‘There was a lot of interest around me when I first started – every sort of major food critic turned up in the first few months – because Hambleton had a Michelin star and four AA rosettes,’ says Aaron. ‘I retained everything and we’ve gone from strength to strength ever since. I wasn’t nervous when I was started – I was more like a mad dog on a leash! I suppose it could’ve all gone terribly wrong and it turn out that I was just massively overconfident, but I knew what I was doing because I’d stayed at restaurants for long lengths of time which allowed me to soak everything up properly. If you flit from place to place you soon become the best spinach picker in the world, as moving restaurants means you have to start from square one every time. But because I stayed put and learnt lots of different things, I was in a better position to take on the head chef role.’
Aaron took a month to perfect his recipes at his father’s kitchen in Ireland before starting at Hambleton Hall, then introduced his completely new menu on his first day. Twenty-four years later and he’s still there – a conscious decision on his part. ‘I went to thirteen different schools as a kid and don’t want to do that to my children,’ he explains. ‘I’m also now a partner in the business, and want that work-life balance.’ Over the years, Aaron has formed close relationships with suppliers in Rutland, meaning he has access to the best produce that’s literally brought to his kitchen door. Game, in particular, has become a bit of a speciality at Hambleton, thanks to Aaron’s amazing ability to source the best in the country.
Working at the same restaurant for twenty-four years means you have to keep things fresh. While Aaron’s food has always evolved and changed over the years, recently he completely overhauled his menu and started introducing a new cooking style, focused on simplicity. ‘Just before Christmas 2015 I went to six or seven two-starred restaurants and tried to understand why they have two stars and I only have one,’ he explains. ‘I noticed that there wasn’t really anything on the plate that I didn’t know how to do, or any new flavours I hadn’t experienced before – but everything was a lot simpler than what I was doing. I think fashion has changed and people don’t like fussy food – what they want are flavours that elevate a main ingredient and clarity in the dish. I think I’ve basically been trying too hard to get two Michelin stars.
‘I always used to create dishes like an assiette of rabbit, and serve a braised shoulder in red wine, the loin, the kidney – it was like an autopsy on the plate,’ he continues. ‘I did it because I wanted to show off lots of different skills, which used to be all the rage. But now I don’t mess about with the food as much – for example, I’ll take a loin of fantastic venison and cook it simply with Szechuan pepper, celeriac and chocolate.’ This is all in a bid to keep things interesting for the guests at Hambleton Hall, but Aaron also wants to achieve that second Michelin star – something which must surely become reality in the near future.
Aaron has appeared on several television programmes, including Masterchef with Loyd Grossman, Channel 4's Here's One I Made Earlier and Wild About Food, a regional show that focused on game.
While getting a second star is important to Aaron, what's more important is that the restaurant is always full and that his team are having fun in the kitchen.
Aaron has such strong ties with his suppliers that many of them come to the kitchen personally to drop off ingredients such as pheasant, fresh watercress and pike.
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