Chris Horridge grew up in a family where life centred on the dinner table. Everyone would sit down together to eat, and food was an integral part of their shared experience. His mother and grandmother were both excellent cooks and he credits them with giving him a great introduction to the pleasures of cooking.
Coming from a military background, for him it was an easy decision to enlist. While waiting to be accepted, he decided to enrol at catering college in Gainsborough, and after completing his time there, joined the Royal Air Force. He spent nine years in the military, leaving aged 27. During his service, he spent a lot of time developing ideas in the officers’ mess kitchen, even finding time to squeeze in a sugar art diploma in Switzerland. But it was after seeing the 1990s BBC comedy Chef! (inspired by the then two Michelin-starred chef, John Burton-Race) that he began considering a future as a high-end restaurant chef.
After his departure from the RAF, he applied for a job working at Le Petit Blanc in Oxford, Raymond Blanc’s first brasserie. He hoped that it would be a stepping stone to working at Blanc’s legendary fine dining offering, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and his enterprise paid off. He made a blown sugar model of a saxophone player, called Sax Life, which attracted the attention of Blanc, curious how a brasserie cook who’d worked in an Armed Forces kitchen could create such a piece. A position at Le Manoir duly followed, and by the time he left, five years later, he was senior sous chef. He says of his time there: ‘An education like no other. I owe Raymond Blanc and his head chef Gary Jones an amount of knowledge I could never repay. The culinary finishing school of them all. More Michelin-starred chefs have come from the Manoir kitchen than any other restaurant on earth, the very least of them being me!’
Leaving in 2003, he worked for a period as private chef to a Canadian entrepreneur, before taking the head chef position at The Bath Priory. Working closely with Jane Moore, the head gardener and Chelsea Flower Show medal winner, he developed seasonal menus utilising the bounty of the restaurant’s kitchen garden, and in 2006 he was awarded a Michelin star, which he retained until he left in 2009. While he was at the helm, the restaurant was also named one of the UK’s top 40 restaurants by The Good Food Guide and was awarded three rosettes by the AA.
His menus not only championed the produce grown on the premises, they also placed nutrition and bio-availability (how well nutrients are absorbed) at their heart. Working together with scientists and nutritionists, he chose ingredients and combinations based on these factors, reducing harmful fats, dairy products, gluten and sugars to negligible levels and elevating healthy eating to a fine art.
Dishes could include a starter of Warm salmon confit with slow-cooked Bramley apple, aniseed and ginseng, or Scallops with almond purée, roasted almond nibs and lemon verbena, followed by Dab flatfish with lime pastille, crayfish, ginger jelly, melon and courgette. Dessert could include a Quartet of crème brûlées with rosemary, geranium, ginger and lemon verbena – famously made without dairy and with very minimal sugar, or Celery seed-infused chocolate with sour cherry snow and kumquat. The Independent at the time said ‘Mr Horridge is close to a genius … simply masterly at combining unusual flavours’, continuing ‘the Priory dishes are handled with infinite subtlety; they take you on a little journey, from sweet to savoury to something beyond both.’