Chef Scott Paton: What’s cooking?
Our favourite chefs spill all about their work, lives and top tips. Dishing it this week? Scott Paton, head chef at Àclèaf at Plymouth's Boringdon Hall & Spa.
Scott is the head chef of the Elizabethan manor and pamper-heaven of Plymouth’s Boringdon Hall & Spa, overseeing three restaurants, including Àclèaf, a romantic space overlooking the Great Hall with a brilliant signature menu, the hotel’s Brasserie and the Spatisserie upstairs the multi-million pound Gaia Spa.
Your first job (in a kitchen)?
My first job was pot washer at Jack in the Green at Rockbeare. I was only 14. After one shift I knew this was for me, and now I’ve been a chef for 18 years. I feel very lucky to have found out so young what makes me tick.
Sum up your cooking style/ food philosophy?
Our slogan at Acleaf is ‘Truth with elegance’ which means the finest ingredients, honest and unpretentious, and served with elegance.
The restaurant getting three-AA-rosette status, winning the Acorn award under the age of 30, and the Michelin Plate this year. But I don’t really like to look back, I just want to look forward and get better and better.
Ever cooked for anyone famous?
We quite often have famous people staying at Boringdon, like comedians who are on at the Pavilion and actors filming locally. The most memorable one was Marco Pierre White when I was still at Jack in the Green. I was about 19 and on pastry. I was looking at the cookery books with him on and the kitchen and him in the flesh in the restaurant. It was quite an intense evening!
Your biggest mistake at work?
There’s rarely a day when everything goes right. Things burn, spoil, spill – you name it! But it’s when things go wrong that’s when the cream rises to the top. The key is stay calm, and learn how to use your skills and experience to sort it out so it doesn’t affect the guests.
You’re tired after a long day slaving over a hot oven. What do you eat?
Nothing fancy – unless it’s my wife’s birthday! Probably a piece of sourdough toast and salty butter. We use an unpasteurised Normandy butter which has sea salt crystals in it called Isigny Ste-Mère at Boringdon which I love because its so creamy and buttery. I like things to taste of what they should taste of. This is butter on steroids.
What sums up your favourite type of cuisine?
Anything which represents the chef’s personality. I’ll always remember what Paul the owner of Jack in the Green told me, “Treat people how you what you’d want to be treated”. And for me, that means great ingredients, great hospitality, a couple of unexpected extras and a bit of fun.
The taster menu at Acleaf is great fun! And it starts with unexpected fizz I seem to remember?
Yes, I like every guest to feel a VIP so we make sure everyone is given a nice surprise on arrival. It takes away that awkward moment when you first sit down and you’re trying to take everything in and make decisions about what you want to drink and so on. Much better to start with some unexpected ‘happy bubbles’!
Do you have a favourite chef?
The Swedish fine dining chef, Björn Frantzén. I love his philosophy, everything is very pure, artistic and creative.
What about a favourite cookbook?
Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. He’s a Californian chef and it’s named after his restaurant. He puts out a new book every few years or so and it always goes straight to the top of my favourites. What he does is very pure and very elegant. One of his dishes is a radish in butter. So, the radish would have been picked fresh less than an hour before, washed and dipped in melted butter, and you can guarantee it would be the best radish you’ve ever tasted.
Desert island kitchen gadget?
Probably a blender. We go through blenders like we go through, erm, ‘happy bubbles’! I know it’s a cliche but it’s really the guys in the kitchen I wouldn’t be without. They’re a brilliant team.
Favourite local café? Restaurant? Hotel?
I love the farm shop at Lifton, Strawberry Fields. The food is good, they do pick your own strawberries in summer, it’s nice for kids. They grow and sell fruit and veg, it’s all very authentic and good quality.
What mistake do inexperienced cooks tend to make?
Not seasoning enough. Salt enhances the flavour and brings out how something should intrinsically taste. Buy good salt which has minerals the body needs.
What’s your favourite ingredient and why?
Turbot is hard to beat. It’s also a good fish for anyone who doesn’t like ‘fishy’ fish, as it’s quite meaty and goes well with a chicken sauce. Just pan-fry it in butter, tossing it in when the butter has stopped foaming, a few minutes on one side, then turn it over, turn off the heat and leave it to cook through for a few minutes. Deliciously simple.
What’s your signature dish?
Our crab dish has been on the menu for a long time because it always gets such good feedback from guests. It’s crab curried in an emulsion, with mango, lime and syrup with garden herbs.
What’s going to be on the menu when you re-open on May 17th?
We’re coming back with a four-course taster menu, then when everything totally unlocks in June, we’re planning a new nine-course taster menu with a mix of all the chefs favourite dishes, including new ones and tried and tested. What we make is a real collaboration and it changes with the seasons or the weather. Every two weeks I’ll set the chefs a task to create a new dish, say a chicken dish, so they set aside a pocket of their day and we try them all and select the favourite.
Hungry for more? Boringdon Hall & Spa re-opens on 17 May – check out Àclèaf’s four-course taster menu and get booking your table!
Boringdon Hall Hotel, Colebrook, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon, PL7 4DP. Tel: 01752 853 807 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org