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Meet the chef: Dorian Janmaat, executive head chef at The Idle Rocks, St Mawes in Cornwall

We caught up with Dorian to find out about his cooking style, influences and passion for local Cornish produce.

By LLM Reporters  |  March 6, 2022
dorian janmaat header

Dorian Janmaat has been executive head chef of The Idle Rocks and St Mawes Hotel since January 2020 and previously worked at the renowned two Michelin starred, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for eight years before returning to his home county of Cornwall.

His menus at The Idle Rocks reflect the hotel’s ethos of re-engaging with the simple pleasures in life with a fresh and modern approach. His focus is on sustainability and promoting local businesses, from using the county’s top fishermen to source the finest lobsters to local farmers growing the best vegetables.

We caught up with Dorian to hear all about his favourite dishes, his influences and why barbecues are the best.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?

I was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Spain. As a teenager, we moved to Cornwall, where I went on to study at Cornwall College. At 22, I started at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, working with Raymond Blanc as a commis chef before working my way through the ranks and spending four years as head chef. I returned to Cornwall in 2020 ( just as the pandemic hit!) and took up the role as executive head chef of The Idle Rocks and St Mawes Hotel, where our current team is striving for big things in the quaint little village of St Mawes. 

idle rocks exterior
The Idle Rocks and St Mawes Hotel has an idyllic setting in the Cornish village of St Mawes. Image credit: Drew Gibson

What or who inspired you to become a chef?

I lived in Spain as a young child and travelled much of Europe. Food was always at the heart of our family. I learned to appreciate great ingredients, and dinner parties were always our way of entertaining. My first job was in a pizzeria in Cornwall. Soon after, I started making pizzas and used my understanding of ingredients to engage myself – that’s when I fell in love with cooking.

Who has been your most significant influence to get you to where you are today?

It has to be Raymond Blanc. I wouldn’t be the chef I am today if not for my time at Le Manoir with Raymond and Gary Jones, executive head chef. As a young chef, understanding Raymond’s passion, the importance of seasonality, the simplicity of dishes, and the use of quality, local ingredients will stay with me forever. It has also defined me as an executive head chef in my own right. 

What’s your signature dish?

I wouldn’t say I have one signature dish, but my favourite plates are usually focused on seafood, of course! It is amazing to have fresh fish and shellfish delivered in the morning, prepping and serving it to guests that same evening. Some guests may say our ‘reef-knot’ pretzel bread is a signature. We shape the pretzel dough into a reef-knot and serve it with miso butter and sesame seeds. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and a great start to the meal.

idle rocks fish dish
Dorian’s favourite dishes are focused on fresh local seafood

How would you describe your cooking style?

My cooking style is simple. I showcase great ingredients only when in season and at their peak and plate every single dish with intensity and flair.   

What is your favourite ingredient to create with?

I wouldn’t say I have one favourite ingredient. I love experimenting with new flavours and textures. At the moment, I’m using some Asian influences in my dishes – for example, dashi and yuzu in our blowtorched mackerel dish. The acidity of the yuzu cuts through the mackerel perfectly, and the dashi glaze adds sweetness to give the dish a real umami taste.  

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef? 

Being a bit of a petrol head, I’ve always loved motorsport, so in another world, I’d dream of being a rally driver or involved with motocross. 

What is your favourite dish to cook at home? 

I love to barbecue! It’s relaxing just to take the time to make some nice marinades and salads and to cook with a beer in your hand, looking out over the sea – nothing better. It also saves having to wash up loads of pots and pans!

idle rocks restaurant
The Idle Rocks welcomes diners with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere

What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?

Five Guys burger, double patty obviously – plenty of jalapenos and chilli sauce with large fries and a bottle of Brooklyn lager. 

What do your future plans entail?

After all the events of the last couple of years – who knows! I’ve decided not to plan too far ahead! But I can say that myself, and all the incredible team in St Mawes, will continue to give our guests the very best and most memorable experiences we can.

What is the USP of your restaurant?

Once you walk through the front door of The Idle Rocks, it speaks for itself. The interior instantly helps you to relax and feel at home. All our team are so friendly and knowledgeable. Our location is unlike anywhere else, sitting out on the terrace, with a cocktail, looking across the harbour – there’s nothing better. Oh, and the food is pretty good, too! 

idle rocks oysters
Dorian works with local producers to showcase the best that Cornwall has to offer

What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?

I like a large thick chopping board, once you’ve had the big ones you can’t go back! It also leaves room for your coffee. 

What differences do you find working with local produce instead of non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?

Working with local producers not only showcases the best Cornwall has to offer, which is vital for me, but gives the team and me an amazing opportunity to form great, close relationships. We get to share knowledge and discover so many different ingredients and varieties of produce that we want to serve in the restaurant and try to stand out against some of our fellow competitors. 

What’s your favourite flavour combination?

You can’t beat some top Cornish oysters with a really spicy bloody Mary!

When are you happiest?

I love what I do and the people I get to work alongside day-in-day-out; I couldn’t wish for a better team and being in the heat of the kitchen dishes is what I love. But I am happiest relaxing on the beach, ideally in a hot country, with my fiancée, eating great simple food and drinking good wine. 

idle rocks dessert
Each dish is plated with intensity and flair

Where is your favourite place to dine?

I love Cornwall’s up and coming restaurants; you’ll find new places popping up all the time, which is usually what I get up to on my days off. I’ve been lucky enough to dine at some incredible restaurants, but I doubt I’ll beat the experience I had earlier this year. My sous chefs and I went to London for a culinary road trip and visited Core by Clare Smyth. Easily the best dining experience I’ve ever had; what Clare and the team are achieving there really is outstanding and something for us to aspire to. 

What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?

As chefs, we sometimes tend to get into the habit of trying small individual elements of each dish; you have to put yourself into the guest’s mind and understand how the entire dish, menu and overall restaurant experience will come together as a whole.  

Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?

Absolutely. I don’t think you can create menus that you’re proud of unless you enjoy every flavour and texture on the plate. 

What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?

Poké bowls. I don’t know why; I just don’t like them.