Chris Harrod


Chris Harrod

A protégé of Raymond Blanc, Chris Harrod has built his own niche in the heart of glorious Monmouthshire, creating beautiful, organic dishes that make the most of the countryside around him.

Chris Harrod had been cooking at a high level for nearly twenty years before he burst into the public sphere in the 2018 series of Great British Menu. Alongside short-sleeved, swashbuckling chefs Tom Brown, Ellis Barrie and James Cochran, the nation warmed to Chris’ long-sleeves and gentle demeanour. In what is generally quite a boisterous work environment, Chris is a bit of an outlier – reserved and modest – but his food speaks for itself. Anyone who makes the journey to eat at The Whitebrook leaves knowing they’ve just eaten dishes cooked by one of the most talented chefs in the UK.

Growing up in leafy Worcestershire, Chris’ life has always been about food, more or less. ‘I wanted to be a chef from the age of about seven, but no one really knows why,’ he laughs. ‘I used to grow vegetables in the garden – I was the only one into that. My parents would have dinner parties and I would cook the dinner!’ Chris grew up an avid fan of TV chefs like Keith Floyd and Raymond Blanc – he would watch their shows and soak up all their enthusiasm like a sponge. Not only did this further his love for cooking, it was also the start of his quest to work alongside Raymond in the kitchen at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

‘I’ve always been a very determined person,’ says Chris. ‘If I want to do something, I’ll keep going until I achieve it. Even as a kid I wanted to work for Raymond, so I wrote him lots of letters asking for work. I must have written at least ten letters, and got a ‘no’ back each time!’ Undeterred, Chris searched for another route; his tutors at Birmingham College of Food advised that some time in a five-star hotel would open doors, so he headed to the Lanesborough on Hyde Park Corner, where chef Paul Gayler was cooking an innovative vegetarian menu.

Still though, he was writing letters to Le Manoir frequently, trying to get a foot in the hotel’s prestigious doors. Whilst he was at the Lanesborough, Chris went to Le Manoir for dinner on a Friday evening and asked again for a job, this time in person. ‘They asked me to start on the Monday!’ he says. ‘I had to turn it down – I was still working at the Lanesborough – but as soon as I walked back into the kitchen, Paul already knew I was leaving.’

There’s always some trepidation in meeting – or indeed working for – your heroes, but Le Manoir turned out to be everything Chris had ever hoped, and then some. ‘Up until that point, I wanted to be a chef but it hadn’t ignited me,’ he explains. ‘When I got to Le Manoir, it changed everything. Le Manoir is all about getting the maximum flavour from every ingredient and learning the techniques to do that. I think that’s something that has been lost a little with modern cookery. It’s not about the technique, it’s about the ingredient first and foremost – the technique just enhances it.'

Over the course of five years at the illustrious hotel, Chris absorbed every bit of information he could from Raymond and the team. The hallmarks of that Oxfordshire education are clear to see at The Whitebrook today, from the small kitchen garden overlooking the terrace where Chris grows woodland herbs and vegetables, to the practices in the kitchen. ‘One of the many things I learned from Raymond is that doing something slightly differently when you’re preparing a dish can have a huge effect on the flavour at the end,’ he says. ‘That’s something I tell my team here all the time.’

The journey from Le Manoir to The Whitebrook was not smooth sailing, but Chris’ unflappable determination continued to push through, despite numerous setbacks. On holiday in New York after leaving Le Manoir, Chris went for dinner with some friends at Restaurant Daniel and came away with a job offer from Daniel Boulud himself. ‘I was all set to go back to New York and start working on pastry with Daniel in September,’ he explains, ‘but that September was 9/11, and my visa got scrapped.’

Instead, Chris took a role alongside Alan Murchison at L’Ortolan in Reading, winning a Michelin star for the young restaurant, before getting his first head chef break at Colette’s in Watford. In four years at the hotel he made Colette’s a seriously acclaimed dining destination, earning three AA rosettes and six out of ten in the Good Food Guide. The next step was undoubtedly to have his own restaurant, but setbacks seemed to lurk around every corner – one site caught fire just as Chris was ready to proceed with the project, another pulled out, then the recession hit hard. ‘I had another site all sorted, but the banks didn’t want to know,’ he explains. ‘The only way I could do it was to try and find backers – I was knocking on doors, ringing up people, writing letters. I must have sent out over a thousand letters – I got the Sunday Times Rich List and contacted everyone in the Buckinghamshire area!

‘Eventually I had ten potential investors,’ he continues. ‘I got them around a table and cooked a meal for them, and they all agreed to invest. It was intense!’ Again the finish line loomed, but the sites never worked out. It had been seven years since Chris’ last head chef role at Colette’s, and prospective employers wrote him off as being too old. ‘I tried to get another head chef role and was told I had been out of the game for too long,’ he shrugs. ‘They said I was past it.’ Things, by all accounts, were looking pretty grim.

But then, a silver lining came seemingly out of nowhere – a friend got in touch about an old roadside inn that was for sale deep in the heart of the Wye Valley. The Crown at Whitebrook, as it was then called, had a pedigree as a dining destination – it held a Michelin star between 2007 and 2013 whilst James Sommerin was in the kitchen – but had recently gone into administration and closed. ‘I came and had a look and my first thought was, 'not in a million years!'' laughs Chris. ‘But everything was here already – the big attraction was that we could just come in and open it almost straight away. In the end, that’s what we did.’

Chris and his wife Kirsty stepped in at the end of 2013 and begun the process of rebuilding The Whitebrook in their own image. Chris spent the first few months punting out a modern French menu that drew on his previous experience at Colette’s and Danesfield House, but quickly realised it wasn’t working. ‘We were cooking trendy food and chasing stars,’ says Chris. ‘It wasn’t clicking. That’s when I knew we had to do something different. We’re in the middle of nowhere – why are people going to come to us to eat the same food they can have anywhere else?’

That was more or less the moment when Henry, a local forager, walked in the backdoor of The Whitebrook with a crate full of foraged herbs. ‘I thought foraging was a bit of a fad in the beginning,’ Chris admits, ‘but I started tasting the individual varieties, and realised they weren’t only delicious, they were the perfect way to give my food a sense of place.’

Chris has evolved since then into one of the UK’s most knowledgeable chefs when it comes to wild ingredients. Every dish at The Whitebrook makes use of the wild herbs and leaves of the Wye Valley, from the hedgerows to the estuaries. ‘For us, the asparagus dish encapsulates the whole ethos the restaurant,’ says Chris. ‘The asparagus comes from the Wye Valley. Then you’ve got the pine and hedgerow herbs that come from outside the restaurant. The mead comes from Tintern, which is a few miles up the road. The whole dish comes from within a six mile radius of the restaurant – it’s the Wye Valley on a plate.’

Less than a year after opening, Chris won a Michelin star for his cooking at The Whitebrook, immediately putting him on the map as one of the country’s most exciting chefs. Great British Menu came calling soon afterwards, but because Chris has such a small team – just three in the kitchen – it was a couple of years before he found time to appear on the show. ‘Great British Menu really helped us get across to people how different our food is,’ says Chris. ‘I think the food really stood out over the course of the show.

‘I was a little surprised at how people took to me on TV,’ he continues, a little sheepishly. ‘I thought it was going to be terrible, but people seemed to connect with me because my character is a little bit different.’

So often for chefs, it’s a Michelin star that represents the culmination of their journey. For Chris, it wasn’t so much the star as the subsequent appearance on TV – it brought him full circle, to a place where he could inspire a new generation of young chefs the same way Raymond Blanc had inspired him many years before. His TV appearance has also had a bonus effect on his business too – ‘it’s quadrupled the amount of business we do!’ he grins. ‘We get visitors from all over the world now. One guy arrived in a huge supercar last year – he could barely get it into the car park!’

In 2024, Chris added a Michelin green star to his growing list of accolades, recognising his dedication towards sustainable practices.

With a busy restaurant and a young daughter tearing around the Welsh countryside, Chris has plenty to keep him occupied these days. There’s no big goal or destination anymore; everything happens organically, much like it does in the valley around him. ‘We don’t follow a fashion,’ he concludes. ‘We’re going even more with what’s around us and what we can grow. Maybe in the past we were tempted to force things a bit more – now we just go with the flow.’