Chef Daniel Neal-Hewitt updates me on life back in the kitchen at Eckington Manor, who and what inspired him to achieve his goals as a Head Chef, and where's next on his travel bucket list.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to own or work in your business?
This is the second time I have worked at Eckington Manor. After spending most of my career in Birmingham, I decided to move out to Worcestershire but still wanted to continue producing a high standard of food. Eckington Manor kitchen operated by Mark and Sue Stinchcombe was a perfect fit and I originally worked there as a junior sous chef before leaving for promotion. It’s a fantastic organisation operated by a great team, so when the opportunity came up to return as Head Chef, it was an easy yes.
What achievements, awards or accolades are you proud of?
A personal Achievement was being appointed into my first head chef role at Eckington Manor. It’s something that I have always worked towards throughout my career.
Any news announcements, or events that you’d like new and existing customers to be aware of?
We have many exciting plans for the future at Eckington Manor, so please come and visit.
What makes your business unique?
Eckington Manor is driven by many hard working and passionate individuals who contribute so much into offering guests a wonderful experience, and that is very clear to see. The owner and I share a passion for using locally sourced ingredients where we possible, and I believe that the freshness comes through on the plate.
Favourite restaurant to visit if you get a night off?
Adams Restaurant – Not only did I work there previously but I have had some of the best food I have ever eaten there. My Wife and I even picked it for our post wedding “fancy” meal out before going on our honeymoon.
If I’m going lower key then you can’t beat a good burger and Hanbao always gets me drooling. Regardless of what burger I choose I always have a Big Buddah Belly and one of their special cocktails on the side.
Last thing you watched on TV?
Race across the World on BBC. It’s giving me a lot of inspiration around where I’d like to go travelling!
Which person in your life do you most admire and why?
On a personal level, my Wife Libby as she has achieved so much in her life. Libby is someone who is so driven to achieving everything she sets her mind to, both in her job in the emergency services, but at the same time makes herself available whenever family or friends need her. I honestly don’t know how she does it.
Professionally (there are many), the one that sticks out in my mind is Adam Stokes. Building Adams Restaurant from the ground up, and even doing a lot of the labour himself. The end result is a 1 Michelin star/ 3 Rosette restaurant which has produced incredible food throughout the years. The level of determination and desire was inspiring to see, but even more so to watch him balance work alongside having a family life simultaneously.
What was the last gift you gave someone?
A toy sink and washing up set for my nephew’s first birthday.
What’s your favourite smell in the whole world?
I’m a massive fan of Cardamom. During the lockdown I started a small Business (NH Kitchen), where I made homemade chocolates. I made a mango and cardamom one and the smell of the cardamom ganache throughout the kitchen was amazing.
What’s your favourite kind of sandwich?
Reuben Sandwich. I am a massive fan of Pastrami.
Who would you want to cook your last meal on earth, and why?
Grant Achatz at Alliea in Chicago. Such an inspiring restaurant that is truly unique. It’s the top restaurant I would love to visit one day.
What is the most annoying habit that other people have?
When people season (salt and pepper) their food without trying it first. Of course, everyone has their own levels, but there’s a good chance your chef has already seasoned your meal, so just have a bite first please!
If you could eat only 3 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Pizza, Burritos and Jaffa Cakes.
What’s your claim to fame?
My photo featured in the Good Food Guide many years ago, and I appeared on MasterChef the Professionals. It didn’t go well at all, but the experience made me refocus on what was important in my career, and I’ve learnt a lot since then.
Which food & drink business (other than your own) do you wish you had created?
Going down the route of fine dining. Restaurants that only serve a small amount of people all at the same time usually in a counter style restaurant. When chefs can put all their attention and passion into those limited guests. This style of restaurant also gives guests and chefs an opportunity to interact with each other which only adds to experience.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Throughout my career I have met many inspiring people who have helped me develop and I have received lots of advice. If I had to pick one, it would be to give everything you have to a role, set yourself a standard and do everything possible to make that achievable. I now advise junior members of my team at Eckington Manor to try and absorb everything that’s going on.
If you could be anywhere else right now, where would it be?
After watching the BBC show Race across the world, it would have to be South America, it looked incredible and full of amazing experiences.
What’s the best thing that happened to you last week?
Getting our dog back from the Vet after having surgery. He’s had a big operation so it was a relief to pick him up and that he’s recovering well.
Name a product or service you love so much that you’d happily be that company’s spokesperson.
Product: I would have to say MAC Knives. I am a big fan of them
Service: Any organisation that addresses mental health in Hospitality. Unfortunately, many chefs struggle with the demands of kitchen life, and sometimes just speaking to someone can help. At Eckington Manor I try to teach my junior members about the struggles of working in a kitchen and ways in which they can funnel their drive and passion in a productive way whilst bring a high level of joy and excitement as well.
As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a Cricketer. I used to play for my school and local team, however, my passion for food became a very clear path for me since the age of 15 and I have never looked back.
What is the perfect combination of pizza toppings?
Lots of meat and cheese.
What was the worst job you ever held and why?
A number of years ago I was recruited for a role in a pub with the allure of a refurb and a re-direction which prioritised fine-dining over numbers through the door. Sadly, after I started it became clear the direction had changed and I spent a number of months cooking up to 400 covers of ‘pub food’. I would happily go and eat at this place as I love a good pub meal with a beer as much as the next person, but it’s not the type of cooking that feeds my passion.
What was the last thing you ate?
A one pan egg tortilla wrap that my wife saw on Instagram and tried to re-create. It was surprisingly nice and I’ve just about managed to salvage the frying pan!
Favourite cut of steak?
Rump – plenty of hollandaise sauce with that.
What website do you visit most often?
YouTube. I enjoy watching random sport or food related videos in my down time.
What is the most impressive thing you know how to do?
During lockdown I taught myself how to make chocolates. There’s a real knack to tempering the chocolate just right so you get the perfect shine on the shells and then being able to decorate them using coloured cocoa butter. I went through a lot of trial and error!
There’s about four or five different stages to making the chocolates, but when you tap them out of the mould and they come out intact, shiny, gorgeous in colour and with a banging filling it is so satisfying.
What do you hope never changes?
My drive and passion for all things relating to Hospitality. Being a chef can be a hard career but having a passion for it makes the burns and sore feet worth it.
Award winning Eckington Manor offers high end accommodation, food and a cookery school at their beautiful countryside location.
There are 17 bedrooms in four converted farm buildings and all have been refurbished to the highest standards. The kitchen produces excellent cuisine using locally sourced ingredients combined with fantastic service and a range of premium drinks on offer. They cater for corporate functions, weddings and there is also a cookery school for those wishing to learn new skills.
Find out more about Eckington Manor in the Food & Drink Directory.