The kitchen of Niall Keating, executive chef at the 23-bedroom Whatley Manor house and spa, set in the countryside of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, houses the only white Athanor cooking suite in the UK. Lisa Jenkins finds out more about his kitchen, his brigade and his food
In January this year, the kitchen at Whatley Manor was closed for a six-week refurbishment, re-opening on 13 February – just in time for Valentine’s Day. The sparkling new fit-out was made possible with investment from Whatley Manor’s owner, Swiss equestrian rider Christian Landolt, with the backing of the hotel’s general manager, Sue Williams.
Williams has recently signed Whatley Manor up to an ambitious new project, spearheading the global ‘It Must be Now’ scheme set up by renowned hoteliers Onno and Alexa Poortier. The online portal provides inspiration on how to travel with a conscience, with hotel members forming a marketing alliance of responsible properties that deliver a high standard of hospitality in a sustainable way – a listing of hotels that provide a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the community.
The new kitchen at Whatley Manor will be a major contributing factor to the green credentials of the hotel as part of this scheme, with the installation of the new Athanor induction cooking suite delivering a substantial reduction in energy consumption.
Keating describes the new kitchen as a multi- functional hotel kitchen with all the equipment an operation of its kind requires. The chef splits his brigade into two, with one team working on dishes for Grey’s Brasserie and another on the Dining Room’s tasting menu.
The Green Room’s gastronomy bar is used in the evenings as a separate kitchen area, managed by senior chef de partie Julian Elkjaer (who worked with Keating at the Michelin-starred Kong Hans Kælder in Denmark), producing tapas and small plates for Brasserie guests. Elkjaer acts as a chef host and has created a menu of dishes such as beetroot, candied walnuts and dates; poached cuttlefish, enoki mushrooms, sauce nage and lardo; and hibiscus on brioche toast.
The main focus of the generously sized kitchen is a bespoke Athanor cooking suite, designed in liaison with Steve Hobbs of Grande Cuisine.
Once the decision on a range had been made with Hobbs, Keating worked with Andy Wood, commercial director, and Ray Costelloe, managing director, both of the CCE Group, to complete the kitchen fabrication, equipment specification and installation.
Wood’s brief from Keating was to create a clean and open kitchen that would be more energy efficient, reduce utility bills, and incorporate more cooking zones. After three design meetings between Keating and Woods, the design was signed off. The new project includes new flooring and walls along with an Athanor suite, which came in two pieces and was welded together and polished on-site. All of the counter and cupboard fabrication was completed by CCE, including bespoke waste bin units, and worktops fitted and polished with no joins.
The Athanor cooking suite
The Athanor cooking suite (1) is smaller than the range previously used in the Whatley kitchen.
The only white cooking suite of its kind in the UK has a breakfast area at the top end of the unit, which includes three warming cupboards and a four-zone induction hob, which is used for sauces and constant water heating during evening service (2). A Mareno quick-therm radiant salamander (3) above the four-zone induction hob provides instant heat for browning, caramelising, glazing, grilling and toasting, and is used constantly, but instantly cuts out when not in use, further reducing energy usage and costs.
The suite has a pass-through service oven emitting one temperature and is used for finishing. Additional warming drawers further along the suite are in increments from 30ºC to 110ºC.
On top are four plaques with an electric element per zone with gulley infills, making it similar to a traditional-style solid top (4). The plaques can also be used for direct cooking; the chefs at Whatley Manor use greaseproof paper on the plaques when cooking salmon and other delicate products to prevent proteins leaking onto the plaque.
There is a built-in cleaning tap (5) in the centre of the suite and a 20-litre multi-cooker (6). At the opposite end of the suite, Keating chose to have two radiant hobs with a constant direct-element heat, which allows him more control for reducing sauces and stocks (7).
As well as the gulley infills, Athanor also supplied a removable ribbed cast-iron searing plate for use over the plaques (8). An electric cupboard beneath the suite allows technical access for Grande Cuisine to identify faults off-site.
Hobbs and Bob Lowe, technical services manager from Grande Cuisine, delivered full training on the Athanor suite with the brigade, going through each appliance, including cleaning and maintenance. Lifetime training is included for changing brigades.
Behind the cooking suite Keating specified Valentine Equipment’s electric turbo single-pan, twin-basket fryer (9), chosen for its high-performance reputation. There is generous counter space either side of the fryer, providing ample amounts of preparation space.
The new kitchen also includes two mobile units manufactured by CCE (10), providing the team with an additional preparation area in the hot kitchen, and another positioned in the pastry section. This unit is often converted into a pastry pass counter for service (11).
The bulk cooking area of the kitchen includes a Rational VarioCookingCentre (VCC) (12) and two stackable Rational SelfCookingCentres: a 10-grid and a six-grid (13). Using the VCC, the chefs can cook a veal stock under pressure in 12 hours and a chicken stock under pressure in four hours.
“We use the VCC for preparing staff food, as well as blanching and vegetable prep. The team have created various programmes. It’s like having another chef in the kitchen,” says Keating.
The pastry section is kitted out with all the usual gadgets, including a Thermomix and dehydrator, and a specially produced sound-proofed cupboard (fabricated by CCE) houses a Pacojet (14), so as not to disturb customers in the kitchen dining area.
Refrigeration throughout the kitchen is all undercounter and split between Adande drawer unit refrigeration (15), chosen for its versatile fridge/freezer use, and Precision Refrigeration, for its gastronorm tray capacity (16).
The Ansul fire suppression system (17) and ceiling extraction was supplied by Halton Ventilation (18) and installed by CCE. The walls of the kitchen are Jemiclad and the flooring is AcryliCon resin (guaranteed for 10 years and repairable).
The pot-wash area has been modernised with a new Meiko H500S UPster pass-through machine (19).
Whatley Manor was originally built in the 19th century and formed part of a private estate that included a farm. Originally called Twatley Manor, it was bought in 1925 by a Canadian who used the estate to hunt.
In 1987, Whatley Manor became a hotel for the first time and, in 2000, it was sold to Alix and Christian Landolt, who restored it to its former glory. The hotel is set in 12 acres and features 23 bedrooms, a spa with an indoor/outdoor pool and the only permanent Natura Bissé Bubble Suite in the UK.
Keating started his career in hospitality as a kitchen porter at the age of 15, working at the Fitzherbert Arms in Swynnerton, Staffordshire. His first kitchen role came in 2010 as a commis chef at the Michelin-starred Bath Priory hotel restaurant, working his way up to sous chef under the wing of Sam Moody and alongside his then, and now, general manager, Sue Williams.
A two-year chef de partie role at Restaurant Sat Bains followed and then some time abroad at three-Michelin-starred Benu in San Francisco with chef Corey Lee, before moving on to Copenhagen in 2016 as chef de cuisine at Michelin-starred Kong Hans Kælder.
In December 2016, Keating accepted the role of executive chef at Whatley Manor. He is responsible for the Dining Room, Grey’s Brasserie and the Green Room, a space for cookery and drinks showcases and private events.
Keating was awarded Michelin’s Young European Chef of the Year in 2018. He received his first Michelin star for the Dining Room in October 2017, when he was aged just 26, and less than a year after joining Whatley Manor.
Adande Refrigeration www.adanderefrigeration.com
CCE Group www.ccegroupltd.co.uk
Grande Cuisine, Athanor www.grandecuisine.co.uk
Hatco www.hatcocorp.com/ en/equipment
Meiko UK www.meiko-uk.co.uk
Precision Refrigeration www.precision-refrigeration.co.uk