2019 winner: Aaron Patterson, Hambleton Hall
Sponsored by Bidfood
Hambleton Hall, set in a gloriously elevated position above Rutland Water in the East Midlands, has been at the vanguard of the country house hotel scene since 1980.
The four-red-AA-star, 17-bedroom hotel has been run with love and passion by Tim and Stefa Hart, who are among the few remaining independent owners operating at such a level within the country house market.
The success of the hotel has been due in no small part to the presence of Aaron Patterson as head chef. He has been in the role since 1992 and has continually retained the Michelin star first awarded to Hambleton Hall in 1982. Other accolades include four AA rosettes and a 7/10 rating in The Good Food Guide.
Tim describes Hambleton Hall as "a restaurant with rooms", highlighting the importance of Patterson and his high quality of food to the success of the business. Everything is prepared in-house, including the butchering of meat and filleting of fish. He and his brigade of 16 chefs prepare an average of 10,500 breakfasts, 3,100 private dining meals, 21,900 lunches, 19,200 dinners, 840 wedding breakfasts and 1,800 room service orders annually.
It was perhaps no surprise that Patterson entered the kitchen: his father was a chef and his mother worked front of house. He first joined Hambleton Hall at the age of 16 under head chef Nick Gill before spending four years at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons with Raymond Blanc. At the age of just 23, he returned to Hambleton Hall as head chef – so excited was he by the appointment that he initially worked for 48 hours continuously without sleep.
Despite holding the head chef position for 27 years, Patterson has never assumed a managerial role, preferring to remain handson in the kitchen five to six days a week. Such focus has helped deliver an annual revenue growth in the restaurant of 5%, with the number of covers in the past 12 months reaching a 39-year high.
Creativity is strongly in evidence, with Patterson writing daily menus influenced by his extensive network of foragers and farmers, who may offer everything from blewits and puffballs to quince and crab apples, sea vegetables and zander to woodcock and teal.
Perhaps most impressive is the time Patterson has spent nurturing and inspiring young chefs. He has an exemplary rota of protégés, including James Petrie, Sean Hope, Adam Stokes, Chris Denney, Gareth Ward, Peter Tempelhoff and John Freeman.
All new recruits learn the basics of fishmongery, butchery, pâtisserie and chocolate work as they move through the ranks from apprentice to sous chef. "Some of the new apprentices have their eyes on stalks when they receive their first muntjac with its fur still on," he says.
Patterson takes his chefs to eat in inspiring restaurants eight times a year, a move that, no doubt, has contributed to retention: four members of his brigade have stayed at Hambleton for more than 16 years, and his kitchen has had a 50:50 male to female ratio for two years.
Patterson is a kind, humble and hardworking chef and an inspirational mentor, renowned for creating magical moments for a legion of guests. He truly has gone the extra mile in every aspect of an exceptionally loyal career.
- 2018 Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London
- 2017 Edward Bracken, Crowne Plaza London Kensington
- 2016 Crowne Plaza Leeds team
- 2015 Chris Penn, Ace Hotel London Shoreditch
- 2014 Sylla ‘Amara' Ibrahima Park Plaza County Hall London
- 2013 David Mead-Male, Royal Crescent hotel, Bath
- 2012 the Langstone Hotel and South Downs College, Hampshire
- 2011 Veronica Kingham, Village hotel, Maidstone
- 2010 Fiona Simm, Crowne Plaza Cambridge
- 2009 Gary Gateley, Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury
- 2008 Gloucester East (Barnwood) Premier Inn
- 2007 Paula Middleton, Premier Inn
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