Devon born and bred, Chris May is Head Chef of the restaurant at the Orestone Manor Hotel, where he uses some of the freshest local produce to create simple seasonal dishes. He tells Taste Buds what it is about the region that has kept him here.
How did you first discover your love of cooking and when did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I first discovered my love of cooking when I would come home from school to the smell of freshly cooked biscuits and cake, baked by my mum.
You trained at South Devon College and you now return there as a judge for the Young Chef competition. What advice would you give to local young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Cooking is all about being creative with all the local ingredients. It’s one of those jobs where you are constantly learning and there is never a right or a wrong way to cook – we all have our own techniques. Cooking is about having fun, learning and talking to all of those fantastic suppliers who are so keen to help us.
Having grown up in Torbay with access to such a fabulous range of local produce, what effect has this had on your cooking style?
It has opened my eyes a lot, especially to the fact that there is such a variety out there. It’s made me very flexible when it comes to writing daily menus, so that the food I use is at its highest quality before it gets to the table. ‘Fresh is best’.
How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
My approach to food is quite simple: let the flavours speak for themselves and the cooking just happens.
How long have you been working at Orestone Manor and can you describe the style of food that is served there?
I have been here for seven years. I would describe the style of food I serve as modern British.
Orestone Manor has its own one-acre kitchen garden where you grow your own vegetables, salads and fruit. What difference does this make to the food you are able to serve in the restaurant?
The quality is tremendous, with the freshness of flavours that burst in your mouth. It also makes you appreciate how hard the farmers have to work to produce all this food.
What are your favourite locally sourced ingredients and why?
Wild garlic, because it’s lost its way into the household, yet grows in most of the countryside that we live in. I also like mackerel, because it’s such an underestimated and versatile fish. It’s a shame that we don’t see more of it in our local restaurants, especially as you only need a fishing rod and a pier to catch it.
Aside from your own restaurant, where do you most like to eat out locally and why?
The Drum Inn at Cockington has fabulous grounds and walks you can take before sitting down to a wholesome pub meal. The food is fantastic every time. However, I also like The Coombe Cellars, a restaurant in Combeinteignhead that overlooks the River Teign. I always have their homemade burgers.
If you had to choose your favourite meal, what would it be and why?
Roast chicken because our free-range chicken is the best and should be eaten with peas and a good homemade sage and onion stuffing. This is wholesome food, just like mother used to make.
What is your signature dish?
Orestone bouillabaisse – my delicious fish stew.