We Grill – Robert Bates
Robert Bates is executive head chef at the award-winning Belfry Hotel & Resort in Royal Sutton Coldfield, North Warwickshire. Robert has worked in Michelin starred restaurants and hotels in the UK and Europe. He won Hotel Chef of the Year 2018 at the Caterer’s Hotel Cateys Awards which celebrates the most successful hotels, hoteliers and hotel employees across the UK.
Tell us about the Belfry…
The Belfry has a long-standing reputation for excellence as a centre for championship golf and also as an award-winning hotel and resort with 319 luxurious guest bedrooms and suites. The importance of teamwork throughout the resort is key and it is what drew me there. The Belfry is all about the people – I feel very fortunate to work with such a great team every day!
What is your menu?
We offer a range of dining options at the resort to cater for a variety of appetites, preferences, and dietary requirements. The Ryder Grill offers classic à la carte dining, or for a more casual option our Italian restaurant Rocca’s serves up delicious pizza and pasta. Sam’s Club House serves our famous double-stacked burgers, flatbread pizzas and wraps. There is also the Brabazon Bar where we serve afternoon tea, tapas, light dishes, and cocktails. I worked in France for four and a half years which had a huge influence on my cooking style. My cooking has always been about using fresh and seasonal ingredients to create traditional dishes with the twist of using modern French-influenced techniques.
What impact has Covid-19 had on the Belfry?
The whole hospitality industry has been hit hard by Covid-19, but while the Belfry has been closed to the public the staff have been working hard behind the scenes so we can welcome our guests back safely with the same award-winning hospitality they have come to expect from us. My role changed slightly during the closure as I mucked in with other areas of the hotel including greenkeeping and maintenance, but my main role was keeping the staff well fed while they worked hard to make the hotel safe for re-opening. I made them curries complete with onion bhajis and fresh garlic naan breads because I wanted to serve them comforting food that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. My team and I also created online recipe videos from the kitchen and at home for those who wanted to recreate a hotel standard meal in their own home.
What social distancing measures have you put in place?
The golf courses reopened on 1 June, and when the whole resort reopens we will be donating the entire green fees from that day to a number of UK charities. We are looking to open the rest of the resort once government guidelines allow. To start with we have utilised all our outdoor space to be able to serve a barbecue-style menu and all of our restaurants have reduced seating to allow for guests to social distance.
Once open, will your menu be affected?
To begin with it will be slightly challenging to source certain items of produce due to travel restrictions however, I am keeping an open mind and I have plenty of ideas as to how we can overcome this. We are fortunate to have access to such amazing fresh and quality local produce such as pumpkins, blackberries and apple which we already feature on our menus and will continue to do, so our menus will not be hugely affected.
Where did your love of food come from?
My uncle, Philip Borthwick. He was a chef for British transport hotels, including Gleneagles and every summer I would visit him, and he would show me around his kitchens; he was a huge influence on why I became a chef and why I have such a love for food. He has only just retired after working for 30 years as the executive chef at Savill Court Hotel and Spa near Windsor.
Who has inspired you throughout your career?
Albert Roux. I first met him when I was 18 and in one of my first roles as a chef at Slaley Hall in Northumberland. Albert was a consultant chef there and he took me under his wing; nurturing and inspiring me. Further on in my career I was very fortunate to work with Albert again and this time with his son Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche. This opportunity led me to work alongside them both again at Inverlochy Castle in Scotland before becoming a consultant chef at Chez Roux Limited and then heading up the kitchen at The Greywalls Hotel & Chez Roux. Even now, Albert Roux continues to inspire me, as well as many other young chefs and the industry as a whole. However, I have been lucky to work with several top chefs over the years who in their own way have helped make me a better and more knowledgeable chef.
What is your signature dish?
I don’t have a signature dish but my favourite meal to cook at home is a Sunday roast. After a busy week at The Belfry it’s nice to go back to basics with something simple but tasty. My roast has to have plenty of Yorkshire puddings and roast tatties!
Looking ahead, what are your favourite Autumnal ingredients?
Autumn is one of my favourite seasons because of the abundance of flavour it brings and the great produce it has to offer. My favourite ingredients include pumpkin, squash and root vegetables which are perfect for roasting, and fruits such as plums, blackberries, apples and figs for sweet and savoury autumnal dishes. One of our favourites at The Belfry is a crumble tart filled with a selection of autumnal fruit. September is the start of game season, as game meat is so rich and full of flavour it is ideal for the cooler months and can be used to create a number of dishes, from roasts and salads to pies and burgers.