In the kitchen with Chester Henry from The County Kitchen

Becoming the youngest head chef in Cheltenham, cooking for the Queen and specialising in fresh, flavoursome food, Chester Henry discusses his latest foodie adventures at The County Kitchen in Cheltenham, in SoGlos's exclusive interview.

Hi Chester, tell us a little about your training and how you came to your current position.

I trained at Gloucestershire College, becoming second chef at The Wheatsheaf shortly after. From there I joined The Suffolk Kitchen as a commis chef, working myself up through the ranks.

After two years I became head chef – the youngest in Cheltenham at aged 21 – and then spotted an opportunity to join an independent start-up restaurant business with exciting prospects. After meeting with The County Kitchen’s owner, Richard Warwick and hearing his plans, I was excited to join the team in June 2015.

How would you describe your cooking style?

I like cooking with fresh seasonal produce with influences from the Caribbean to create dishes that are full of colour and flavour.

Can you give us an overview of the menu at The County Kitchen? What’s most popular?

Our mission is to serve restaurant-quality food in a relaxed café environment
Our menu is seasonal and sourced locally, with our eggs Benedict, made from eggs and ham all from within five miles of us, very popular, along with our house breakfast which is gaining legendary status. For lunch our flat iron steak with slow roasted tomato is a clear winner.

Can you also dine in the evening at The County Kitchen?

When we opened, The County Kitchen was a café without an alcohol licence. But since mid-September we’ve been open on Thursday and Friday nights as well, offering a completely different menu and a great selection of wines.

Do you have a signature dish?

Our Cotswold fillet and rib-eye steaks from Martins Meats are really popular with our evening diners. We serve it with a crayfish beignet, skin-on chunky chips, wild mushroom duxelle and a tomato salsa. We offer four steak sauces and the clear favourite is Argentinian chimichurri, which has a wonderfully warm chilli heat balanced with lemon and fresh herbs.

Do you make a point of using local produce?

Absolutely, we work with independent producers from within Gloucestershire; it is a key element of our business strategy which is why Richard chose The County Kitchen as our name.

I like working with fresh fish, tuna steak in particular, and I also like cooking with seasonal vegetables to get the maximum potential of flavour and colour. I enjoy inventing new spice combinations and rubs for our meat and fish dishes.

Do you make everything fresh in the kitchen?

Everything we serve is made fresh in our kitchen using locally sourced produce. It’s the best way for us to ensure the quality and to differentiate us from other cafés and restaurants. I wouldn’t want to put my name to something produced in a factory kitchen.

What first inspired you to become a chef?

Before moving to Cheltenham I grew up on a farm in St. Helena where we were surrounded with fresh vegetables and home-reared meat and fish were in abundance. I saw my gran cooking with ingredients from her doorstep and it was very satisfying for me to cook with such amazing ingredients. This started me on my journey as a chef.

Which chef do you most admire and why?

I like Marco Pierre White; through reading his books and cooking his recipes, I gained an understanding of British and European cuisine. This gave me a firm footing when starting my career as a chef.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s a tough one, as I have two that I am equally proud of! During my time at The Suffolk Kitchen I gained recognition from The Sunday Times for cooking the best roast dinner in Cheltenham. And, I was featured in an article by Crumbs magazine showcasing different elements from the best chefs in Gloucestershire.

Who is the most memorable person you’ve cooked for, what did you make and more importantly, did they enjoy it?

I was part of a team of chefs who cooked for the Queen at Gloucestershire College in 2009. I have also cooked for the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, jockey Ruby Walsh every night during the Cheltenham Festival, and for Fatboy Slim and his wife Zoe Ball.

That’s quite an impressive list! Is there anyone else that you would like to cook for and why?

I would like to cook for some of the country’s top chefs including Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White. This would be a challenging moment, and if done correctly would be the highlight of my career.

Have you had any kitchen nightmares?

I was cooking for a wedding party for 150 and a full restaurant on top, I left the potatoes boiling for too long and ended up with 10kg of mash at 9am on a Sunday morning with no local shops open!

Do you have any tips for amateur cooks?

You will need to have the right attitude to learn, great people skills and the ability to adapt and thrive in a high pressure environment.

Are there any other restaurants that you rate highly in Gloucestershire?

The Daffodil in Cheltenham because the head chef, Tom Rains, produces food to a very high standard which has earned him a lot of respect from his team and his customers.

What do you get up to when you’re not in the kitchen?

I like hiking and foraging, listening to music and socialising with my friends.

Do you have any special events coming up at The County Kitchen that you think our readers should know about?

Private dining and exclusive parties is big for us at the moment. Since opening in the evenings we have provided private hire for several customers and have several more parties booked for the festive season. The size of the restaurant, 25 covers, makes it an ideal space for parties.

And finally, what would you choose for your last meal?

Surf and turf with fresh lobster and wild garlic sauce.

For more infromation see The County Kitchen County Kitchen or call (01242) 300100.

By Alice Lloyd

© SoGlos
Thursday 15 October 2015

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