Andrew Butler is the head chef at Mitton Hall, Lancashire. The country house hotel is located in the heart of the Ribble Valley and is part of the group James’ Places. A popular wedding venue, as well as a first-class dining establishment, Mitton Hall is situated in picturesque surroundings.
Tell us about Mitton Hall…
It’s a place that customers can visit for any occasion and receive a professional, but relaxed, dining experience. I’m responsible for both kitchens, the function side and the brasserie side; which also includes private dining, the bar menu, the terrace and weddings – anything to do with food! I love the fact that every day is different at Mitton Hall. If I’m not working on new menus then I’m prepping for a wedding or for foodservice at the brasserie and, thanks to the unpredictable weather, plans and events can change last minute at Mitton Hall so it is a daily challenge.
What is your career history?
I trained for three years at Runshaw College in Leyland and after a few placements around the country I started at Northcote, the Michelin starred restaurant in Langho, Lancashire, as a commis chef. After 12 incredible months I moved on to gain more experience and did placements at Ribby Hall, The Inn at Whitewell, The Eagle at Barrow and then Mitton Hall in 2009 where I was senior sous chef for just under two years. I continued working with James’ Places and moved on to the Royal Hotel in Kirkby Lonsdale for a brief stint before opening The Shireburn Arms at Hurst Green. After 12 months I moved on to Eaves Hall at Waddington for four years before coming back to Mitton Hall in July 2016.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my drive from the guys in the kitchen; there is no way I could do my job without the team of 24 – particularly Richard my senior sous chef, Kyle my banqueting head chef and Daniel my junior sous chef. The passion they have to offer drives forward the standards and creativity in the kitchen. Social media is also a big source of inspiration when it comes to new trends. I follow chefs, bloggers and foodies on Facebook and Instagram whose posts influence our ideas and menu development. Social media has become such a big part of our industry; it targets an audience who will be our customers for the next 25 years so we have to make sure that our ideas are current and we’re keeping those customers happy otherwise we will lose them. With so much competition around, it’s crucial we stay ahead of the game.
How did your love of cooking first develop?
It started by accident! I had a kitchen porter job in a local hotel when I was 15. And although I wasn’t a foodie, I loved the atmosphere and drive of the kitchen. I used to be in awe of the chefs – and that’s when I decided I wanted to be one! I was lucky enough to be mentored by David Dugdale who was sous chef at The Pines Hotel in Clayton-le-Woods where I got my first job while at college as a trainee chef when I was just 16.
Which chefs have inspired you?
David Dugdale has had a huge impact on me. Being my mentor when I was first starting out was an important role. He managed to bring out my passion for cooking and even suggested my first college placement at The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. And now I’m lucky to be working with him again as he is the group chef at James’ Places. I also worked with a chef called Mark Birchall (currently head chef at Moor Hall in Ormskirk) who I met at college but we both worked as commis chefs at The Pines Hotel. He was very influential in helping me to develop my skills and creativity.
Advice for aspiring chefs?
Be excited and passionate about the industry. When I work with young chefs I don’t act like a dictator, I help to guide them down the right path and let them discover their own route. If you start the ball rolling for them, before you know it they will be in the position they want to be to create their own drive and passion. I see chefs who have studied at college and been taught trends, rather than the basics. They want to make a foam or a swoosh on a plate and create something beautiful that has no technical depth. They see the exciting side of cooking via the media but it’s not like that – it’s hard graft, but you are rewarded with an incredible amount of job satisfaction. In my kitchen, I try to instil the basics; walk before you can run. It’s a tough time for up and coming chefs, so if you can teach them to create sustainable cooking rather than something that will be a flash in the pan, they will thank you for it… eventually.
What would be your last meal?
Easy – boiled black pudding, poached eggs, pepper sauce and crusty bread in unlimited supplies! I would sit and eat that all day and night if I could.
Do you use local products?
We try really hard to work with local suppliers, however it is not the be all and end all for me. If I can get a better product from further afield then I will – it’s about the complete experience not just the local produce. Of course, if we can find an excellent product in the local area then we always use that. My aim is to get the right product or ingredient for the right purpose and, of course, price.
Do roast dinners play an important part in your business?
Yes – they are probably the linchpin. Sunday trade is very important for us and has an impact on the rest of our trade; with all the competition out there these days, being in people’s minds when they’re choosing where to eat is crucial. Therefore, if we have served a poor quality roast dinner then they are certainly not going to pop in for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon.
What makes the perfect roast?
Butter – and lots of it! We cook our roast potatoes in butter and duck fat, and use really good quality beef. We tend to choose beef over other meats because we feel that it’s one of those meats that isn’t something you’d eat at home every day. A busy Sunday can see over 150 covers for roasts. Cauliflower cheese is also key to a good roast dinner!