Meet Ross Forder, Head Chef at The Coach House at Middleton Lodge
The Coach House, the all-day dining restaurant in the heart of Middleton Lodge’s 200-acre estate, serves delicious, estate-to-plate food with a Mediterranean influence
How did you become a chef?
My brother was working as a banqueting manager and I frequently visited hotels so became interested that way. I always loved baking and helping in the kitchen and when leaving school I was introduced to a professional kitchen by the chef where my brother was working, at Huntingdon Marriott Hotel, and I have never looked back.
You’ve travelled around a lot and worked in some fantastic establishments, tell us more about your culinary journey.
I was lucky enough to work with Marriott for 14 years, where I learnt skills that I still carry with me today. They taught me about structure, organisation, teamwork and management skills, and within the restaurants we had the freedom to be creative, and the opportunity to connect with suppliers through visits. I then moved to New Zealand and worked across a range of restaurants and hotels in six years and the experience was an eye-opener. I learnt a lot about myself and the food I like to cook whilst I was out there, and it expanded my palate trying so many different cuisines and styles in such a short space of time. I had the opportunity to work with some of New Zealand’s best and most famous chefs who were inspirational and they very much changed my outlook on food and the way that I work. Since then I’ve worked in a variety of restaurants which include high-volume fast-serve seafood, a seafood brasserie, a steak house, Malaysian hawker restaurants, and exclusive lodges.
What can people expect when dining at The Coach House?
Relaxed dining with natural, punchy flavours from the garden with a Mediterranean influence. Each plate begins in the garden and from here we take produce into the kitchen and create dishes which reflect the garden and surrounding landscapes. The menu changes daily depending on what is growing and plates are inspired not only from the garden, but the land and sea using estate-grown ingredients and produce from nearby local farming communities.
There are tables indoors or in the honey-stone courtyard which, at the moment, is like being in the south of France or Tuscany. The Kitchen Garden cocktails are delicious too and are available to go alongside lunch and dinner dishes seven days each week, and the bar team have a handpicked wine list to complement the plates served.
Does working to the ‘estate-to-plate’ ethos make a difference?
It does. Things are much more exciting and flavours are more intense – the produce cannot be any fresher as the majority is picked that morning and used in the dishes that day. We are very lucky to have such an amazing gardening team who plant and look after the ingredients we need for the gardens.
What about when it comes to winter?
Looking ahead to winter, we will work closely with the gardeners to plant and preserve, through pickling and drying.
How important is sustainability within the Coach House kitchen?
Sustainability is the driving force of the restaurant. We plant, pick and preserve the produce, as well as source produce locally that we don’t have on-site which reduces our food miles and ensures the natural flavours. We have a very close relationship with our suppliers as we research all of the produce coming on-site.
In the gardens the teams work to sustain the soils, and we use borehole water. We also have a future for introducing hydroponics and aeroponics. Sustainability is promoted throughout the team, with a recycle or reuse ethos.
What are the most popular dishes on the menu at the moment?
Currently it’s the garden tomato on toast with homemade ricotta, the chalk stream trout served alongside garden mustard greens and preserved lemon aioli, as well as the Yorkshire curd tart with blackcurrants and a blackcurrant leaf ice cream.
Where does your inspiration for dishes come from?
Much of my inspiration comes from the scent, sight and taste when moving around the estate – we’re so lucky to have the gardens. For example, the smell of tomatoes when you walk through our new raised beds and polytunnels in The Orchard, the colour of all the delicious edible flowers and herbs, and the crunch of a freshly-picked cucumber. To maintain the Mediterranean influence, I also take a lot of inspiration from moments and from different countries where food plays such an important role. The food halls and markets of France for example, and the menus in Naples. The moments we share with friends, family and colleagues are where my passion and inspiration comes from.
Do you cook at home, or do you get enough of it at work?
I love to cook at home especially one pot wonders (otherwise there’s so much washing up)! Spending time with my wife over home-cooked food and a bottle of wine is my happy place – with the dog patiently waiting for leftovers.
Which local restaurants do you like to visit, if you get the chance?
The Pheasant at Harome, Riley’s Fish Shack in Tynemouth, Stable Hearth in Darlington and Homestead in Goathland.
Kneeton Lane, Middleton Tyas, Richmond DL10 6NJ