you can and know that it’s a career that it is rewarding.
“Don’t necessarily try and run straight to the top. Make the most of every position you are in while you’re there because you learn. Some of the best years of my career were when I was a Commi and CDP and they are your learning years. Every position, you’re forever learning, and I’m still learning a lot now.
“It is a hard career but very rewarding and you get your real good times as well with it – like end of service on a Saturday night and you’ve done a 180 and it all goes well. You see it in customers’ smiles on their faces, they’re here to eat and your there to feed them and there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve done a good job.”
And how about your nod from the AA?
“We got recognised by the AA and we achieved our first rosette last year, which was great news for this place. It’s really good. You learn in the industry you don’t go chasing for those things, if they come along, they come along, which is great stuff.
“We’re probably due a visit potentially any time soon, which is good news. And if anything more comes from it, it’s good. A one rosette restaurant is more than we thought of in the past, so it speaks volumes about what we’re doing. And it’s that invisible pat on the back of knowing that you’re doing a good job.”
For more information on Hoar Cross Hall, visit: www.hoarcross.co.uk or call 01283 575671 for all enquiries and bookings. Address: Hoar Cross Hall Spa Hotel, Maker Lane, Hoar Cross, Burton Upon Trent, DE13 8QS
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