Celebrating British Food Fortnight at Doxford Hall
Head Chef David Wrigley may be new to the team at Doxford Hall but with an impressive 36 years as a chef already under his belt he’s slotted right in. With stints most recently at Mallory Court Country House Hotel & Spa and 13 years as owner of his own bakery and patisserie business, he brings a wealth of experience to the role.
As we mark the 21st year of British Food Fortnight, we asked David to tell us a little bit more about himself and his cooking.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I’m not sure whether it was a case of nature or nurture, but I suppose I’ve always been destined to be a chef. When I was young, my mother was a confectioner and used to take me to her work at the bakery in the absence of any alternative childcare. I’d be put in the corner with some cutters and dough while my mother made cakes all day!
I spent my childhood surrounded by food really. My grandfather owned a fish and chip shop in Saltburn, we had an allotment where we grew fruit and vegetables, and I grew up close to the moors where my father knew a lot of the gamekeepers so we’d eat a lot of game over the winter. We were also close to the coast where I’d go sea fishing for mackerel and billet fish (coalfish). I once went out fishing with a string of five hooks with some silver paper attached and caught so many billet fish that I had to take off my coat and fill it with fish to carry them home. I still remember how cross my mother was!
Describe your cooking style
Your three favourite local producers?
We source our kippers from Swallows of Seahouses, just a short drive from Doxford Hall. The kippers are smoked in the original smokehouses which have operated on the same site since 1843, using traditional oak sawdust free from any nasties and not overpowering the natural flavour of the fish. They are a long-running favourite item on our breakfast menu.
R Ord & Hens supply us with free range eggs from their farm 10 miles away on the outskirts of Alnwick. We get through a lot of eggs in this business and it’s important that they are super fresh and of good quality.
And lastly there’s Particularly Good Potatoes who grow potatoes that are selected to make the perfect chip. They are based 30 minutes away in Wooler and have the backing of the Hairy Bikers – what’s not to like?! Essentially, they are premium potatoes, chipped by hand at the farm and come with a low carbon footprint. They test batch every crop of potatoes to make sure that they meet their quality standards.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
For me it has to be autumn, the flavours and colours are so rich. I love cooking game, wild mushrooms, elderberries.
Most admired chef?
There are hundreds of fabulous chefs but I do admire Nicholas Denis and Marco Pierre White – not only for their skills but also for their principles. Both famously handed back their Michelin stars having become disillusioned with the Michelin experience, calling the award a curse through the restrictions placed on the way they were able to cook or present their restaurants. I believe that awards are important, and of course they have a place, but I’d rather my food is judged on its quality by our diners rather than an inspector’s scorecard. That said, we’re proud to be a two AA rosetted restaurant at Doxford Hall and we’ll be doing our utmost to retain these!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I’m currently studying for my accountancy qualification, future-proofing myself for a time when I won’t want to be working long hours in the kitchen.
What are you plans for the kitchen at Doxford?
My first priority is to build a solid team and to update our menus, retaining our two AA rosettes in the process. I’m also extremely keen that we develop the kitchen garden – we have bags of space with a lot of established fruit trees and it makes sense to use our own produce to keep costs down and keep fresh, seasonal food on the menu. Our gardeners are fully behind these plans. We’ve been using the team’s cherry tomatoes off the vine in the caprese salad and they’re so flavoursome.
What’s the must-try dish on the menu?
I’m currently writing the new menu and there are a couple of dishes that really sing. There’s a beautiful plaice dish served with pomme puree and shellfish bisque and also a lovely tender lamb cooked sous vide with braised lamb shoulder.
What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
There’s a fabulous thermo- mixer blender which we use for purees and hollandaise sauce. It heats and blends – genius!
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
Foams. One mouthful disappears to nothing!
Who does the cooking at home?
Deep fried haggis with curry sauce from the chip shop. Heaven – but not likely to be appearing on the menu at Doxford Hall any time soon!