Sean Sutton appointed head chef at the Alderley Edge Hotel
- Credit: Archant
A fresh face is in charge of the award-winning kitchen at the Alderley Edge Hotel, and Sean Sutton is relishing the challenge
In one of the most demanding kitchens in the north of England, Sean Sutton has, so to speak, stepped up to the plate.
At the age of 30, but looking much younger, Sean has been appointed head chef at the Alderley Edge Hotel, whose fine dining Alderley Restaurant’s three AA Rosettes recognise ‘outstanding restaurants that achieve standards that demand attention well beyond their local area’.
It is then, one of the star posts In Cheshire’s culinary firmament. But once again, Ahmet Kurcer, general manager of the award-winning hotel in the midst of the county’s ‘Golden Triangle’, did not have to look very far to fill it when Chris Holland, head chef at the Alderley Edge for the past nine years, left at the turn of the year.
For just like Chris, Sean was appointed from within; the latest example of the hotel’s long-term and highly successful policy of nurturing home grown talent. It has rewarded the Alderley Edge and Mr Kurcer well - with a remarkable degree of loyalty from long-serving key retainers and an enviable continuity of quality standards.
Again, exactly like his predecessor, Sean had been working in the Alderley Edge kitchen for eight years before the call came to step up to the lead role. ‘I trained at South Trafford College and then Macclesfield College, working some of the time at the Tytherington Club,’ said Sean.
‘When I got a job at the Alderley Edge as a humble commis chef I knew it had a big reputation as one of the best places in the area for dining, so it was a bit daunting at first. But I soon found my feet - its a terrific team to work with.’
By the time the Alderley Restaurant was awarded its coveted third Rosette by the AA, Sean has already worked his way up to become senior chef de partie, a key member of the triumphant brigade. ‘We really celebrated the award. It was massive - the sort of thing you strive for - and we were all very proud of the achievement.’
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Sean added: ‘I came into the industry because I was passionate about food and started cooking as a youngster. I am very ambitious, read a lot and want to go on learning. The Alderley Edge is like a family but like an academy too. Learning from Chris was invaluable and with Mr Kurcer we often visit the top gastronomic spots in the country, afterwards debating what we’ve experienced: not just the food but presentation and standards of service too.’
His food heroes include Ferran Adriá who pioneered ‘molecular gastronomy’ while steering el Bulli in northern Spain to the heady heights of world’s best restaurant. ‘I like to use molecular techniques myself,’ Sean said, ‘mainly as a finishing touch to a dish, creating a surprise or wow factor. I like to think of a plate as a blank canvas on which all the ingredients can be brought together to make a stunning looking dish.’
Head chef at the Alderley Edge carries multi-faceted responsibilities: building, costing and writing menus for the Alderley Restaurant, the hotel’s casual French-style brasserie, the catering for more than 60 weddings a year, for which food and drink plays such a major part, and a year round programme of private dining functions from wine dinners and charity events to business gatherings. Sean is currently stamping his own personality on the food menus in the hotel’s wedding packages.
But the post is not just about preparing menus and cooking. The role - aided by sous chefs Tom Bentham and Joshua Adams - also encompasses sourcing and buying the best possible ingredients while keeping within essential margins and budgets.
Said Sean: ‘I speak to most suppliers on a daily basis. It’s very important to use local suppliers and local produce wherever possible, provided the quality is right. It helps that the suppliers regard the Alderley Edge as a VIP account.’
His promotion from within means of course that Sean, who lives in Macclesfield with his partner Lindsey and sons Logan, 11, Jack, 7, and baby Bobby, is now in charge of a team of which he was so recently a member. ‘I’m comfortable with that. The brigade will soon get used to calling me chef instead of Sean and I know they respect me for having come through the ranks. I have also helped some of the junior members to come through.’
For the hotel, having a ready-made, home grown head chef to step up is gratifying. Mr Kurcer said: ‘For me, a change like this makes me happy and sad. Sad because Chris, a friend, has gone after being here 18 years. Happy because he is improving himself as a chef director for a major kitchen equipment company and happy because I can give a chance to others who have been working here for a long time.
‘Sean and Chris worked alongside each other for a number of years, so it’s no surprise they have similar styles - and consistency is the most important thing for us.’
Chris Holland joins Sous Vide Tools
As part of his role, Chris will work with Sous Vide Tools professional kitchen clients, advising on sous vide techniques while heading up its new Tool Shed, a state-of-the-art sous vide training kitchen planned to be launched later this year. He will also help develop the company’s online service providing technical advice and recipe ideas.
In 1996 Chris joined Alderley Edge Hotel as a junior sous chef before taking on the head chef in 2006, also achieving his ambition of taking the hotel from two to three Rosettes. Other career highlights include gaining the title of North West Chef of the Year and being hand selected to appear as a contestant on the BBC’s hit series, the Great British Menu.
Chris’s love for using locally sourced ingredients and modern cooking techniques prompted him to further explore flavour-enhancing practices. In 2005 he introduced the sous vide cooking method into his menus at Alderley Edge Hotel which received a positive reaction from food critics.
His interest in sous vide, a French term meaning cooking under vacuum, triggered a partnership with Sous Vide Tools. It was here that he co-wrote the UK’s first sous vide cook book, Sous Vide: art of precision cooking. It has since sold 5,000 copies world-wide.
Now, armed with ten years’ experience using sous vide techniques and products, he will share his expertise delivering specialist training sessions to both professional chefs from local businesses and home cooks who have an interest in modern cooking techniques.
The expert training will take place in a new state-of-the-art kitchen titled the ‘Tool Shed’ based at the Claughton Business Park site in Lancaster.
Of his appointment Chris commented: “Sous vide cooking has helped shape my individual cooking style, leading to a number of career achievements. It’s such a beneficial way of cooking and I’m looking forward to passing on my technical know-how so others can reap its rewards.
“I’m really pleased to join Sous Vide Tools and aim to play a central role in developing training courses to position the new Tool Shed as the UK’s premier sous vide training centre of excellence.”
Alex Shannon, managing director at Sous Vide Tools, said: “While sous vide cooking is a popular technique used in professional kitchens, there’s a growing phenomenon among home foodies and we are confident Chris’s appointment will help more customers gain access to professional cooking styles.”