Modern British with a classical element is how Nigel Mendham likes to cook: “I start with the ingredients that are in season and then I come up with some ideas to create a dish around them,” he explains.
When we meet, the celebrated chef is unruffled, low-key and ready to get the job done.
Preferring his cooking to do the talking, Mendham’s passion for creating delicious cuisine has been recognised by a number of accolades, including a Michelin star and three AA Rosettes for his stint at the prestigious Samling Hotel in the Lake District. But it’s his latest role, as executive head chef at Dukes London’s signature restaurant Thirty Six, that has given him a stage in the heart of the capital.
And for one day only, I get to don some chef’s whites and share Mendham’s podium - or at the least attempt to - for a one-off gourmet cookery lesson at the quintessential hotel in celebration of his latest venture, the British Larder menu.
Marrying seasonal ingredients, sourced from top British suppliers, with timeless culinary traditions, he explains the inspiration behind the project stems from “requests for simple, home-cooked food”.
Mendham’s come up with some “British classics - with a twist”, finding innovative ways to “put a different take on each dish to make it my own”.
Drawing on his childhood - summers spent picking clams and crabbing on the Norfolk coast, before going home to cook with his mother - nostalgic dishes on the menu include Fish And Chips, Lobster Thermidor and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
The latter of which I whip up during our masterclass, along with a Mushroom Consomme starter and venison main.
With natural flair, Mendham makes it look easy, from his practical, hands-on technique to his light-hearted, motivational teaching. He doesn’t cut corners - “I love to cook on the stove as I think you get so much more flavour, plus it gives the team more technical skill” - and despite being “busy, busy all the time” is sold on the premise that when it comes to cooking “you have to make it enjoyable, as good team spirit is key”.
Of his dedicated team, he says: “Chefs are hard to find, so I prefer to take chefs that are at commi or demi chef level and train them up. As long as they are willing to learn, it’s quite easy to train them. It takes time but it’s very rewarding to watch someone grow as a chef.”
And he means it. After a morning in the kitchen, it was great to see just how far I’d come once the dishes were plated up - under Mendham’s pristine guidance, of course. But the best part? Enjoying my ‘here’s one I made earlier’ moment in the stunning hotel restaurant.
Try Mendham’s British Larder classics for yourself with the recipe below...