Lee Stainthorpe is the head chef at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne. Having worked under a number of celebrated chefs across the North of England over a 20 year career Lee is well placed to lead the catering team at this flagship city centre hotel. We’re really delighted Lee took time out of his very busy schedule to speak to us.
To an extent it does I guess, but I don’t really think about that. Whether large or small, a kitchen operation is pretty much the same to organise and run. The main difference with a refined hotel offering is that it’s a very diverse operation we have here, and whether that is breakfast, banqueting or fine-dining, planning is always the key to success in the kitchen.
How did you get started cooking?
It sounds a bit strange now, but when I went to school we did a class called home economics, which anyone under 35 probably has no idea what that was. Essentially it was a schools way of teaching basic cooking skills to kids, and it was my first introduction to cooking myself from scratch. From there I went to study a City and Guilds in Catering at college, before getting my first job in the industry.
How has the industry changed over the years?
There seems to be less hunger in a lot of the younger generation of staff at entry level. When I was starting out it was accepted that to get ahead you had to work bloody hard and that the hours would be long. I’ve always been a hard worker, and that is the number one thing I look for in any apprentice or member of the team. I can teach someone how to cook, but having the drive to want to work hard is something that is much harder to instill. This is in no way a 9 to 5 job, but a lot of people either don’t get that, or don’t want that.
What is the best advice you could give to home cooks?
Plan ahead. Something as simple as reading a menu before you start will make a massive difference. If you just dive straight in you’ll almost certainly get it wrong. Planning is at the heart of all good cooking for me.
Some of the busiest restaurants I’ve worked in would have seemed like organised chaos to the untrained eye, but I can assure you they are well oiled machines. I used to work at Heathcoates, (Paul Heathcoates restaurant) in Manchester, and we were turning around 300+ covers every evening at peak times, and the only way you can do that is military style planning across the operation.
What is the best dish on your menu?
We do locally sourced lamb with butternut squash and leek, that is really popular at the moment as given the cold weather, it’s perfect comfort food.
What is your favourite cut of meat?
Lamb shank, but somewhat controversially I like to serve it deep-fried not on the bone. You braise it in the normal way, but then re-roll it, and cover in flour and breadcrumbs before deep frying.
Finally, what do you see in the future for food and menu development?
I think there will be more choice, more diversification and more personalisation. People will become more used to being able to ask for what they want when they want it. As a top end hotel, we always accommodate to our individual guests needs, as it sets us apart from the run of the mill establishments that can’t tailor the menu.
Lee Stainthorpe, is Head Chef at the Vermont Hotel, a landmark hotel in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.www.vermont-hotel.com