Creating edible art
Barbara Young meets head chef Gareth Bartram, from Lincolnshire’s outstanding Michelin star restaurant Winteringham Fields, who introduces us to some of his favourite seasonal recipes to create at home.
It comes as no surprise to discover that award-winning chef Gareth Bartram fell in love with food at an early age; even now, after seven years at the helm as number one at the critically acclaimed Winteringham Fields restaurant, in a pretty village close to the Humber Estuary, his face lights up as he shares ideas for new dishes.
The 35-year-old father of three girls (all aged under seven, including six-week-old daughter Penny) who lives in the village with wife Lucy, grew up in Cleethorpes and remains proud of his roots.
Having represented the North East as a contestant on BBC TV’s Great British Menu earlier this year, Gareth continues to strive in his quest to deliver perfection on a plate, celebrating the best of what the county has to offer.
The restaurant is renowned for using locally grown produce, taking full advantage of fresh ingredients from nearby farms, as well as its own smallholding where vegetables including beetroot, peas, cauliflower and cabbage are grown.
Seasonal menus are developed by Gareth and his team, who share his devotion for creating innovative dishes for the legion of discerning diners who continue to flock to this elegant 24-seat restaurant, which also holds four AA Rosettes.
Here diners can enjoy being looked after by attentive staff while taking in the surroundings of the beautifully restored, elegant 16th-century former farmhouse, which also offers 11 rooms so diners can stay over after enjoying a leisurely meal.
Creating exciting flavours
It’s Gareth’s clear passion for coming up with exceptional flavour combinations while also continuing to deliver highly acclaimed technical creations with outstanding artistic presentation, which prompted the revered Michelin Guide to describe the food as ‘deceptively unfussy-looking dishes which belie the creativity and skill that has gone into crafting them’.
“My fascination first started when I was quite young, I always liked food and was never a kid that shied away from trying new flavours,” says Gareth, who took his first career steps as a teenager working in the local butcher’s shop before going on to study cookery at Grimsby College.
“I always enjoyed cooking with my mum and spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her, which is when I truly fell in love with food.”
As the youngest of four, Gareth was born in Rotherham, but moved to Cleethorpes when he was just five years old. He has fond memories of childhood with supportive parents who have always been there to encourage him to follow his dreams.
“My dad worked for insurance companies but also loves woodwork and a lot of the wood we use in the service at the restaurant was made by him. Mum trained as a nurse when she was younger, and worked in care homes when we moved to Cleethorpes before getting a job in P A Jerrard Butchers, just around the corner from where we lived and when I was about 14, I started working there too.
“The job gave me a great insight into how to prepare meat in the correct way and also a respect for meat and where it has come from. Great food starts at the very beginning of the chain, and in order to create great food, you have to use the very best ingredients.
“At weekends, family meals were always good, especially Sundays, and these were something we all looked forward to. My mum is an excellent cook and her roasts are fantastic. I remember me and my brothers always fighting over who got the most roasties!
“My parents were very supportive of my cooking and encouraged me when I decided to go to college on Saturday mornings for a teen cooking course.
“I was always reading cookbooks and watching food programmes on television. It was also a time when Jamie Oliver was just starting to make cooking ‘cool’.
“At first, I was just interested but that soon turned into a passion and then into an obsession!”
Climbing the career ladder
While working at Jerrard’s Butchers, Gareth showed a keen interest in the preparation of the meat behind the scenes rather than serving, so with a few local restaurants and pubs as customers he soon got to hear of potential jobs within the area. When a commis chef position became available at The Coach House in Humberston, he recalls thinking, “why not give it a go?”
“As I was coming to the end of my second year at college doing an AVCE in Hospitality & Cooking, I found myself at a crossroads: I could either continue working in kitchens, or do something else,” he says.
“By this stage I knew the heavy commitment needed to succeed within the hospitality industry – I’d worked weekends and evenings, missed birthdays and special family occasions, so I thought maybe I could do something else.
“I applied to do a university course in forensic science and got in, but there was always something pulling me back to kitchens. I loved the buzz and excitement of a kitchen, the camaraderie, smells, tastes and sounds. It got under my skin and was something I couldn’t let go. Even today, I still get that feeling when I walk into the restaurant, so luckily I decided the kitchen was the place for me!”
Gareth stayed on for a final year at Grimsby College in order to complete his Level 3 in Food Preparation and Cooking, and at the age of just 19 made the decision to go for an interview with Gordon Ramsay, who was looking for chefs to join his kitchen teams in London.
“I thought, if you want to be the best you have to work for the best, so I left home for the ‘Big Smoke’ and got a job at Ramsay’s Boxwood Café. Moving away from home comforts to a city where I didn’t know anyone and into my first proper full-time job was a massive step – I was very nervous to say the least!
“It was a very intimidating place with not many of the other chefs seemingly wanting to help. You were thrown in at the deep end and expected to swim!
“Needless to say I wasn’t there for very long, it was probably a little bit too much too young and I only spent four months in London before returning to Lincolnshire. However, in no way did this experience squash my love of food or cooking – it gave me a great experience of how not to get the best out of people, which in some cases is better experience!”
When Gareth returned to his home town, he worked in several hotels in the area for a couple of years before “realising that the food scene in Cleethorpes wasn’t what I wanted to do”.
“By this stage I was in my early 20s and realised that I needed to see and learn more from other kitchens in different parts of the country, so I found myself ready to move on again.”
Gareth moved to the West Country for a couple of years, initially taking a job working for a friend at a restaurant in Chippenham, just outside Bath.
“During this time my wife had moved down from Grimsby to be with me and later we decided to move back to Lincolnshire to be closer to family and settle down closer to home and I soon realised that for me there was only one place I could imagine working.”
Joining the Winteringham team
Call it fate, but soon after settling back in Cleethorpes, Gareth and Lucy settled down for a night in front of the television to watch Great British Menu, which just happened to feature Winteringham Fields’ renowned owner and chef Colin McGurran.
“Winteringham Fields ran a competition to guess the score Colin would receive for a particular course with the prize of winning an overnight stay for free,” remembers Gareth.
“We entered and won! The day after our meal and overnight stay at Winteringham Fields, we were checking out and who should we bump into but Colin himself!
“I took the opportunity to introduce myself and also ask if there were any jobs available? Colin told me to send him my CV and a few days later I was invited for an interview and a trial shift.
“Winteringham Fields has always held a very special place in my heart throughout my cooking career. When I was at college we would dine there in the days when it was owned and run by Annie and Germain Schwab, and before leaving for London I also had an interview there for a commis position, just before Colin took over, but got declined for the role.
“It was always a place I thought maybe was a little out of my reach, so getting a trial was massive for me. My trial went very well, and I fell in love with the whole ethos and style of the restaurant – the whole team were so welcoming. I got offered a job as chef de partie, and I jumped at it. I was so excited, I remember driving home singing and laughing – I couldn’t wait to tell Lucy!”
Gareth spent three years working through all the sections and up the ranks in the kitchen before being appointed head chef, receiving a Michelin star within his first year.
“It was a massive achievement for the whole team, we were so happy to have been recognised by Michelin and to have been worthy of a star is just incredible. But with that comes the pressure of maintaining the high standards and retaining the star, which does gets a little stressful, especially when the guide’s release is looming!
“The dishes we create are governed by the seasons, we listen to the fields and the time of year dictates what goes onto the menu. We also want to be kinder to the planet, so try to be as sustainable as possible, especially in the fish we use and how we prepare the meat, so we try to utilise the whole animal to get the most out of it.
“We even think about how much waste we might have from each particular dish and how we can minimise the waste or utilise it in something else. Any organic waste is composted for use in our farm and gardens, along with some packaging too.
“I enjoy creating all different types of dishes, depending on the time of year. At the moment, I’m loving developing ideas with game birds, and we have a new pigeon dish hitting the menu this month which I’m very excited about.
“Presentation is very important too, not only because the dish needs to look stunning to be appealing to eat, but also because we want our guests to eat a dish in a certain way so they experience it in the way we want them to.”
A passion for perfection
Flying the flag for Lincolnshire produce has always been at the top of Gareth’s agenda.
“Lincolnshire is an amazing county for produce, the vegetables are just amazing from asparagus and peas in the spring, to cabbage and cauliflower in the colder months.
“Plus the closer our produce is to us, the less time it’s going to spend on a vehicle losing flavour and freshness, but also causing more damage to the planet. We also only use producers with the same standards and ethos as us to ensure we receive the very best.”
While Colin has taken time out to travel, Gareth has free rein on designing the menu and works closely with the whole team at Winteringham Fields.
“We have eight of us in the kitchen currently. I will usually be the one to create a flavour profile and then do the initial tasting before sharing with the team, who have the chance to share their input and suggestions. I’ll then take it back and produce something else and this process will go on until the whole kitchen is happy and we have a recipe and procedures in place for it.
“It will then go to the front of house team to taste and pair with wine, which chefs will also get involved in. It’s a whole team process and nothing goes on the menu until everyone knows everything about it.
“It’s really great to work in a place where you can express yourself and show people your personality through your passion. The great thing about cooking is that you’re always learning and there are always new techniques to try – that’s what makes this industry exciting, with never a dull moment!”
For more information visit www.winteringhamfields.co.uk
Photographs: Tim Green