Food, glorious food
- Credit: Ian Burt
Julia Hetherton, head chef at Swaffham’s renowned Strattons Hotel, loves food – from piccalilli sandwiches as a toddler to quail, pastry and peanut butter ice cream now.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
At 13 I started food and nutrition at school and loved it so much my passion for cooking grew from there. That was when I decided I wanted to be a chef.
Where did you train?
I have been working in kitchens for more than 10 years and have previously worked around the UK and France, including the prestigious Lavender House in Brundall; Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons, and The Connaught in London.
What is your earliest food-related memory?
Eating my mum’s homemade piccalilli sandwiches. I was sitting on her knee in our back garden, I think I was probably about two years old. I loved my mum’s piccalilli – I think I was a strange child to like something so peculiar.
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What is the strangest thing you have eaten?
Probably pigs’ brains, they were slimy and very bitter.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It has to be being a head chef. I never thought I would ever be good enough to be one.
What do you enjoy most about working at Strattons Hotel?
I love working with Vanessa (Scott, owner of Strattons) who inspires me with all her knowledge and experience. I love the individuality of our hotel. I think it is a beautiful building and we have a really nice and supportive team. Plus I have to mention I am a slightly crazy cat lady so I love our resident cats.
What would you say is special about your menu?
It’s not a big menu, so that we can keep it seasonal with locally sourced produce. We like cooking simple dishes that are full of flavour. Using the great producers on our doorstep is key to how I write my menus. Good, fresh ingredients from companies such as Heygate Farms who provide us with flours all year round and, of course, their wonderful Norfolk Peer potatoes.
What is your favourite Norfolk ingredient?
I love the delicious Norfolk quail we get from Ellie Savoury at Great Ryburgh, stuffed with juicy Scott’s Field RB pork and slow cooked so the meat just falls off the carcass rather like the Tuscan style of cooking small birds. They look great on the plate and have a beautiful flavour.
Are there any foods you can’t stand?
Dusts and foams; it makes no sense to me why people take perfectly good ingredients and then dry them out and blitz them down. Sometimes the best presentation of an ingredient is in its simplest form, not highly processed.
Have you had any cooking disasters?
Everyone has them, from chefs to people cooking at home – you have to have some disasters to get perfection. Practice makes perfect is my motto.
What would your last supper consist of?
My mum’s beef stroganoff, which is the best thing in the world. Followed by a massive bowl of homemade peanut butter ice cream with chocolate sauce.
Do you cook for friends and family too?
Yes, whenever I get the chance. Cooking is my hobby not just my job, and I love to cook all the time, especially for people who love food.
Strattons Hotel, Ash Close, Swaffham, PE37 7NH; 01760 723845; www.strattonshotel.com