Attenshun! Sam Woods, head chef at the Lake at Barston, tells us how he chose a career in the kitchen over the army – and he’s never looked back
Tell us about your cooking.
I like simple food done well and I’m always looking for ways to enhance flavour such as braising lamb with salty anchovies. Small details like that make a big difference to the end result.
Describe your perfect meal
I’m lucky enough to work in a stunning setting, so location-wise it would be here overlooking the lake and the 18th island tee. I’d start with a classic moules mariniere with warm, fresh crusty bread and a glass of oaky Chardonnay followed by slow braised beef bourgignon with a glass of Merlot. Dessert would have to be my childhood favourite, jelly and ice cream – no ordinary jelly and ice cream though! Fruits of the forest jelly with vanilla bean ice cream.
How did you become a chef?
Throughout my secondary education I wanted to be in the army, but I got my first job which was at the Malt Shovel and never looked back. I studied at Birmingham College of Food and completed work experience in Spain. When I returned from Spain I worked at the Manor Hotel in Meriden as a chef in training under head chef Peter Griffiths who was everything I aspired to be.
What do you eat when at home?
I always make an effort to cook great food at home as well as at work. I have a family and it would be a waste not to. Monday is my day off so my wife, who used to be a chef, tends to cook a roast for the family.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
The best chef in the world has to be Michel Roux Senior. He’s looked up to by so many great chefs and of course Michel Roux Jnr is a truly fantastic chef too. In Birmingham, Glynn Purnell and I’m not at all biased having worked at the same restaurant at one time!
Is the customer always right?
A customer sent back smoked salmon once because it wasn’t cooked. That’s all I’ll say on that!
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
Great feedback from customers who have enjoyed my food is brilliant. I put my heart and soul into creating really special dishes and when the customer says it’s the best they’ve tasted, that makes me happy.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
Unsociable hours, early starts and long, long days.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would have joined the army. Given all the conflict in the world of late, I’m glad I made the decision to be a chef.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
I’d go for the big flavours of the beef bourgignon. It’s a real classic.
Sam’s special recipe - BRAISED BEEF (serves 4)
- 1 blade of beef, fat removed
- 4 carrots (2 diced and 2 roughly chopped)
- 1 white onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 250ml Merlot or other red wine
- Gravy granules
- 100g green beans
- 3 large potatoes
- 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
- 50g spinach
- 3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
- 50g silver skin onions
- 50g small button mushrooms
- 40ml cream
- Plate and garnish with flat leaf parsley
Place the beef into a pan with the rough-cut carrots, diced onions and garlic with half of the red wine. Cover with water and cook for about five hours until the beef flakes easily when touched. Remove the beef, wrap tightly in cling film and chill.
Boil, then mash the potatoes with butter, cream and wholegrain mustard. Season to taste.
Boil the diced carrots until very soft and blend with some of the cooking water and butter, then season.
Saute the green beans and spinach in butter until al dente and put to one side.
Fry silver skin onions, smoked bacon and mushrooms. Deglaze the pan with the remaining red wine. Add some of the beef cooking stock and thicken with gravy granules.
Cut the beef into 7oz pieces and warm through in the oven.
Plate up and garnish with flat leaf parsley.