The Camellia Restaurant, renovated in 2008, comprises three interconnecting rooms serving 80 covers. Above the handsome embossed oak panelling, the bold patterned wallpaper of red camellias on a white background envelops the room. These features give the room a traditional, heavy feel, reinforced by the mirrors which reflect the camellia pattern on the opposite wall, and the grand copper chandelier style lighting. A contemporary floor to ceiling book case and display cabinet at one end is balanced by a more old fashioned plate dresser, displaying replicas of some in the British Museum, at the other. Supremely comfortable Louis XV style chairs are arranged around well spaced tables dressed in fine napery.
This is the dining room which showcases the cuisine of Steven Edwards, winner of the Masterchef, The Professionals, 2013. What is less known is that he had previously won the Sussex Young Chef of the year in 2010.
Having worked in a variety of two and three AA rosette hotel restaurants, he joined The Pass Restaurant at South Lodge in 2008. He reached the positon of Junior Sous Chef in 2010, before being promoted to Head Chef of the Camellia in 2012. Steve’s clear ability prompted Executive Chef Lewis Hamblet to push Steve into applying for the prestigious BBC series.
Conscious that it was not just his, but also the Exclusive Hotels’ reputation on the line, Steve understandably felt pressure, especially in the first week of the competiton when an early exit might have brought negative publicity.
Masterchef, The Professionals, allowed Steve to showcase his own unique style in creating dishes around a few humble, seasonal and local ingredients – some from the hotel’s kitchen garden – using technique and creativity to extract maximum flavour from each element. The duck and broccoli main course he cooked in the semi final, epitomizes this philosophy. For the final, time was limited in deciding what to cook, although he was confident that crab orzo and his dessert of honey cake were strong contenders. The pigeon and stone bass, which he opted for later, helped to balance the menu perfectly.
Apart from the euphoria of winning, Steve’s high point of the series was his trip to Italy and cooking with Massimo Bottura. Although very different from his own, this Italian maestro’s style provided invaluable inspiration and encouragement.
In his own kitchen at the Camellia, a team of eight chefs address the demanding task of serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, catering for up to 120 guests. Team work here is essential for as Steve says “you are only as strong as your weakest chef, so there is a real drive to share information and get things double checked.” Communication using SOP’s and a kitchen drop box is well developed, he is investigating the possibility of installing ipads to improve this even more.
The increase in demand for tables at the Camellia after his Masterchef success has been gratifying but sometimes difficult to satisfy, given its position as the house restaurant. Many opt for the winning menu which has been offered since November 2013 and will continue to the end of March 2014. In the long term, Steve hopes the Camellia will be seen as a dining option for local residents and those from further afield. With his confidence boosted by his Masterchef success, Steve’s vision for his future career has become a more realistic target. Fine Dining Guide wish him every success and will follow his career with interest.
Opting for Steve’s winning menu and three dishes from the carte and daily menu, proved to be a wise choice. Sour dough bread has a well developed tang with crispy crust and firm crumb. An amuse bouche of silky smooth cauliflower veloute was given a lift by the addition of toasted parmesan crumbs.
The first course, Anjou Pigeon breast, was carefully seasoned and pan fried to showcase its gentle gamey flavour. The timing of the cooking and resting was accurately judged, producing a soft, almost melting texture, avoiding the liver like flavour and consistency that results from overcooking. The accompaniments, baby beetroot (roasted then pickled sous vide), and diced feta, (frozen then bruleed with sugar to counter its saltiness), proved ideal foils in taste and texture for the rich game. Apple puree added a lively sweet acidity, watercress gave a herby note and added colour, and beetroot vinaigrette brought the dish together. The clear flavours and clean presentation of this dish captured the essence of Steve’s cooking philosophy –maximising the flavour of humble ingredients with skilful technique and imagination. (Wine: Eric Louis, Sancerre Rouge, 2011, Loire)
Stone Bass, now increasingly seen on menus, has proved just as versatile as its more expensive, grandiose Sea Bass cousin. Typically the humbler fish was the focus of the main couse. A beautifully fresh fillet was simply pan fried to crisp the skin and showcase the soft, translucent flesh. This rested on a bed of orzo, the soft grain like pasta being mixed with white crab meat and shellfish stock, these given extra richness with parmesan and butter. However, the most creative aspect of this dish was the much underused Kohlrabi, served in three ways – blackened in a pan (deliberately), poached in a water bath and pureed with cream and butter. The contrasting crisp and soft textures and delicate and bold flavours added gave an earthy counterpoint to the fish and crab orzo. A lime foam- which did not collapse immediately – was not a superfluous garnish but added the vital citrus note which the dish needed. Overall, this was a tour de force of harmonious elements with imagination and sensitivity. As with the pigeon, the presentation of this dish was stunning. (Wine: Citari Lugana di Tressiano, 2010 Italy)
In the last course, pistachio was the least humble ingredient used. In its crumbed and crystallised garnishes, it gave textural complexity to a dessert focussing on honey cake. Based on flour, ground almonds and honey, the inspired used of beurre noisette gave it added depth of flavour and colour. A compote of roasted peaches added a contrasting fruity element, whilst a velvety smooth yoghurt sorbet – an adaptation of the original recipe which used a yoghurt espuma – finished the dish with a refreshing tangy coldness.
Other dishes sampled included a starter of duck breast with rhubarb, parsnip, honeycomb form the carte; an chicken escalope with quinoa, pak choi and a red wine jus from the set menu; and a mango parfait with coconut sorbet, also from the set menu. As with the Masterchef menu,they all demonstrated careful thought in the combination of ingredients, precision in the timing of cooking using a variety of techniques, and a conscious artistry in presentation.
Overall, Steve Edwards has created a cuisine of which he and the hotel can be justifiably proud. Given the brilliance – both in conception and execution – of the winning menu, his victory in Masterchef, The Professionals was richly deserved.