H&E North meets Jason Carty, Head Chef at Slaley Hall in Hexham to chat coming up with event menu innovations and enjoying the home grown produce of Northumberland.
Jason Carty is the Resort Head Chef at Slaley Hall, a luxury four-star hotel in Hexham, Northumberland. Jason has held a variety of positions, from university catering to Parisian Michelin star restaurants across 32 years in the industry.
Hi Jason! Tell us about your culinary career so far, any highlights?
Before joining Slaley Hall, I worked in various roles within the food and drink industry, from Executive Chef at University of Durham, Michelin star restaurants in central London to owning an Italian restaurant in Staffordshire, for which we were awarded two AA Rosettes.
When it comes to highlights, it’s difficult to choose just one! However, I think my favourite memory has to be when, as a youngster, I was fortunate enough to train with the best of the best in Paris, including Guy Savoy. This experience was something that I believe gave me the knowledge, pace and fire that it takes to be successful in the high profile roles that I’ve held throughout my career.
What does the Head Chef role entail?
Passion and energy, and lots of it! I’m responsible for a brigade of 29, which includes chefs and kitchen porters at different stages in their careers and with a range of skills. I also have two kitchens to manage.
It’s a big job, but a fantastically rewarding one. I thrive on teamwork, and there’s nothing more rewarding then kicking back at the end of a large event or busy service and seeing all the pieces fall into place.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Even if we’ve just delivered a successful event, I can’t rest. I’m always pushing to find the next best thing, something new or surprising to show our guests. I’m always keen to receive feedback from customers, so that I can take it and use it as the building blocks to improve for future dishes.
What makes Northumberland an inspirational place to be creative in food?
It’s a really diverse county, as it’s situated on the coast with fantastic surrounding countryside. Its geography means that we are blessed with mouth-watering local organic produce as well as great fresh seafood, especially salmon and trout. It’s called ‘God’s larder’ for a reason, what’s not to be inspired by?
Northumberland is a place where eggs can be bought from the farmer next door, and where bread is made with flour from the old mill. The fresh produce that it offers is amazing: you won’t be able to leave without sampling a Northumberland cheese board! I also love putting a modern spin on local delicacies, such as Craster kippers or Lindisfarne oysters.
What makes a good menu for an event?
For me it starts before we even get into the menu: I need to know my customer. It’s important to consider what your guests will enjoy the most based on the type of event that we’re delivering. For example, if it’s business guests, they may attend this kind of event quite regularly, so they’d get bored of a typical banquet menu.
When it comes to the food choice, there are three key elements; balance, texture and flavour. The right combination of these key elements will create a menu that excites our guests and leaves them wanting to try more.
The final presentation of the food is key. The best chefs say that we eat with our eyes and noses before we’ve even tried the food. It should be colourful, fragrant and obviously, appetising. The presentation of the food will mean our guests will want to eat it, if it doesn’t look and smell good, then they won’t be happy!
What trends have you noticed in the modern-day kitchen?
We’ve noticed that our customers’ dietary requirements are shifting. This has informed our efforts to include more choice on our menus, making sure that we have dairy and gluten-free, as well as vegan and vegetarian options.
It’s critical for us as a venue team to really understand our customers’ needs, so that we can accommodate all of our guests. We’re constantly challenged with the varying allergens and special requirements, more so than ever before.
I never view this as a hindrance, more of an opportunity to use ingredients that I would ordinarily not have thought to use. I also invest time into staff training, ensuring that all of the team are fully up-to-date on our allergens policies. We have established specific areas of the kitchen as allergen-free areas.
Why is Slaley Hall a good place to have a catered corporate event?
In addition to the wonderful setting, we have an excellent team here. I work closely with our event planners, who are very experienced in delivering to the highest standard and confident in creating bespoke menus for our customers’ needs.
No two events are the same, which means that we cannot understate the importance of meeting with the organisers beforehand. Without doing this, we wouldn’t be able to consistently deliver a unique experience which fits each guest’s individual requirements.
Do you like to cook at home?
I love cooking at home, and I’m fortunate enough to have family and friends who love to be cooked for! My daughter is five, and her current favourite dish is good old spag bol, but thankfully she’s a chip off the old block and doesn’t shy away from trying just about anything I put in front of her.
My favourite dishes to cook tend to change with the seasons. However, I especially love Asian food, and will happily spend my time away from work and the kitchen browsing the Asian supermarket aisles!
What has been your favourite theme to create a menu for?
I always strive to exceed the customers’ expectations, and sometimes a theme can throw up the opportunity to be especially innovative. My most recent, and perhaps now favourite theme was an American South event. I was able to go back to my culinary roots as both Creole and Cajun cooking have French heritage. Gumbo was the signature dish for me, made with a roux base, okra and white rice.
Jason selects one of his favourite menu selections for dining experiences at Slaley Hall…
Lightly poached Lindisfarne oyster, cucumber granita, parsley oil, radish and nasturtium
Venison loin from the Slaley estate, black pudding bon-bon, beetroot textures, kale, rosti potato and bitter chocolate sauce
Warm singing hinnies, strawberries, clotted cream ice cream and Slaley honey tuiles