Pennyhill Park’s two-Michelin star chef, Michael Wignall has had a busy 12 months. From making changes in the kitchen to adding a new menu, he even managed to make time for a guest slot on Master Chef. He talks us through developing his restaurant in 2014.
An unexpected start
After the winter closure for Pennyhill Park, we had a strong January and reopened to an incredibly busy end of the month. Usually a calm time for the business, we were surprised by the unseasonal rush, but took it as a sign of things to come. The trend continued throughout the early part of the year, on a steady increase from 2013 and we broke expectations in a time where we would normally be burdened with staff movements. Fortunately, we experienced none of these in the kitchen and were blessed with a stable front of house.
On the back of February, we had worked hard on changing a lot of dishes for the fourth coming seasonal change. Attending the Hospitality Action Dinner at Manchester House with Aiden Byrne among other Michelin-starred chefs was a great honour and for a great cause. The collaboration with Cafe Football was going very well during this time too and the first few months of business was well on target and collecting a lot of very good press.
I also gave a motivational speech to creative agency, AMV BBDO in London, talking about how I motivate my team and get the most from them, the day-to-day running of a two Michelin-star restaurant and how I myself keep motivated. These sort of events are always mutually-beneficial.
We undertook a restructure of the current kitchen in order to accommodate the new changes – an event that is always challenging. A by-product of this is the staff anticipation for the new environment; it creates an air of excitement around the kitchen and you find that productivity begins to increase with the expectation of future developments.
On the trail of reorganisation of the kitchen, we successfully implicated a new concept at the Latymer – a gourmet and market menu on Saturday nights. This worked to bridge the two menus which are often two very different spreads.
Another new concept was the introduction of weekly meetings for all the kitchen team. Here we all put our menu ideas onto the table and discuss what would work. This brings the team together and gives them all a chance to voice their opinions, rather than me simply giving instructions.
Researching new ingredients is imperative, but a pleasure for me as a chef – during this time I visited San Sebastian to improve product knowledge and investigate techniques from a different cooking culture. Returning to London invigorated, I was given the opportunity to work on a guest spot for Master Chef.
Introducing new technology
With autumn comes game season – a favourite of mine. Straight away on September 12th, grouse goes onto the menu and stays for four weeks. The kitchen orders directly from our very own game reared in North England on a shoot-to-order basis – this maximises quality, cost-effectiveness and ethical treatment.
The Latymer at Pennyhill Park was then awarded a fifth Rosette – an award which commends outstanding restaurants that hold the pinnacle of dining experiences. The installation of an Evogro Propagator allowed us to grow our own salad, herbs and small vegetables to the required size too. It also works as a cost-saving measure that produces a fantastic product which we can monitor from our phones whilst away from the business so we know exactly when to sow and use the produce.
Even before the year was over, it was clear to see my greatest challenge had been the lunch trade. As we are not on the high street and are a destination property, it’s always hard to encourage the lunch trade, even with 2 Michelin stars. I like to keep the menu really competitive, interesting and innovative and we now have some really great lunch time offers that showcase the menu really well.
A look to the future
Winter gave me a chance to again evolve the kitchen – a few moves to different sections for improvement and progression within the brigade never fails to spark creativity and efficiency.
In retrospect it is easy to see what have been my greatest accomplishments over the year. Most obviously, attaining the fifth Rosette and retaining the two stars have certainly been a highlight, but to come in every day and see a team of hardworking, creative individuals is what really drives me. Staying passionate is easy when I have a team who strive, like me, to push themselves and are constantly challenging what we do to improve things.
For the year ahead, I know it is important to continually improve and investigate new ideas; you mustn’t let your menus go stale. I have been fortunate enough to work and converse with very talented individuals across Europe, meaning I have been able to constantly expand on my established ideas. Refurbishment and changing the menu mid-week – these are my next moves in the New Year, I have already overseen a huge amount of change in the kitchen but in order for your food to see a change, you should introduce your staff to a shift in pattern every so often too.