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.
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.”
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.