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Interview with Norman Mackenzie

CrispWhiteSheets put Norman Mackenzie, Head Chef at the Feversham Arms in Helmsley, under the spotlight as he gives us an insight into his career, likes and dislikes with our Q&A.

Find out Norman's biggest culinary faux pas and where he gets his inspiration from.

 

CWS: At what age did you start taking cooking seriously, knowing you wanted to continue it as a career?

Norman: Around 13… when I realised my mum’s cooking was vile!

 

CWS: Do you have a favourite dish that you can’t live without?

Norman: A cup of tea!

 

CWS: What’s your favourite childhood dish?

Norman: Grandma’s Rabbit Casserole.

 

CWS: How do you keep your menus exciting and new? Where do you get inspiration from?

Norman: I get my inspiration from the season and what’s available. I enjoy walking and foraging as I go, so if I see something in abundance I tend to pick it and it goes on the menu that evening.

 

CWS: What’s the secret to seasoning and how do you please everyone?

Norman: There is no absolute secret, you cook from your own palate and everyone is different. I have cut out salt before and not been happy with the end result. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about salt and pepper. Wild/Black Mustard is good. Whatever you do needs to be appropriate for the dish.

 

CWS: What’s the first thing you would teach a budding chef?

Norman: You’ve got to really want to be a chef. It can be a tireless, horrible job, with long hours and sacrifices. If you don’t really have a passion for it you won’t take any rewards for the pressure.  I’d also tell them that you have to pick your sector; it’s not just about fine dining – which is only 10% of the eating population.

 

CWS: What’s the one thing that every successful chef should know?

Norman: How to cook!

 

CWS: What sacrifices have you had to make in your life to become a great chef?

Norman: We all have to make personal sacrifices for a demanding role such as being a chef, but it’s a choice that we make, and most people go into it knowingly.

 

CWS: Have you ever disagreed with a customer when they have returned a meal?

Norman: Yes! The days of the customer always being right are long gone. It’s a sad thing, but the culture and profile of many guests has changed, through things such as the voucher-culture and TripAdvisor, which means that everyone knows that they have a weapon if they need it. Valid complaints always sting, but you take them with professionalism and you try to learn from it. Exaggerated and fabricated complaints are far too common, but it doesn’t help to argue your point, so too often we have to take the high road and move on.

 

CWS: Can you remember a dish that you cooked better than anything else?

Norman: I remember being taught how to make a soufflé at school. I was the only one who could make it!

 

CWS: What’s the first dish you would teach a novice to make and why?

Norman: Mashed potato. It teaches the importance of a simple dish. From the variety of types of potato, to the amount of butter and seasoning you use to change the flavour, to the texture. It sounds simple but can be used to teach a great lesson about the intricacies of different cooking techniques.

 

CWS: What’s the hardest part of creating a recipe from scratch?

Norman: The technical aspects such as timings and oven temperatures.

 

CWS: What’s your ‘can’t live without’ cooking gadget?

Norman: A vacuum packing machine, even at home. It preserves the shelf-life on ingredients brilliantly.

 

CWS: Would you ever consider having your own TV show?

Norman: Yes! But I couldn’t disclose the name of it… it would have to be aired after 9pm!

 

CWS: What’s that magic line you have to cross to become a Michelin star chef?

Norman: Having a good team behind you. Dedication, passion and knowledge doesn’t do it on its own.

 

CWS: If you were to begin your career again would you do anything differently?

Norman: I might try to do my training under a great chef. At the time I wanted to learn everything for myself, and I therefore spent a lot of time reading about classic techniques and there was lots of trial-and-error. In hindsight I should have learnt quicker, and could have benefited from a mentor.

 

CWS: What are your ambitions for the future?

Norman: To be rich! No, really I want to have my own place some day.

 

CWS: What do you love most about being a chef?

Norman: The way of life. I see it as a journey for the rest of my life, and I started at 17 so that’s quite a journey!

 

CWS: Have you made any seriously bad mistakes with a recipe? Did you serve it without realising?

Norman: The classic of mixing up salt with sugar when working in the Pastry section!

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