Chef Profile: Claire Nicholls, Castle House Hotel
PUBLISHED: 16:59 15 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013
Claire Nicholls, head chef at the Castle House Hotel, Hereford, where she has three AA rosettes, was inspired to start cooking as a child. Now she is able to select her ingredients from the hotel owner's Ballingham Hall Farm.
Tell us about your menu.
I would say it is modern British with influences from around the world, mainly Asia as I spent time there growing up. The menu is seasonal and we always use locally sourced food.
What is your signature dish?
I wouldn't say I have one, but there are dishes I like to cook. For example carpaccio of home cured venison, walnut and horseradish cream, red wine caviar.
Which chefs have inspired you?
No chefs in particular but family members: both my mum and step mum are very good cooks.
Where did you train?
Hereford College of Technology and Birmingham College of Food
Why did you become a chef?
I always enjoyed watching and cooking with my mum. Then one day when I was eight years old, I came home from school and asked if I could cook a meal on my own. It was a success and from that day on my future career was decided.
Which local suppliers do you use?
Well, it's brilliant that when possible our fresh vegetables and delicious Hereford beef come straight from Castle House owner David Watkins's Ballingham Hall Farm. I can just go up to the farm, have a chat with Ruth, our gardener, who is growing everything organically, and see what is available. It's great because we can grow virtually anything we want to and plan what we need more of or would like to experiment with. Next year I am looking forward to having lots of different salads, delicious soft fruits and vegetables.
We also buy produce from Troughles Fine Foods, Leominster; Williams of Weobley; Bellota Foods; The Fruit Basket, Mill Street, which sells produce on behalf of local farms; Tyrrells; meat from Rutherford's and RE Williams; smoked salmon from Lay & Robson; New Wave Seafoods; asparagus from Kier Rodgers; dairy produce from Bartonsham Dairies; wine from Tanners and Mills Whitcombe; cider from Westons and Bulmers; beer from Wye Valley Brewery; spring water from Berringtons; flowers from Hibiscus.
How often do you change your menu?
We change the main restaurant menu approximately every other month, with the seasons. We also like to put on some special dishes using local ingredients of course. We now have a new Bar and Bistro at Castle House and I have really enjoyed thinking up some new and exciting dishes for people who just want to pop in for a snack.
What was your favourite childhood food?
I'd have to say good old roast dinner. Because mum's is always best of course!
What's your favourite dish to eat?
That's hard to answer: it depends on my mood. I still love a roast, but if the weather's hot you can't beat a good Hereford rib eye steak and salad.
What was your most memorable meal?
One meal I will always remember is when I went to visit my friend in Australia. We went over to Keppel Island and had a barbecue on the beach, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. We ate the biggest prawns I've ever seen.
Which ingredients would you have on a desert island?
I could get salt from the sea, so it would be potatoes for their versatility, fresh water for drinking, hens for eggs and meat later on. Some grain for the hens to eat. Garlic for flavour and health. Also, if I could sneak in some vegetables seeds, I could have a go at growing them.
What is your favourite Herefordshire restaurant, apart from your own?
I like to go to the Jalsagor with my friends; you can't beat a good curry and a gossip with the girls.
Some dishes from the Castle House menu:
Seared Cornish Albucore Tuna, Smoked Salmon and New Potato Salad, Lemon Dressing;
Salad of Shitake Mushrooms, Baby Corn, Spring Onions and Water Chestnuts, Soy Dressing.
Fillet of Herefordshire Beef, Spring Onion Rosti, Crushed Peas and Pancetta, Carrot Pure;
Panfried Tiger Prawns, Garlic Butter or Sweet Chilli and Coriander;
Gorgonzola and Walnut Tortellini, Chive and White Wine Sauce.
Hazelnut Praline Crme Brle, Raspberry and Orange salad, Chocolate Ice;
Chocolate and Amaretto Parfait, Cherry and Yoghurt Ice, Marinated Cherries.