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A taste for updating skills at celebrity chef’s restaurant

Posted onPosted on 14th Mar

A chef lecturer at West Nottinghamshire College spent a week cooking at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star restaurant.

Mark Jones joined the team at The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, to work in the kitchens and update his skills and experience.

While there he met a former West Notts student chef, who is now working at the restaurant.

Mark, who has worked at the college as a chef lecturer since 2012, teaches on the Level 3 Professional Cookery Diploma, and has seen many of his students move on to work in prestigious hotels, restaurants, and Michelin-starred venues.

One of those is Abbi Thornton, who completed her professional cookery diploma in 2015, and is now junior sous chef at The Fat Duck.

Mark said: “I’ve always wanted to eat at The Fat Duck, but to be part of the kitchen team was amazing and inspiring — not many people get this opportunity.

“It wasn’t a paid period of work; the privilege was simply being there, working alongside great chefs, constantly learning, and absorbing the overall high-level experience.

“I’ve worked in a two-star Michelin establishment before, but never a three-star, so this was great experience.

“I miss the buzz of a professional kitchen, so I try to get professional development like this at least every year, so that I can share and demonstrate the knowledge back to my students and incorporate into my Thursday evening menus at Refined.”

Heston Blumenthal is known as a pioneer of multi-sensory cooking, food pairing and encapsulation.

Mark worked on several unique dishes, including Sound Of The Sea — a dish of halibut, tuna, and octopus, garnished with edible sand and foam, samphire, and sea vegetables. Alongside the dish is a conch shell with headphones hidden inside, with a recording of seaside sounds such as crashing waves, sounds of distant seagulls, children’s laughter, and the horn of a ship.

He also worked on the pass and plated up meals, helping chefs at the 41-cover restaurant. He also took his turn making pastries and preparing larder items.

Mark added: “I didn’t get to see Heston at the restaurant, although he does pop in from time to time. It was good to see the range of machinery and techniques that go into making some of his unique dishes.

“I saw the rotary evaporator machine, which is designed to remove the water content out of liquids; for example beetroot juice would go through this process and it would leave a pure concentrated juice which was used to create the beetroot sphere amuse bouche.

“It was interesting to see the sweet-wrapper style deserts such as oxchoc, made from beef stock, kahula, and chocolate; a Tunnoch’s tea cake; and a sticky toffee fudge with an edible wrapper.”

Abbi, who has been at The Fat Duck since 2021, said: “Mark fitted in very well with the team and I really got the sense he enjoyed his time here. It was nice to work with him again after such a long time.

“I enjoyed my time at West Notts. It offered me a stability that I didn’t know I needed. I was working in a kitchen while studying and it helped me improve my catering skills and navigating different kitchens.

“Now I’m junior sous chef, which is a position I never thought someone like me could be in! I’ve worked all the sections of the kitchen and I’m now training other chefs to a three-star standard, which we are all striving for.

“I’ll never forget where it all started, thanks to my teachers at the time, Mark, Tony, and Charlotte. None of this would be possible without them and for that I’m very grateful.”