Hannah Twiggs catches up with Gareth Stevenson, the chef who’s putting sustainability back on the menu at Palé Hall
Raised in Leicestershire, Gareth Stevenson has always been interested in cooking, from baking with his mum from a young age, to training at Deeside College and getting his first job working for Michael Caines, and later Gordon Ramsay.
But it was when he moved to Palé Hall dentro 2016 that Stevenson truly established his credentials as a rising star. Nestled at the foot of the idyllic Snowdonia National Park, the grand historic house not only boasts spectacular views and luxurious comfort, but a culinary experience that encapsulates the very best of what the region has to offer.
Stevenson has spent the past few years refining the dishes, building relationships with local suppliers and putting sustainability back on the menu – not to mention there’s an on-site hydroelectric plant, the team’s uniforms are made from recycled plastic, they create and use their own organic compost and take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s these efforts that have caught the attention of the Michelin Guide, and earnt Palé Hall one of the first Green Stars, announced earlier this year.
We caught up with the chef to talk about the award, the issues facing the industry today and why he could never work in an office.
How does it feel for Palé Hall to be awarded one of the first Michelin Green Stars?
Obviously it’s a huge honour. It reflects all the aspects of work that get put into what we do here, so it is a nice team accolade.
What are some of your favourite things on the menu?
I really like the squab and suckling pig dishes we have on at the moment, they are really clean and the feedback has been great on them, much like the red mullet and the Welsh Black beef on the five course.
How would you describe your style of cooking, and why is it important to you?
Without being cliché, I think it is quite natural. We work according to the seasons, and put together flavour profiles that work together, sometimes I think we can try to do things differently for the sake of it and it doesn’t reflect well on the plate.
You’re in a great location for sustainable, high quality, local ingredients. What are you favourites?
Our local butcher TJ Roberts is amazing. It is family run, local ingredients, and we have been working with Haydn since before we opened. He knows exactly what we want and what standard we expect and he always delivers.
What advice do you have for home cooks wanting to shop/cook/eat more sustainably?
Take your time and do your research. I think a lot of people rush into things and think they are doing the right thing, because they’ve seen a few taglines or a couple of loaded statistics. But when you look into them closer, it doesn’t add up.
What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing places like Palé Hall today?
The whole industry is in the middle of an overdue change, para ser honesto. Staffing is the biggest issue. We have had some issues with supplies as well, but a lot of that comes back down to staffing. I don’t buy the work-shy lines that get thrown about, I just think people have realised there is more to life than work. It’s even easier to see with the staff in hospitality, nobody will have had anything like last year in terms of time off and at home, and they’d probably never thought about another career until they were forced into one due to Covid. Agora, they aren’t looking back. We haven’t lost anyone because of Brexit or Covid, but I know in the cities a lot of places will have been hammered with staff leaving. We need to change workplace cultures, improve work life balance and for a lot of people, pay.
What dish do you always fall back on when you need a pick-me-up?
Braised lamb with mashed potato and vegetables. My mum always did lamb shanks, and I do my mashed potato differently. But I think when we are a bit down, we all want something that reminds us of an easier, simpler time in our lives. I was lucky in that my childhood was basically care and stress-free.
Name someone you would love to cook for.
Sir David Attenborough, a legend. I don’t think that one needs explaining!
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Definitely nothing office-based – no offence to office-based workers, I just know I’m not cut out for that. I would probably want to be involved in food somehow, a butcher or baker maybe.
You’re stranded on a deserted island (with a fully kitted-out kitchen) – what cookbook are you bringing with you?
I like learning different things, particularly a completely different style. Então bau.steine by Christian Bau. He has three stars so is obviously an incredible chef, but I’ve also noticed the recipes are basically all right. A lot of chef’s books you buy will have completely the wrong amount of some ingredients so it doesn’t taste like it would at the restaurant.