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Meet the chef: Varun Khanna, The General Tarleton, Knaresborough

Varun Khanna. General Tarleton
Varun Khanna. General Tarleton

Varun is head chef at The General Tarleton in Knaresborough. A new addition to the team, the 25-year-old has worked at some of the best restaurants in the country including Restaurant Sat Bains in Birmingham and The Pipe and Glass in Beverley. ‘I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the country’s best chefs and I’m now delighted to create my own menu drawing on all my experiences,’ says Varun. ‘The General Tarleton really embodies why I first fell in love with cooking – being able to enjoy quality fine food in a relaxed atmosphere, with friends and family, is one of life’s highlights for me. Here, Varun shares his food loves.

Tell us a little about your new role and the plans you have for The General Tarleton.

I have recently taken on the role of head chef. The plan for the General Tarleton is to put ourselves on the culinary map as one of the best places to eat in the county. I am from Yorkshire originally and a big focus of mine is to utilise all the great ingredients available right on our doorstep. Using primarily Yorkshire suppliers my menu offers classic and unique dishes that are full of flavour and worthy of a visit.

Our new seven course tasting menu, Taste of Yorkshire, showcases the very best of Yorkshire produce and currently features local ingredients such as Castleford rhubarb, Garforth strawberries, Collingham cauliflower and lamb from Kirkby Malzeard. I want to offer guests an experience like no other, starting from the moment they enter the door with our amazing front of house staff right through to enjoy the best Yorkshire has to offer.

First dish you learned to cook? 

When I just started out as an apprentice, I had a Gordon Ramsay cookbook and found a chicken recipe that looked fantastic. I cooked it for myself and my dad. I must have attempted it three or four times to get the sauce correct, without overcooking the chicken. The dish was so simple, but I wouldn't stop making it until I made it the best I could.

Most vivid childhood food memory?

Every Sunday, my parents and I would visit my grandparents (originally from Delhi, in India) and my grandma would cook three or four Indian dishes with fresh chapattis each week. The food was always vegetarian, clean and made with quality produce. It was so authentic, simple and tasty. Unlike an Indian restaurant where the dishes are often sitting in oil. My grandma is a feeder and there was always plenty to go around.

Most memorable meal out?

Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham. A few years before I worked there, I dined in what is called the ‘Nucleus’ – small room just large enough for two tables. This is no longer available. The culinary journey was fantastic, a seven-course lunch, filled with flavour and different techniques of cooking.

This meal inspired me greatly and left with me a desire to cook to the absolute highest level possible. Several years later I obtained a position there and learned so much about preparation, techniques to impart flavour, discipline and presentation.

Favourite ingredient?

Mushrooms - there is such a huge variety with differing flavour profiles. I love the fact you can forage your own and the depth they add to sauces and dishes is out of this world. There’s so much more than the humble button mushroom out there!

Your go-to snack?

You can’t beat a good bag of crisps, or even better a crisp sandwich!

Your dream dinner guest, and why?

It would have to be Pepe Reina, a former Liverpool goalkeeper. I used to play football (goalkeeper) at a reasonable level as a teenager and he has been my idol throughout that part of my life. To sit and chat with him would be amazing.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

Nachos, loads of cheese and a spicy mayo.

Who are your Yorkshire food heroes?

Michael Wignall. The Angel is one of the best pubs out there, the food gets better every year.

A food industry person who inspires?

Watching Gordon Ramsay first got me interested in the industry and I subsequently fell in love with it. His passion and personality intrigued me.

A place you love to eat?

Dishoom, Manchester. I’ve been a few times with my girlfriend and we both love the food. An absolute favourite is the Chicken Ruby. Out of this world. We can’t get enough of it!

A career highlight?

Stepping up to head chef at the General Tarleton. I am really given freedom to express myself through food and develop my own menu. Being able to cook what you believe in is a dream come true. And things can only get better.

My favourite dish

‘My favourite dish changes regularly,’ says Varun. ‘We adapt and change the dishes slightly throughout the menu cycle to make it even better. But the current cod dish for me is fantastic.

It’s a dish that connects me through my mixed heritage roots but can be enjoyed by anyone, even if you don’t like spice. The depth in the sauce is incredible, it really has everything I love about food.

Great British Life: Varun's favourite - East Coast cod, lentils, langoustine, cucumber, poppadoms, curry.Varun's favourite - East Coast cod, lentils, langoustine, cucumber, poppadoms, curry.



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