Farm to five-star

Michelin-starred French chef Daniel Galmiche has taken the concept of tasting menus to a new level. Sunita Passi reports on how this entrepreneurial chef is cooking up a treat

For the restaurant trade, 2013 has been an odd mix of necessity and opportunity, in which some restaurants have fared reasonably while others have been shaky. But it is in this industry where the UK accounted for 72% of the total European restaurant deals in private equity, according to research in 2012 by Alix Partners. And those who understand and cater to changing consumer needs and expectations will have plenty of opportunity to profit.

Daniel Galmiche is one of these chef visionaries and today, in partnership with The Vineyard at Stockcross, he has remapped the tasting menu format by giving guests a choice of dishes they can enjoy in any order they please.

Galmiche’s love affair with cooking began as a child in Lure, in the Comte region of eastern France, where his grandparents ran an organic farm and family meals were prepared using home-grown produce. After leaving school, he took up a three-year apprenticeship with chef Yves Lalloz in the spa town of Luxeuil-les-Bains and worked at the renowned La Gavroche under the tutelage of Michel Roux. Daniel’s work has taken him around the world – to Portugal, Singapore and Scotland, where at Knockinaam Lodge Hotel he was awarded Master Chef of the Year and achieved his first Michelin star.

He went on to gain a further Michelin star at Harvey’s in Bristol where he was chef/manager and maintained the coveted Michelin star at L’Ortolan near Reading and the magnificent Cliveden House in Berkshire.

Creating a style

Galmiche has barely been out of prestige kitchens for 35 years and since 2009 he has been king of the kitchen at The Vineyard at Stockcross, in Berkshire, replacing ‘cerebral chef’ John Campbell.

Inspired by the sun-soaked vineyards of California, the hotel looks like a Texan oilman’s dream ranch but contains a handsome two-star dining room and a huge cellar stocked with owner Sir Peter Michael’s Californian wines. It is here Galmiche has developed his style of modern classic, light, colourful and extremely tasty cooking, which he believes has truly been accepted by the Vineyard’s customers because it’s a style people recognise, especially those who travel frequently to the south of France.

Galmiche has been at The Vineyard since 2009

“For me, The Vineyard is a fantastic base from where I can explore all sorts of food offerings according to our clientele and where they come from – city or country,” he explains. “The fact that The Vineyard also has a fabulous wine list of over 3,000 bins and vineyards in California means that it is a great platform for us to show our concept and definitely helps us to be recognised as the place to go for food and wine matching.”

“Guests can build their own tasting menu – up to a table of six – and we match a different wine to each dish. This is unique in the UK and it is one of the reasons why Decanter voted us their Restaurant of the Year 2012/13. It also demonstrates a very interesting way of dining, while being fun at the same time.”

To strengthen his unique concept, Galmiche has brought in a team of French staff for front and back of house, ensuring authenticity from start to finish. “The guest experience is key, as well as the welcome they receive. And of course the quality of service and informality,” he says. “However, it is vital to stay ahead of the competition and be profitable. To ensure our customers always have an enjoyable experience, our staff are looked after. We are consistent and happy.”

The Vineyard is part of an elite group of two-star British restaurants, and Galmiche explains how he never loses the personal touch, ensuring that the same care and attention is put into looking after their clientele as it is into development of the menu. “There is always the option for guests to have three courses, and we also have the casual outdoor menu served on our terrace and in our California bar, which works well as a tasting room,” he says. “Personally, I think big plates for dinner are old news, and lunch will always be different.”

Next steps

With a supportive and passionate team in place, it may seem obvious that the next step would be to develop the concept further, perhaps even looking at another venue and merchandising. But Galmiche is clear about his offering and what is realistically achievable. “There is potential to take the concept further but space is a big factor. I can’t go into too many details right now, but of course the concept can be pushed further.” He adds that he has not needed to work with consultants in this area but he does support other clients in this way. “We do already consult for other hotels.”

With his roots in the organic farm life, it is not surprising he has maintained supplier relationships for the best part of 17 years. “We are part of the Sustainable Restaurant Association,” he says, “and therefore we use sustainable food from suppliers I have worked with for the best part of 17 years. They are passionate about what they do and I visit them on a regular basis as we see it more as a partnership, which is important. They are the best in the business.”

His down to earth approach is evident as he explains why mentoring is so important and a mutually rewarding experience: “I have a few future ambitions but mostly it is about enjoying what I do and passing my knowledge on to others. This means they can be supported. And for me, it is to also ensure my family is happy and healthy.”

Sunita Passi

 

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