Inspired by a love of baking for his family as a child, Tim Hall saw no reason not to turn his childhood passion into a career. In his role as head chef at south Devon’s exclusive Burgh Island Hotel, Tim is passionate about sourcing locally, being more sustainable in the kitchen, and Marmite!
We chat to the chef, who is at the forefront of Burgh Island’s newest seafood restaurant, The Nettlefold, which serves food that is all, of course, locally sourced from Devon.
Tell us a bit about your background in the industry
I started my career at catering college in Exeter, where I completed my first ‘stage’ at Le Manoir Lacerelec in Brittany, France, working as a pastry chef. Upon completing the course, I joined The Puffing Billy in Exton as a pastry chef in the two AA Rosette restaurants. Later joining Alias Hotel Barcelona, Exeter, as a pastry chef, I was quickly promoted to executive chef. Following my work at Hotel Barcelona, I moved to Burgh Island starting as the senior sous chef, and was promoted to head chef nine months later.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I caught the cooking bug at a young age, regularly baking cakes for my large family. Food was always a family affair, with weekends in the summer picking blackberries to make jam or baking some amazing birthday cakes for my family. It just seemed natural to turn a childhood hobby into a career.
What’s your signature dish?
It’s a dish that I don’t get to cook much anymore as it’s prohibitively expensive, but it’s got to be my slow roast beef. You take the centre cut of a whole beef fillet, sear it in a hot pan and then marinade in honey, wholegrain mustard and five spice. After marinating for 6 hours you cook it at 85oC until the core temperature reaches 45oC. The result is an amazingly tender, flavoursome chunk of meat – pure heaven for meat eaters! I am often asked when I’m going to put it back on the menu from colleagues who’ve worked with me for many years and guests who’ve been Burgh Island regulars for over a decade. Sorry guys, no time soon!
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
I’m a keen supporter of local produce so this comes first and foremost. Why would you not want to use what’s on your doorstep? Living in such a beautiful location with such fantastic producers, farmers and fishermen means you can get the freshest produce with the lowest food miles, all the while supporting your local economy. The West Country has a lot to offer, and at Burgh Island it is my job to celebrate it.
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
If you’d asked me that question when I was 12, the answer would have been a vet! I always loved animals as a kid. We all need to eat less meat, but the meat that you do eat needs to be respected, savoured and enjoyed.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Croque madame. You can’t beat a pan fried sandwich with ham, cheese & bechamel oozing out the sides topped with a fried free range egg!
What is your favourite ingredient?
Marmite! It’s such a versatile ingredient and so underrated. I’m not a big fan of smothering it on toast, but it’s great for boosting the flavour of gravy, particularly for a Sunday roast or if you’re making a vegan French onion soup or root vegetable bourguignon.
However, as a chef, I love the diversity of ingredients I get to use as they come in and out of bloom according to the change in seasons, which unilaterally enables me to evolve the dishes on the menu at Burgh Island accordingly to ensure the best flavours are utilised. It’s important to constantly develop as a chef, experiencing different dishes and embracing new ideas as the palette of the diner changes so fast we aim to ensure the menu reflects this. If you stand still as a chef, you will get left behind!
When are you happiest?
When I’m at home with my family. I love chilling out in the garden having a BBQ with those nearest and dearest to me!
How important is sustainability to you?
Very important. I want my daughter to enjoy all the things that I have experienced in my life. Buying local produce has been popular since I started cooking nearly 20 years ago but people are still ignoring the benefits of doing so! Not only does it support the local economy, it also facilitates sustainability. In this time of global meltdown both environmentally and economically, it has never been more important to support your local growers, fisherman and producers.
If we can have the impetus to make small changes, such as spending a little bit more on quality locally produced food, eat less meat or at least challenge yourself to be more adventurous in trying new cuts of meat and different fish, by being more individually accountable we can all reduce our impact on the planet.
That goes for chefs too. We need to look at our use of single use plastics in the catering industry. We use a lot of single-use plastics in our kitchens from vacuum pack bags for cooking sous vide, to milk cartons and clingfilm.
At Burgh Island we are currently looking at ways to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that we use. For example, we are trying to adopt a more environmentally friendly kitchen by relying less on cling film by using lidded tubs and are getting rid of plastic milk cartons in favour of pergals. We have also returned to traditional cooking methods to reduce the number of plastic bags we use due to cooking sous vide.
I don’t think we will ever be able to eliminate single-use plastics from professional kitchens without compromising food safety, but everything we can do, starting now will help the cause.