Taste Buds talks to the new Gara Rock's chef, Jean-Philippe Bidart, about his passion for local produce and the French influences on his cooking
What attracted you to Gara Rock?
The opportunity to be involved in the design, opening and running of a restaurant in such a spectacular setting has been an amazing experience.
Describe the style of your cooking.
Garlic makes a regular appearance! My French heritage and traditional training is present in my approach to cooking. I would say that we have concentrated on developing a menu that uses vegetables as the principle ingredient, with fish and meat being the support act. This way it offers lighter, healthier dishes with Mediterranean influences in terms of flavours.
What is your signature dish?
Bouillabaisse. Growing up in the South of France, close to the sea, my family were forever preparing fish stews. Garlic in the form of rouille is a great addition to a soup filled with whatever fish is available at the time. Here in South Devon the same is the case. John Dory, gurnard and red mullet all regularly feature in our bouillabaisse.
What is good about being a chef in Devon?
The mild climate down here means that on the whole we get sunnier weather, leading to longer growing seasons and greater variety of produce. Our amazing fishing industry means we can have fresh fish and crustacea on our plates just hours after it has been landed.
How are you incorporating local produce into your menu?
No menu from a South Devon restaurant kitchen would be complete without homage to the brown crab, caught off our coastline. At Gara we present crab in three different ways: cracked with aioli and fries, in an open sandwich with fennel, apple and curried crab mayonnaise, or as a crab ravioli with sauce vierge.
Give us a 'must-try' dish.
We have begun working with orzo (Italian for barley). It is rice-shaped in appearance, so mimics risotto visually, with a much softer consistency. We serve it with baby courgette, broad beans, tomato, onion and of course garlic, plus mascarpone and double cream.
What is your typical day like?
We presently have five chefs, each of whom specialises in various aspects. We serve food from 9am until 9pm, starting with breakfast serving simple things like bacon butties, then lunch, followed by a rather 'kitsch' afternoon tiered teacake experience and then on to a more upmarket supper. Pressure is on from the minute we arrive. The upside is that the kitchen at Gara must have the best view of any kitchen around.
Any tips for budding chefs?
There are no short cuts to a successful career. Hours are long and often unsociable but the personal levels of satisfaction through sheer hard work are possibly unparalleled. We are shortly to launch our Apprenticeship Chef Scheme at Gara Rock where, in conjunction with day release at South Devon Catering College, we will be advertising for three placements.
Why should we eat your food?
We have tried to redefine what should be on a menu where one's sense of environment is paramount. We are surrounded by agriculture and the sea, so what we produce in our kitchen reflects what is around us.
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