Nigel Mendham has been cooking since he was a child, inspired by the unpretentious, but tasty, dishes his Mum made at home: “What my mum would cook, simple stuff. Salted belly of pork and that sort of thing, just cooked for ages and it fell off the bone. And you just pick it off with a fork, chuck potatoes in . . . Well it’s really simple stuff, like shepherd’s pie, that sort of stuff. I used to get involved, play around. Then it moved on to having a little dabble at Christmas lunches for the family, like 8-10 people and it just started moving on from there.” Summers spent clam-picking and crabbing and the resulting experience of cooking this fresh bounty also left their mark.
His first experience of the hospitality industry was working as a teenager in a Norfolk pub, running food from the kitchen. When the kitchen became short-staffed, he went in to help cook. He tells The Arbuturian website: “I never ran food again.” City and Guilds came next – “you had to be in college all the time, no messing”, he told us – followed by years spent training in restaurants around the country, staying long enough in each job to really learn the restaurant and the role: “All my head chefs have always given me something to get where I am now”, he told us. After leaving Norfolk, he spent two years working at The Randolph Hotel in Oxford where he worked his way up from commis chef to chef de partie, followed by a sous chef role at Stamford Park and a senior sous chef job at South Lodge Country Hotel in Horsham.
His next position was as senior sous chef at The Lygon Arms Hotel in Worcester, where he met his most significant mentor and biggest source of inspiration, Martin Blunos: “Martin Blunos was my biggest influence, I think, when I worked at The Lygon Arms. He came in the last couple of years I was there – he’d had two stars at Lettonie in Bath for 15 years previously to that. We got it to three rosettes and one star – it was only a two-rosette place previous to that. He was such a nice down-to-earth guy, but I learnt the importance of really good quality from him. I found out from him that you don’t have to go crazy to make something taste good. Just precision and getting the simple things correct, then the rest you can do afterwards. He was just quality.”
Nigel Mendham also spent five years working as Head Chef at The Samling Hotel in Windermere, in the Lake District, a time he is particularly proud of: “I took them up from nothing, one or two rosettes and we built it up over two or three years.” He was duly rewarded with both a Michelin star and three AA rosettes – success he credits to “hard work, dedication and consistent standards.”