Chefs on the Move

Jeff Baker

Jeff Baker

No sooner have we reported on the closure of Create followed by Anthony’s in Leeds than we have to announce the demise of J. Baker’s in York. He cooked for a wedding reception and then closed the doors for good.
What a shame. We’ve always rated Jeff Baker who arrived in York in 2006 after a Michelin star-studded career at Leeds’ Pool Court. His modern, exuberant cooking brought a breath of fresh air to York. We hope he will be back at the stove somewhere in the county very soon.
It’s certainly all change just now. Ex-Harvey Nichols and Create chef Richard Walton-Allen has been signed up by the polished outside catering outfit Dine Consultancy. His short-lived replacement at Harvey Nix Paul Cunliffe has moved on, too, to open a newly refurbed pub, The Dunsforth at Lower Dunsforth in North Yorkshire.
Another brave start-up is Michelin-starred Adam Jackson who has departed the Black Swan at Oldstead for what he describes as a fine dining restaurant, The Park at Sutton Park at Sutton on the Forest, the pile owned by Samantha Cameron’s family.
Elsewhere, Dan Birk leaves the Box Tree to join Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House in Soho though it remains in safe hands under owner  Simon Gueller, while young Adam Smith moves into position at the Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey.  The fancy hotel and spa at Raithwaite Hall, Sandsend have appointed Martin Pick (one time partner with his brother Chris of Armstrong’s, Barnsley) as temporary head chef following the departure of head chef Darren Iddon to Queens Quay Social in Derry/Londonderry. The permanent chef Mark Johnson starts in October. He trained at Bradford and Ilkley College and has worked at the Connaught, the Ritz and Chelsea’s Sloane Club.
Finally we hear that following the closure of Kitchen in the Alea Casino in Leeds, TV celeb James Martin is renewing his links with the casino owners to open in the Manchester 235 Casino. He remains executive chef of the Talbot Hotel in Malton.


Talbot Hotel Opening

In February we reported our dismay at the expensive signing of James Martin as executive chef at the newly refurbed Talbot Hotel in Malton. Despite assurances to the contrary, we couldn’t help thinking this was a PR stunt rather than a commitment to real food, especially disappointing when owner Tom Naylor Leyland had declared his commitment to Malton as a food town.

So it was very gracious of them, in the circumstances, to invite me to their opening on Thursday. We were served drinks and canapés and given a tour  before the public opening at the weekend and I have to declare the £4million looks well spent.

Twenty six bedrooms a couple of suites, bar, atrium, drawing room and dining room, all tastefully done out in English country house style.

There was good fun quizzing the young receptionist who was here in its Fawlty Towers heyday. The atrium where you can now enjoy a lavish afternoon tea was remembered by her as being open to the elements with a rusty fire escape where the staff went to have an illicit fag.

The canapés were delicious: pea and watercress soup, fish goujons,  sticky toffee pudding, and a white chocolate and whisky croissant bread and butter pudding. And yes, the man himself was there, not swanning about like a celeb, but actually looking hot and sweaty and nervy in the kitchen.

Putting my head into the lion’s mouth, I buttonholed Naylor Leyland. He admitted JM won’t be in the kitchen all the time – ‘though he has bought a house up here,’ he told me. ‘And he’s been in the kitchen for the last two weeks’. The restaurant menu had yet to be finalised but N-L promised just good food without dips and drIzzles, for which much thanks.

He knows there’s much riding on the Talbot, particularly on its restaurant. It could and should be the place in Malton to eat well, not just for hotel guests but more especially non-residents and especially if N-L wants to achieve his food-town ambition. To his credit he is putting his money where his mouth is.

Besides the starry Martin, they’ve appointed Craig Aitchison from Swinton Park as head chef so it’s a strong team. Furthermore, they’ve challenged me to come and eat here and report back – and  promise to take note of what I have to say. Can’t say fairer than that. Watch this space. I may yet have to eat not only my fish goujons, but also my hat.

Talbot Hotel, Malton

James Martin

We were genuinely pleased when we heard that the Talbot Hotel in Malton was being restored to former glory.  In recent years it’s been in terminal decline under the stewardship of a hotel chain. It had the worst reports on TripAdvisor I’ve ever read. But Malton’s big landowner Tom Naylor-Leyland of the Fitzwilliam Estate has taken back the lease and splashed out on a £4 million refurb. It sounds promising: 26 bedrooms, three suites, interior by top London designer Vivien Greenock. Expect Colefax and Fowler by the yard, expensive good taste and all the right noises about seasonal and local produce. All in tune with Malton’s drive to graduate into a foodie destination.

Then last week three press releases dropped into my in-box with the deadening news that James Martin would be overseeing the kitchen. I’ve ranted about JM here already, so I won’t go over old ground and it’s nothing especially personal about him, it’s just that whole celebrity chef cock and bull again. Can’t new start-ups grow out of it or even go for some new names?

I don’t know how much it costs to get true Yorkshiremen like Martin or Brian Turner to leave their homes in the south and ‘design’ a menu and turn out for their photocalls as ‘executive chef’ but I do know that it can cost £10,000 to get a top grade celebrity chef to cook for an hour at a food festival.

The depressing thought is that the initial PR might just be worth it when you’re shelling out £4m overall but will it create a restaurant with a heart? We’re assured Martin will do ‘some’ fronting and ‘some’ cooking at the Talbot. Contain your excitement. He’ll have to fit in his Malton shifts between running his Leeds Kitchen restaurant, fronting his Saturday Kitchen gig on TV, writing his Daily Mail petrol head column, any new books on the go, personal appearances, a chef’s table of business interests and his well-publicised crusading (like Loyd Grossman before him) to save the nation from rubbish hospital food. How deep can the commitment be? How far will the sprinkle of stardust go?

Good luck to him, Naylor-Leyland and the Talbot. Prove me wrong.  But there seems to be an endemic problem with would-be swanky hotels and their dining rooms. In the last couple of years I’ve reviewed the Cedar Court Grand in York and Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend and watched them throw millions at their buildings and their trappings and then lose the plot in the kitchen. Shine over substance. Invariably, Squidbeak prefers to eat elsewhere.

Leeds’ Clarence Dock

More developments on the James Martin front. The TV chef and professional Yorkshireman’s new restaurant at Leeds’ Clarence Dock is due to open at the end of March.It’s going to be called The Leeds Kitchen but it’s more than a restaurant. ‘Not just that,’ says James in an interview with Leeds Guide. It’s going to host private parties and corporate functions for up to 250 people: ‘That’s what appealed to me.’ Even better: ‘I’m going to be a big supporter of the local community, a big supporter of the local producers. I’m looking at doing maybe a farmers’ market where I can bring in the local producers and people can get to see that.’

Funny. I thought Leeds already had a farmer’s market. The first Sunday of the month. Mandy and I went for a wander round Clarence Dock a couple of weeks ago and the place needs all the help going.  If you want to take the temperature of the recession, a  tour of all the shop closures there is utterly salutory.

Anyone investing big time there right now is foolhardy or very brave. I hope James got a good set-up deal to go with his commitment: ‘I’ve got a flat at Clarence Dock, so I’m going to be there quite a lot, yeah. I’ll be there more than any other TV chef, I’ll be in that restaurant… and I’ll be there.’

That’s on the record, then.

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