Mark Birchall, former executive chef at Simon Rogan's two-Michelin-starred L'Enclume and winner of the Roux Scholarship in 2011, will open his new restaurant with rooms at the historic Moor Hall in West Lancashire this summer. He talks to Hannah Thompson about building challenges, new menus and the shortage of skilled chefs in the industry
What does Moor Hall mean to you?
It's like a huge reward after 18 years of working in the business. I'll be in my home county, in beautiful surroundings, and I'm in charge of pretty much all of the planning. It is a fantastic feeling.
Moor Hall is within a Grade II- listed building. Have there been any challenges in restoring it?
The star listing puts Moor Hall in the top 10% of listed buildings, and that means that English Heritage is keeping an extra eye on it. The planning application was quite complex and we [in partnership with Andy and Tracey Bell] only realised the extent of the disrepair when we started.
You were at L'Enclume for nearly 10 years. What does it mean to be setting out on your own?
What has been the best thing about the project so far?
The best thing is being creative, from designing kitchens to landscaping. The most challenging thing is all of the meetings! I'm used to being in a kitchen and I am keen to get back to it.
How does the location of the site influence your menu?
Moor Hall is surrounded by arable land, with everything from leeks, spinach and carrots to potatoes and brassicas. There's also a pheasant shoot in the woods nearby.
What other elements will you have on the site?
We will have a dairy, a cheese room, wine cellars and a space to brew, produce our own charcuterie and age our own meat.
You have worked with some great chefs, including Simon Rogan, the Roca brothers and Nigel Haworth. What's their best piece of advice?
I keep in touch with all of them and I can rely on any of them for advice. They have all been helpful over the years.
You won the Roux Scholarship in 2011. How did that go on to influence your career?
When you win the scholarship you're entered into a family of great chefs - with the bonus being the opportunity to spend time in a multi-Michelin-starred restaurant of your choice. This offered me a new perspective.
Any advice for new chefs for the Scholarship?
You must have an original dish that appeals on a number of levels, including taste. The judges need to be able to visualise the dish from the recipe, so this must be precise and innovative. And, importantly, you need to practice.
What's next for the industry?
Trends come and go. I'd much rather put my head down, stick to what I know and give the guest the best experience. A lot of young people want to be head chefs before they can cook, and I think TV has produced a generation of impatient young chefs which, in my opinion, have contributed to the skills shortage. We need to create an exciting working environment with a work-life balance.
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