Crunchy suet puddings? It’s a North East thing, explains Robert Bates, the head chef at The Belfry. But, hang on, we rather like the sound of it too – along with beef short rib and peach melba brulee. Yum, yum!
Tell us about your cooking
Traditional, seasonal, fresh, French influenced with modern techniques, that’s what my cooking is all about. I love the satisfaction you get when you’ve created something that others enjoy. As chefs we are learning from each other every day and trying new styles of cooking – knowledge is power. Flavour is crucial, along with seasonality – using a product at the time of year when it’s at its best is a real benefit. Then there’s my team, who are vital to help deliver the end goal. Last but not least is creativity and execution on the plate, as at the end of the day we also eat with our eyes.
How did you become a chef?
My uncle was a chef and every summer we would visit him and he would show me around his kitchens. He was a very big part in why I became a chef. I trained at Hartlepool College while working in hotels evenings and weekends before moving to Slaley Hall, Northumberland where Albert Roux was consultant chef. I went onto the Chateau de Montreuil in northern France at Michelin level before moving to Hotel Metropole, Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Monaco, again a multiple Michelin star hotel. After 4½ years I came back to the UK to work with Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche which was such an amazing influential experience. After that, working for Family Roux as a consultant chef was one of the highlights of my career to date. Family is extremely important to me and I’m lucky enough to have one that’s supported me whatever path I’ve taken.
What do you eat when at home?
The kids love simple things like toad in the hole, pasta, Thai noodles and stir-fry. That’s what I tend to eat but I do love a really well cooked Sunday roast. After a busy week at The Belfry it’s nice to go back to basics – simple but very tasty.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
That’s tough to answer as most of the top chefs have different ideas and techniques, not to mention personalities. I have been lucky enough to have worked with a few over the years. They are all great in their own way and I have taken the best from all of these experiences.
Is the customer always right?
You have to respect your guest’s opinion, but only after reflection does this give you a true indication. We can all learn from positive and negative comments given to us by our customers.
Share a cooking tip
The most important tip of all is ‘mise en place’ which is French for ‘everything in place’. Before you even put the pan on the stove to start cooking make sure you have everything measured out, chopped up, peeled, laid out and ready to go.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
My mum’s Sunday roast with her special crunchy suet puddings. Must be a North East thing, they were amazing!
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is well-aged rib eye steak with sauce béarnaise … delightful. Hell is kidneys. Yuk! Not a fan of the texture or flavour.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Crocodile or horse, both very interesting and better than I expected.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’d have to say a police officer. I would have said pro golfer but I’m just not that talented unfortunately.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
It’s all good, but I would suggest Craupadine beetroot, beef short rib and peach melba brulee. You won’t be disappointed!
Robert’s delicious Beef Short Rib
- 175g Beef short rib
- 80g Parsley mash
- 60g Salt baked white onion
- 50ml Beef jus
- 10ml Tarragon oil
- 20g Marrow crumb
- 100g Summer truffle
Cure the ribs for 6 hours with 2kg caster sugar, 4kg sea salt, Paprika, light soy sauce. Wash off cure and steam cook for 12 hours.
For the parsley mash, add whipping cream, unsalted butter, and parsley puree to potatoes.
Mix 50ml rapeseed oil and 15g sea salt, cover the white onion and wrap in foil before baking in the oven until soft.
For the marrow crumb, remove the marrow from the bones and fry off in a pan. When the fat is released, add 1kg Panko Japanese breadcrumbs and cook for a minute. Take out, leave to dry.
Bring a pan of water to boil and blanch 400g curly Parsley. Refresh in ice cold water and thoroughly dry. Add 200g Tarragon and Pomace Oil into a thermomixer for 4 mins, 80c. Pass through muslin cloth before plating.
Finally for the beef jus, heat up 200ml rapeseed oil and cook beef trimmings until golden brown. Remove excess fat. Add 500ml red wine and reduce by half. Strain through a sieve and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add celery, carrots and shallots, reduce heat and cook until golden. Finally, add 1 ltr beef stock and simmer for 3 hours. Taste, check seasoning and chill.