Mansfield chef Nathanial Weaver, whose career has included a spell at one of the East Midlands’ top restaurants, returned to his culinary roots to train the current crop of industry hopefuls.
The former professional cookery student at West Nottinghamshire College went back to his former training ground to stage a ‘guest chef’ event at its flagship restaurant, Refined.
Accepting the invitation from his former tutor Mark Jones, Nathanial joined forces with catering and hospitality students to serve-up a seven-course fine dining feast to more than 50 customers featuring dishes inspired by his two years working at John’s House, Leicestershire’s only Michelin-starred restaurant.
After devising a menu boasting “techniques and ingredients the students probably haven’t seen yet”, the 23-year-old guided learners on the NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Professional Cookery through a frenetic evening service that replicated a Michelin-starred establishment, with each person responsible for a key element of each dish.
Diners were treated to ‘snax’ of barley cracker, salmon, cream cheese and dill; steamed buns, mushroom emulsion and parmesan; and pastry tubs, goats cheese and black olive. This was followed by an ‘amuse’ of crispy hen’s egg, wild garlic and pickled celeriac.
Next up was a fish course of poached salmon, pickled cucumber, oyster mayo, yogurt and dill, followed by a meat dish of pig’s belly, barbecued pineapple, broccoli and peanut, or vegetarian option of pearl barley risotto with mascarpone and alliums.
Then came a ‘pre-dessert’ of apple pie, followed by a honey and rhubarb dessert consisting of poached rhubarb, honey tuille, honey cream, rhubarb sorbet and sorrel.
The luxurious meal, on Thursday 21 March, was rounded-off with petit fours of marshmallow, cinnamon doughnuts and mint truffle.
Five-star service came courtesy of students on the NVQ Level 2 and 3 Diplomas in Hospitality, Supervision and Leadership, who ensured it matched the high standard of cuisine on offer.
Nathanial’s short-but-distinguished career has seen him gain experience in different types of establishments after graduating in 2015 with the same qualification that the young chefs are working towards.
Throughout his studies he worked at Redbrick House, in Mansfield Woodhouse, where he remained until 2016, having progressed from commis chef to sous chef during his seven years at the popular venue.
Ambitious Nathanial, from Meden Vale, left Redbrick House to join John’s House as a junior sous chef under the tutelage of celebrated chef patron John Duffin, which he described as a “massive leap”, regularly clocking-up 110 hours-a-week to produce high-end fayre at the restaurant in Mountsorrel, Loughborough.
He said: “Working in a Michelin-starred restaurant really opened my eyes. It makes or breaks you. Either you last a month and quit, or you stick at it and become a better chef. I stuck at it.
“Once you get over the initial shock of the long hours and the high demands, you start learning more about flavours, seasoning and different techniques. It expands on everything you thought and knew about cooking and turns it into a completely new experience. Then you get to the point where you start developing your own dishes. It fundamentally changes you as a chef.”
Deciding it was “time to come home”, Nathanial joined Thoresby Hall – a four-star hotel and stately home near Ollerton – last year as a senior sous chef, where he’s “gone from doing around 30 covers a day to around 600. It’s a completely different style of catering but every bit as demanding. I’m really enjoying it and learning more about managing a team.”
Longer-term, Nathanial plans to move to Australia and combine his love of food and travel, while also broadening his culinary repertoire.
His belief in the importance of “continually learning” and “showing students what you can achieve by knuckling down” brought him back to West Notts to help inspire the next generation of cookery talent.
Nathanial said: “Being back at college was really nice. It was good to see the students working so hard and to have the opportunity to work alongside my ex-tutor Mark once again. Just four years ago I was one of those students and it’s fantastic to realise how much you can learn in that time. I enjoyed being able to pass on my skills and ideas to today’s up-and-coming chefs.
“I was really happy with the quality of the dishes they put out, both in the preparation, cooking and plating-up. They knew what they were doing and worked well together.
“I saw a lot of creativity and they’re very interested in what I’m doing and asked me lots of questions. I love meeting inquisitive students with a keen interest in the industry.”
Professional cookery student Rachael Dubourg, 19, said: “Having Nathaniel with us was very interesting. He’s worked to such high standards and showed us what we can achieve if we work hard too.
“Nathanial gave us lots of menu ideas for our forthcoming graduations, showing how we can apply different twists and techniques to our food ideas.”