Nick Claxton-Webb - Head Chef at The Weeping Willow
What made you fall in love with cooking ?
Food has always been an important part of my life. Cooking is something very special that can be done for others that doesn’t need to be costly or extravagant it just needs to be made with “Love”! When someone else makes you something as simple as a sandwich it always tastes better than if you had made it yourself. Cooking is the ultimate science based art form. It takes a basic need but elevates it to the one of the ultimate pleasures. It is one of the few things in life that everyone, regardless of class and privilege, can do with each other and for each other.
I have been very lucky over my career to have worked in some amazing places with some amazing people. I have worked in Rosette and red star properties and many guide listed places but what gives me the most pleasure is working with and helping to develop the careers of others.
I have been very fortunate to work with some incredible people via Murray Chapman and Passion to inspire, a culinary competition run throughout colleges in the region. It was felt by some in industry that there was a dis-connect between what was being taught in colleges and what was needed in the work place. The question posed by Murray was what are we as current chefs and food professionals going to do about it? If we merely stand on the side lines complaining we are part of the problem. So started “Passion to Inspire”. Over the last 8 years I have seen the standards in the heats and finals increase exponentially. Watching the students and lecturers react and learn from people like Mark Poynton, Eric Snaith, Russell Bateman, Cyrus Todiwala, Paul Foster is great. But the real “win” is getting the future generation working with amazing local chefs and suppliers who really dedicate their time to helping Judge and Mentor teams. James Carn, Head Chef of the Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds Mentored the West Suffolk College to win the Final at Cambridge Regional College this year.
What brought you to the Weeping Willow ?
I have been lucky to have worked in number of beautiful places but what is the most important thing is to choose who you worth with and for. I had a number of opportunities when I took the position at the Weeping Willow. The Weeping Willow had an amazing feel to it even before the works were completed. The sense of space is incredible and the finish and décor is amazing. More importantly for me however that both Peter Romaniuk and Paula Pryke are genuinely nice people and a pleasure to work for. They are both incredible at what they do and the Weeping Willow is a real testament to their skills. Restaurants and hotels are just bricks and mortar, it is the people and relationships that transform them into wonderful places to be. After meeting P&P I was convinced this was an exciting new beginning.
What is the style of the cuisine ?
It is eclectic! We started from scratch wanting to offer something for everyone. Egalitarian is the term we have tried to adhere to. This can be a difficult concept to deliver as one can dilute principles and philosophy to the point where nothing special or discernable remains. We tap into as much local produce as possible venison from Denham Estate, Blythburgh Pork, local asparagus, pheasants and partridges from Horringer etc etc. Provenance is important but not at the expense of quality. We take as much care with our home made sausage rolls and scotch eggs as we do with our finer restaurant style food offerings. The style and content is still evolving as we listen to our loyal customers and try to reflect the natural seasons and food trends. We have an open plan, seamless transfer from the pub to the restaurant. This means you could be eating Scallops or ham, egg and chips washed down with a bottle of champagne or a pint of Ghost Ship without looking or feeling out of place. The formality of dining has dissipated somewhat over the last few years which is a good thing. We now are far less tied to offering narrow concepts.
What is the best part of working at the Weeping Willow ?
Nearly everyone asks me what it is like to work in such an open kitchen! It is truly liberating! We can feel the energy from the dining room and the guests can feel the energy from us. There is no hiding place! Most kitchens are hidden away from the public, usually little or no views/windows and dis-connected from our customers. We gave a great space to work in!
Favorite dish on the menu ?
We have a roasted Denham Estate venison dish with roasted baby beetroots, charred aliums and feta.
This season’s most popular dish ?
Since we have started to use our Ox Grill we have seen a massive increase in the sales of steaks. We have a fantastic local butcher who supplies us with great local beef. Ribeye, t-bone, sirloin, rump and cote de boeuf have all made appearances. The aromas seem to be a potent marketing tool! Much akin to freshly baked bread smells when showing prospective home buyers around your property!
Guilty food pleasure ?
I have an incredibly sweet tooth! I love dessert, full stop! I am a lover of the classics, lemon tart, Crème brûlée, sticky toffee pudding……it is a very long list! Working in the kitchen I am duty bound to try all the desserts before they go live but I also get to “deal with” all the trimmings of tarts, pastries and puddings. Waste not want not I was always told! Eating my body weight in sticky toffee pudding trimmings is probably is the answer!
Go to quick meal ?
We have chickens at home and as such we always have a ready supply of fresh eggs. When time is short my kids love what we call brunch. A slice of granary toast, topped with grilled bacon, roasted tomatoes, smashed avocado and soft poached eggs. It is a moveable feast which literally consists of whatever else is in the fridge!