Keeping it local

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
June 2013

A career as a hotel consultant and executive chef leaves Steven Bennett with very little free time on his hands but his love of food and the catering industry began with his family.
“My mother ran a bakery and my uncle a butcher’s in North Somercotes so I have always been around food and my first summer jobs were helping in those businesses,” explained Steve.

While training at Grimsby College, he honed basic but essential skills washing up and prepping at well-known local restaurants in Louth as well as The Star Inn at Helmsly, Sabbaticals at Hart’s Hotel and Winteringham Fields, with Germaine Schwab as his mentor, inspired Steve to extend his expertise and broaden his own creative abilities.

By the age of twenty-two Steve was the head chef at The Brackenborough Arms and a director of that company for over a decade.

Steve is now an independent hotel consultant, executive chef of The Oaklands Hall Hotel at Laceby, who has overseen the building renovations and recruitment of a management team for the hotel, as well as the creation of the menus for the award-winning restaurant, The Comfy Duck.

“It has been very exciting to be part of such an investment and helping to deliver a vision of what the hotel could be. I really feel that we have a great team here and we love getting to know our customers and hearing their appreciation of the food and service.”

With over fifty staff members, including a kitchen team which has grown to twelve with its two new apprentices, Steve often puts in seven-day weeks, but he is also keen to pass his knowledge of the hospitality industry on to the next generation. He is teaching them about sourcing food locally and how to deliver dishes which appeal to their diverse customer base. All food served at Oaklands Hall is freshly made including all the bread, stocks and chutneys used in-house.

“I have found a wonderful group of suppliers for the restaurant to continue my investment in local, seasonal food but I am always on the lookout for more.

“I have become good friends with many of the producers over the years and I know that we can help each other to promote our businesses.”

The opening page of the bistro’s menu is a roll call of quality Lincolnshire produce and it is being added to all the time. “If there are producers out there who have not spoken to me before, please get in touch,” said Steve.

The Comfy Duck is open all day and offers modern bistro favourites, from local cask ale beer-battered haddock and hand-cut chips, to steaks and fine dining options like loin of roe deer venison served with ballotine of rabbit saddle, black pudding, apple fondant and apple puree.

An iced beetroot parfait dessert served with honeycomb and chocolate jelly is an intriguing expectation of savoury which is sweet but not cloying and deliciously smooth.

All the chefs have their input into ideas for dishes and the menus as they are seasonally changed. The latest additions include smoked trout cheesecake with horseradish meringue, a Lincolnshire Board appetiser with homemade pork and Poacher pie, chine, piccalilli and pickled shallot.

With both resident and non-resident diners and the increase in special occasion bookings being welcomed to the hotel, the team is catering for everything from an intimate dinner for two, to a wedding for up to 200.

The two banqueting suites have been newly refurbished and Steve is always ready to discuss menu options and how the hotel can be the setting for a wonderful day. The hotel’s Facebook page has many pictures of weddings that have already been held this year.

A popular innovation with customers has been the Oaklands Hall Hotel VIP Card. This loyalty card costs just £3 to register but entitles guests to discounts from 10% off food plus exclusive wine promotions for members too. Buy a £50 restaurant voucher and it will only cost members £45. We also have a happy hour on cocktails on Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm until midnight.

Steve is also busy with a fledgling outside catering company, Perfect Palate Solutions, which has grown with requests from clients for a private dining and marquee function service. He is also working with contacts in the food industry to try to solve some of the problems that frustrate chefs, with the variety in specification and quality of food when it is delivered to restaurants.

“We have wonderful fresh fish being sold in Grimsby and I am working with a local company to improve the grading as it is processed, to make sure that a more uniform portion and the highest quality of fish is being delivered.”

Steve is convinced that Lincolnshire has the best quality and variety of produce of any county in England and it will be interesting to see where his enthusiasm and expertise lead him next.

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