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College lecturer gets hands-on at celebrity chef’s restaurant

Posted: 08 March 2024

A lecturer at West Nottinghamshire College has spent a week cooking at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s Three Michelin star ‘renowned temple to innovative modern British cuisine’.

Chef lecturer Mark Jones joined the team at The Fat Duck in Bray in Berkshire for a week of working in the kitchens to enjoy “updated skills, experience and the buzz”, and met up with former student chef, who is now working there.

Mark secured a week’s work at the restaurant to gain valuable professional development at the popular venue, launched in 1995 by Blumenthal, who is known as a pioneer of multi-sensory cooking, food pairing and encapsulation.

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 and restaurants and Michelin starred venues.

One of those being 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 and not many people get this opportunity. It wasn’t a paid period of work – the privilege is 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, never a three-star, so this was great experience and I always 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.”

During his week with Abbie and team, Mark worked on a number of unique dishes such as ‘Sound of The Sea’, which is 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.

Mark also worked on the pass and plated up meals helping the 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 which 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.”

The Fat Duck’s junior sous chef Abbi Thornton went on to work as head of pastry at Hambleton Hall Hotel in Leicestershire and then at Cliveden House in Berkshire, following her studies at West Nottinghamshire College.

She then worked at The Hind’s Head in Bray before transferring over to its sister restaurant, The Fat Duck, in 2021.

Abbi 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. At the time it offered me a stability that I didn't know I needed. I was working in a kitchen whilst 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.”

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