Nestled above the quaint North Yorkshire village of Masham is a picture perfect castle, surrounded by fallow deer, rolling hills and ancient woodland. This is Swinton Estate.
A luxury hotel, award winning restaurant and famed cookery school, along with glamping site and numerous outdoor activities make its 20,000 acres a playground for both adults and children, no matter the season. To add to it’s already impressive offering, Swinton now boasts a newly opened Country Club & Spa, complete with what can only be described as Yorkshire’s finest hub for health and wellness dining, The Terrace.
We caught up with Head Chef Chris McPhee, who is the man behind the exciting new menus about his new environment, what Autumn means for him and his chefs, and of course, food!
You’ve worked in all sorts of amazing places, from the Isle of Skye, to London and Devon. What attracted you to North Yorkshire and Swinton Estate?
I came to Yorkshire for game, but I came to Swinton Estate for its produce; the fruit and veg from the gardens, the game from the moors, the fallow deer from Swinton Park fields, trout from the Estate rivers and all of the natural wild produce that is harvested on the Estate. Mushrooms, wild edible flowers, nuts, leaves, the list goes on! It’s a dream job and a pleasure coming to work with all these elements on a day to day basis.
The Terrace Restaurant & Bar is a brand new addition to Swinton’s offering. What makes the showcase kitchen different to cook in and how does this enhance the dining experience?
The Terrace is a great concept. It’s a good environment with a state-of-the-art, open plan kitchen that provides a good buzz. The new kitchen is carbon-neutral which is unbelievable, it’s nothing like I’ve ever worked with before. It’s modern, slick and clean and very efficient at saving energy. Guests can see me and my team at work, utilising the Josper oven which is the centre piece of the kitchen, reaching temperatures of 700 degrees! The indoor charcoal oven gives a unique and dynamic depth of flavour to our dishes which is also another great feature.
Having a distinguished background of working in top establishments, what is the signature style that comes across in your dishes?
The style that comes through in my cooking is quite simply “clean & simple”. It’s taken me ten or so years to come to this term. When I was younger I complicated things, adding too many unnecessary ingredients which took attention away from the natural product. Nowadays I’m pretty much letting the produce speak for itself, no crazy cooking methods, just simply done with the best attention to detail. This way the customer really does get to see the best of the fruits and vegetables and it’s a credit to the gardeners for all their hard work. It’s not all about me. I need the customers to see the natural beauty in Swinton produce, and for me simple yet elegant dishes are the best way.
What ingredients are you looking forward to using this Autumn?
I’m excited about it being game season with venison, partridge, pheasant, quail and pigeon coming from Swinton Estate, especially paired with the fruits and vegetables that complement them from the garden.
Have you a favourite dish on the menu at the moment that our readers simply have to try?
All my dishes are my favourite, they’re all amazing in their own way! However if I was to give one example it would have to be one of our salads. They are really flavoursome, healthy and satisfying and a great excuse to harvest the products on our doorstep.
Do you cater to vegetarians and to those that have other dietary requirements?
We cater for all types of allergens. Working closely with the spa we like to keep our “bento style lunch box” as relevant to treatments as possible, working with foods that help stress, recovery, and sleep. We try not to use salt and sugar but instead use natural replacements like honey & particular spices for salt replacements such as sumac. Our chefs love catering for vegans and vegetarians as we have so much produce coming in, which allows us to get really creative, and a little competitive at times.
Are there any key upcoming events or future plans that you are looking forward to?
My next venture will be for the spa menus. Keep your eyes peeled as we develop them and really highlight key nutritional values and perfect the idea of wellness.
Photography by Sean Elliott