It’s the Chef that Counts
Pittodrie House Hotel is a successful venue that capitalises on its history and rural location, being quite literally at the foot of Bennachie. But in an increasingly competitive market, hoteliers need more than heritage and views to fill beds.
To secure your reputation today, world class dining must take centre stage and the calibre of a venue’s chef can be the number one differentiator.
According to Elliot Collins of Great British Chefs, a leading culinary website, the marketing efforts at hotel restaurants often rival leading 2-3 star restaurants. He said: “There is real pressure now on destination hotels to serve food to match the location. Getting the right chef is obviously key to that, recruiters want to see some big restaurants on their CV and exciting menu ideas to match.”
It is this philosophy which has driven the changes at Pittodrie House’s Mither Tap Restaurant. Earlier this year the Macdonald Group announced the appointment of Graham Campbell, a so-called ‘precocious’ talent with a reputation for extraordinary combinations. His career includes stints at Andrew Nutter’s restaurant in Rochdale and with Paul Heathcote’s team near Preston.
During a spell at the Ballachulish Country House Hotel he became the youngest chef in Scotland to attain a Michelin Star, before positions at The Lake of Menteith Hotel and The Monastery in Manchester sealed his reputation. As you would expect from someone who has collected accolades early in their career, he is focused and doesn’t mince his words.
“It doesn’t really matter what I like, it’s what the customer likes that matters. Although I do prefer unusual cuts I don’t have a favourite ingredient, I will work with anything, seafood, all meats, anything. As long as it is good quality, I’ll find a way to bring something new to it. I suppose that’s why my cooking has been dubbed weird science, I take traditional ingredients and create the unexpected.”
Martin McIlraith, general manager of Pittodrie House, said finding the right chef was a tough process.
He said: “Finding a candidate who has the staying power to build a strong team, plus the additional talent to deliver awards is difficult. Our remote location is a draw but it also means guests demand that ‘something extra’ when they get here. We were looking to increase our food turnover in both private dining and also in the banqueting area. We researched the field carefully and approached Graham. We knew we had to offer something different – which is where Graham’s pedigree and vision comes into play.”
The appointment has already reaped certain dividends as Graham has already won 2 AA Rosettes, but there’s more to the role than creative flair. As head chefs negotiate their supplier relationships almost single-handed, their choices and performance affect the profitability of the business as a whole. As a constant presence in the hotel they are a key component of the management structure.
“A hotel chef is an integral part of the management of a successful destination restaurant and hotel,” said Elliot Collins, adding: “They are essentially managing a business within a business and need to cook world class food as well as make sure the finances are in order. It’s a difficult job.”