2019 food trends and seasonal menus
20 May 2019
Karl Davison, head chef at Ye Olde Bell, on seasonal menus, food trends and why he became a chef.
Karl Davison took over as head chef at Ye Olde Bell this year, bringing with him 30 years’ experience running world class kitchens all over the UK and northern France.
He is now responsible for developing our seasonal menus and making them a mouth-watering reality as well as training and managing the kitchen team to ensure every dish served boasts fantastic flavours and beautiful presentation.
Karl and his team of six prepare and serve guests lunch, afternoon tea and dinner across our two hotel restaurants. Guests can choose between indulgent fine dining at the AA Rosette Restaurant Bar 1650 or the more informal atmosphere of St Leger Bistro, either way, under Karl’s watchful eye, the quality of the food is guaranteed.
We spoke to Karl about his approach to cooking and the latest food trends that are shaping menus up and down the country.
Why did you go into cooking?
I have loved cooking since I was a little boy growing up in Liverpool. It’s in my blood, lots of my family were chefs. My grandfather was executive chef at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool and my mum was a chef.
I was probably one of the only little boys who used to choose to help their mum with the cooking. I loved watching my mum baking. I don’t know exactly what it was that appealed to me, maybe the colours, maybe the creativity, but I always loved cooking.
I used to make Yorkshire puddings for all the neighbours when I was about 11, so I was cooking from a pretty young age.
When I was a kid, I loved making bread. I still love baking now. Making bread is one of my favourite parts of cooking.
A brief career history
My first cooking job was as a head chef at a country inn in the Lake District when I was only 20. Before that I had been working as a roofer and a grave digger.
I guess I was lucky because I had learnt all the basic skills growing up with a mum as a chef, I have always trained on the job.
I’ve been working as a chef for 30 years now and in that time, I’ve had a very wide range of roles.
I worked as a private chef in France for a number of very wealthy families including Michael Jackson’s lawyers and some big banking families. I worked on private super yachts.
I have worked at restaurants and hotels all over the UK such as Branston Hall in Lincolnshire, Clivedon House Hotel and Thoresby Hall, most recently running Café Zoot, one of Lincoln’s top restaurants.
I have generally steered towards the French fine dining side of cooking but have done a bit of everything.
How do you create your menus?
I start by looking at what is in season, what good local produce is available to buy then develop the recipes and menus from that.
I can usually just look at what is in season and ideas will immediately start to emerge in my head. I can quickly visualise dishes or flavour combinations in my minds’ eye – that’s what comes with years of experience in the kitchen, you instinctively know what will go well together.
We change the main menus every three months – with the seasons – but there are daily specials which are based upon the best fresh local ingredients available each day.
We only use seasonal ingredients – this is one of the key things the AA Rosette inspectors look for – you have to use fresh seasonal produce.
I think great cooking is about attention to detail. You could choose to do quite simple traditional dishes but if you do them really well, your guests will be happy.
For instance, bread. I make two different types of fresh bread every day for lunch and dinner. Freshly baked bread is so delicious while shop bought bread is boring and tasteless. It’s these kind of details that make a great restaurant.
Describe your usual working day?
I come in at 8am to make the breads and do the prep. By midday all the breads, soups, curry sauces are on. We get all the prep work done for the day and evening menus and afternoon tea in about four hours.
We’re then focused on lunch orders until 2.30pm.
I have a bit of a break then am back in at 4.30 to 5pm until 10pm overseeing dinner.
The best bit for me is the pastry and bread making. I find it really relaxing doing the breads. But I am also really happy when cooking fish dishes. I like everything really. That’s why I am still doing it after 30 years.
The biggest challenge of being a chef is in persuading the younger kitchen staff to listen to you.
What recent food trends have impacted the way you cook?
Fine dining has been on the wane for the last five to 10 years in the UK as many more restaurants have opted for more rustic style of food, served on wooden boards or in metal buckets. There’s been a trend for a sort of back to basics no frills style of dish and presentation. But like most of these things, it’s a passing fad.
There will always be a place for traditional fine dining as it’s a real treat for most people. It represents something special. So, even if its popularity goes up and down, it will never fall completely out of fashion.
Like all trends, these things are cyclical, so fine dining will come back in soon, no doubt.
We have many more people with special dietary requirements now. We get a lot of requests for gluten free menus and lactose free dishes. This is never a problem, I can always create delicious gluten and lactose free alternatives to the mainstream dishes. When I am drawing up new menus, I do think about how each dish can be adapted to these needs.
There’s also been a huge rise in vegan and vegetarian diners so we ensure that we have plenty of delicious plant-based dishes on the menu or recipes that can be adapted to be meat free.
Creating menus and adapting dishes to suit these different dietary requirements should be easy for an experienced chef who will quickly know what alternative ingredients can work.
The most popular dishes never really change. It’s always the traditional British classics, so I’ll always make sure I include a good pie on the menu and a curry. You have to think about who you are cooking for when you create a menu.
If all this food is making your mouth water, why not try out Karl's cooking rather than just reading about it. Book a table at our AA Rosette 1650 Restaurant now.