James Haywood lifts the lid on new menus

From food tasting to glamorous recipe photoshoots, it's business as usual for Group Executive Chef James Haywood

The taste-test team
The taste-test team
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The taste-test team
The taste-test team

Since the opening of Woburn Forest, the most frequent question I get asked is: “I suppose you have a bit more time on your hands now?” After I pick myself off the floor laughing, I kindly reply that no, it may be business as usual but it’s always varied and hectic. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

New flavours
For a while, Eddie McAdam and I have been working on the menu development for all Center Parcs restaurants and a couple of weeks ago we had our first tasting session, held at Woburn Forest. First up on the roster was Sports Café, which is set to get some great additions to its menu from October 10 this year, including breakfast sharing platters which I’m really excited about as they’re such good value. We look at menu development every two years to ensure our restaurants are always up to date with latest trends and tastes, and to ensure we’re offering our guests something new.

Guest feedback is absolutely vital for us, and so at the tasting sessions we invite a few guests along to sample the new dishes and give us their honest opinions. The social media team put out a call on the Center Parcs Facebook page to invite any guests visiting Woburn Forest to state their interest in helping us for the afternoon. We were inundated! But on the day the Gilbert family, from nearby Ampthill, joined myself and Eddie McAdam.

The day was a success; although I didn’t the chance to spend much time with the guests as I was busy dashing in and out of the kitchen, whipping up dishes from our new menu. As a chef you desperately want people to love your food, no matter whether you cook a bacon sandwich or a Michelin-starred feast. Thankfully, the tasting session was a success. Mum of the family, Jayne Gilbert, said: “We had a great day and really appreciate being part of it. We just didn’t realise how much goes on behind the scenes in putting a menu together.”

Picture perfect
Earlier in the month I was again at Woburn Forest, taking part in the latest Village Life recipe photo shoot. If you’ve ever read Village Life magazine, you’ll know that I write the recipe feature for each issue, three times a year. I normally start this process around three months before the magazine is published. Now I won’t give too much away – you’ll have to wait until early September to see the dishes – but I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes look into how it’s put together. I’m not one for art and design; I let the team get on with that side of things while I cook the food and make sure it’s looking presentable on a plate.

We normally do the shoot at one of our Villages from 9am to lunchtime, which involves myself, photographer Dave and one or two members of the marketing team. I prepare each dish one by one, so we have quite a quick turnaround. The biggest challenge is keeping the food warm and looking fresh – which can be even more difficult if you’re working with sauces or vegetables.

It’s nice to get out of the kitchen from time to time; we were bathed in glorious sunshine for the entire day, made even better by the fact we were shooting outside on the Venue terrace. After much tweaking of plates and moving cutlery by mere millimetres, alongside polishing a wine glass to perfection, the photo shoot went without a hitch and I can’t wait to see the pictures in the next issue of Village Life.

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  • Kim McKie

    This is a really interesting read and great to see food allergies/intolerances being taken into consideration. I have a nightmare trying to eat in restaurants as I can’t eat wheat, dairy (not just lactose), eggs, shell fish, certain vegetables , fruit, spices and the list goes on! There is only so much salad and so many chips you can eat and it’s not very exciting. I have to say though on a recent stay at Elveden we ate at Hucks and they were really helpful and did what they could to help me. One problem I do often have though is restaurants have gluten free menus or a dairy free menu but don’t overlap them or they still contain egg so it’s still not suitable for me. I therefore am looking forward to seeing the new menu and I’m keeping my fingers crossed when we go back to Whinfell in May that I can have something more exciting than salad!

Amy Dickson

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Amy Dickson

As Brand Content Manager I plan, create and curate the best articles, photos, videos and music for our channels, in particular the blog. With a degree in Journalism under my belt and many years’ experience in the big smoke as a journalist and editor, my focus is firmly on discovering the little gems hidden away in Center Parcs life, before buffing them up to make them sparkle online. From on-village events to the latest travel industry trends, I’ll be there – notepad in hand – to bring you the most entertaining and interesting stories.