We Grill: Colin McGurran
Winteringham Field’s Chef Patron Colin McGurran charms Take Stock’s editor Mags Walker
At Nigel Howarth’s Fantastic Food Show last month we had the pleasure of meeting the very charming Colin McGurran, Great British Menu 2012 winner with his ‘Quail in the Woods’ dish for the Olympic banquet. Colin, renowned for his passion for provenance, is no stranger to success. At the age of 20, he was cooking at the Michelin starred Domaines Haut de Loire in France; five years later found him working for the UAE royal family. His first business venture was the award-winning Woolpack Country Inn, West Yorkshire in 2001; he bought Winteringham Fields in 2005. Tucked away in one of Lincolnshire’s prettiest villages, Winteringham Fields is recognised as one of the best restaurants in Britain.
Tell us about Winteringham Fields
It’s an old 16th century farmhouse and we grow our own produce, everything from shallots to broccoli. Wherever possible we use foods in season and all our seasonal vegetables and fruit are picked from the surrounding orchards and fields or foraged. On our farm, we have our own pigs, lambs, ducks and chicken and consequently the freshest eggs. The chefs bottle-feed our lambs and look after then right up to slaughter. We named one Michael Jackson because of its white sock. When it’s their time they are treated with care and cooked with real love and passion. The chefs feel proud to see them on the plate in a beautiful dish – it’s the circle of life.
I see things together in nature and it will inspire a recipe – woodpigeons nesting in the elderberry bush inspired a recipe for woodpigeon and elderberry jam. I love beautiful things; beautiful plates and gorgeous edible flowers; pea flowers and bean blossoms are coming into season now with their juicy bursts of flavour.
You have a young family and three gorgeous daughters, what do you like to cook for them?
My daughters like me to cook with them and I involve them as much as possible. On Sundays we work together to create lunch; one daughter will do the carrots, one the Yorkshires and one roast the beef so when we sit down we’ve all contributed. If you involve kids in the cooking you’ll never have fussy eaters.
You’re known as an experimental chef with a trial and error approach. Has this ever backfired on you?
Every day. I have never worked for Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White or Thomas Keller or so I have no fixed views on how things should be done. I make most of my errors during the recipe development phase but that’s all part of the learning process. A new dish can be two weeks in development. We start with an ingredient and test everything about it, sourcing, producing, usage, cooking technique and partner ingredients. In the second week, we work on presentation and ease of creation in the kitchen until the recipe is perfect. Then we take a picture of the finished dish, write up the recipe and pass to the chefs. To create the best veal stock, I looked at millions of different recipes, chose the one I liked the best and tweaked it until I was happy. It’s my personal cooking and I will never accept second rate.
Do you covet a Michelin star?
I’d be lying if I said no, but I think this kind of judgement is unique to our industry; you don’t get stars for being the best dentist and if you did which stars would you trust? In our world, there are around 10 different guides all with different criteria. I like to keep things simple and pure, from farm to fork, and focus on flavour. I’m not frightened of being judged but I say ‘bollocks’ to it really.
The Skills for Chefs Conference is in July. What’s your view on career training?
Critical. We have a training every Saturday, covering everything from butchering lambs legs to properly closing the fridge door. (That’s a ‘close and squeeze’ not a ‘kick and wallop’ by the way). I believe in treating everything in the kitchen with reverence (fridges last longer) and creating a culture which refuses to accept sub standard. All my chefs are rotated through sections to ensure they don’t get stale or bored.
Success in the Great British Menu put you in the public eye but what was it like being under the beady eyes of Matthew Fort, Oliver Peyton and Prue Leith in the final?
They all have individual palates and it can be difficult to please them all. It’s very hard sometimes; your food is your personality on a plate and for it to be criticised can be soul destroying. I cooked ‘Quail in the Woods’ for the Olympic banquet challenge. Nigel Haworth gave it a 4 (out of 10) yet it subsequently won the category!
At Nigel Haworth’s Fantastic Food Show, you demonstrated a new season lamb, courgette & basil cream, lamb belly and stuffed courgette flower dish. Can we share your recipe with our readers in our special feature on edible flowers in this issue of Take Stock?
It would be my pleasure!