When chef Michael Penaluna arrived at his new place of work, he knew his surroundings would be spectacular.
Wynyard Hall takes some beating when it comes to grandeur. In terms of scale, landscape and history it ranks as one of the most important properties in the UK.
What he didn’t expect was just how much influence the estate’s grounds would have on the food that he and his team would be serving up.
“Immediately I was blown away by the place but in the time, I have been here we have really started to team up with the gardeners and growers on the estate to create something amazing in the kitchen”, he says.
Michael is executive chef, so his remit covers the Wellington Restaurant’s set lunch and dinner menus, the a la carte offering and the bar and in-room menus.
He joined Wynyard from Jesmond Dene House where he achieved the culinary accolade of three AA rosettes.
Seasonality and best produce have long been at the heart of the food Michael cooks so he feels blessed by the variety of ingredients he can find just a short fresh-air walk from his Wynyard kitchens.
The showcase Edible Garden at Wynyard is home to a lush array of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers which look pick-me perfect in their wooden containers.
For Michael and his team, they are something of an irresistible sweetshop where they are let loose daily.
The find their way to the kitchens where the team preserves, pickles and prepares the freshest ingredients for use in every dish.
The rich pickings might include kale and hazelnut pesto or perhaps a side of mixed leaves and buttermilk dressing.
With a burger in the bar you can enjoy homemade orchard chutney or red cabbage and coriander coleslaw.
The a la carte menu takes you to steamed turbot with salsify, spring onion and sea purslane or venison carpaccio with pickled turnip and crispy cavelo nero.
“It’s a gourmet garden and we work with the growers on new things all the time; it is so energising and exciting”, says Michael.
“The success of dishes is in coming at it from all angles. Farmers, local growers and gardens creating the perfect marriage.
“If I want some edible flowers then they are there – as fresh as they can be.
“We make the most of what is growing”, adds Michael.
His head chef Ryan Carr is an avid forager so he’s never happier than when he’s tramping the grounds at Wynyard on the lookout for the likes of wild mushrooms, wild garlic or the most tender of herby shoots.
“He is so good at flavour pairings and love the simplicity of foraged flavours – he’s very exciting and has the hunger for experimentation”, adds Michael.
Above all, it is about bringing the locality of the food to the table for Michael.
He has homemade butter from the local Butter Girls and often heads to the coast for seaweed.
“We are kitchen of experimentation”, says Michael.
“Curing, smoking, fermenting and making the most of what is growing nearby.”
He’s particularly excited about the arrival to the team of a part-time nutritionist from California who is joining the team as bridge between kitchen and garden.
“She will create a good connection between the two. She will harvest the produce then work with us on flavours and new ideas – the delicacy of small, sweet flowers or young shoots added to dishes.
“It’s a really exciting time for all the team here – we have five chefs travelling down from Newcastle every day who have come with us on the food journey.
“It is like a family here and we nurture the team. Shouty kitchens are thing of the past. We like to look after people.”
Food for thought >>
Family food memory…
Mam’s corned beef and tattie hotpot. Her mam and nan made it too. It’s so simple and tasty and all the family sit round and devour it.
Chefs who inspire…
People like Marcus Wareing, Marco of course and closer to home, Terry Laybourne.
Terry really brought out the chef in me and made me realise that you have to take it seriously. He had great respect for customers and used to tell the kitchen, ‘make them smile’!
Chris Eagle at Saltwater and Porterhouse in Fenwick is also a guy who really cooks form the heart.
I love a trip to Longsands in Tynemouth for fish and chips. Owner Simon Walsh is a great friend of mine and really enjoys what he does and nurtures his team.
I went to L’enclume in Cumbria recently which is always brilliant, and I was invited to Raby Hunt – James’ food is incredible.
Has to be the truffle!
Shellfish linguine. Simple but perfect ingredients – I had it at Rick Stein’s place in Padstow.