Last month saw luxury appliance brand Gaggenau, once again team up with Northcote, a Michelin-starred luxury hotel and restaurant in Lancashire for their annual premier gastronomic food event, Obsession 19. Established since 2001 (it’s now in its 19th year hence Obsession 19), chef’s travel in from all over the world to bring guests sixteen nights of culinary excellence from across the globe. Each chef takes over the Northcote kitchen for the night and challenges themselves to produce a unique Obsession Menu for the evening’s guests, with Gaggenau being a premier sponsor of the event.
Obsession provides not only a snapshot of remarkable global cuisine, but is also the perfect opportunity to explore the Northcote wine cellar and food matching with the help of head sommelier Tamas Czinki, and we were lucky enough to not only be invited to experience an evening of culinary delights, but to experience them as guests of Gaggenau on the chef’s table, putting us right in the middle of all the action on an evening that saw Chef Niall Keating from Whatley Manor take the helm to showcase his skills.
At just 27 years old, Niall Keating is one of the UK’s most exciting young culinary prospects. In less than a year from having taken over the reins he had bagged a Michelin star for the Dining Room Restaurant at Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds. During March last year, and in recognition of his amazing talent, he was also awarded the accolade of Michelin’s young European Chef of the Year 2018.
I caught up with Niall for a quick Q&A before he disappeared in the kitchen to create the culinary masterpieces we were going to experience that evening:
What was your favourite food to eat as a child?
Staffordshire homemade oatcakes, I can make them but not as well as anyone in Staffordshire, they’re quite a traditional thing to make. It’s over an open fire with a skillet, so you wouldn’t really have that at home and doing it in a frying pan is not the same, I have tried, they are good but they’re just not the real thing.
Who was or is your inspiration?
Mainly the mentors that I’ve worked for. Two names that stick out are Sat Bains and Corey Lee. I worked with Sat Bains in his two Michelin star restaurant in Nottingham and Cory Lee is the chef owner of Benu’s in San Francisco. I worked with him in San Francisco for almost two years. I love San Francisco that’s where I met my wife, we were both working in the restaurant at the same time.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
It was the very first meal I had at Benu’s before I started working there. It was this meal that actually made me want to work there. I went into the kitchen after eating and asked for a job, they were having none of it, so I wore them down with various emails and eventually they gave me the chance, they sorted my visa out and everything.
If I came round your house, what would I find in your fridge?
Steak, salad, various dairy and vegetables, my wife does most of the cooking, although we don’t eat much at home as we’re just at work most of the time.
If you do have some down time and you eat out, where is your favourite place to go?
It depends where I am, if we’re in London it’s either Holborn Dining Room or AWong, Andrew Wong’s restaurant, he’s actually going to be here tonight. “Do you feel under pressure that he’s here?” A little, there’s like two handfuls of Michelin starred chefs eating here tonight so it’s quite a lotof pressure. I’mconfident in what I’m doing it’s just you want to impress everyone. I don’t get stressed I just want to know that it’s right, most of it is down to the preparation for everything to run smoothly.
When you’re cooking, is there one ingredient that you can’t be without?
That’s a really hard question, it could be so many things depending on what I’m making, but soy sauce is a big one for me it’s a seasoning for just about anything, I use it in most dishes.
Would you eventually like to open your own restaurant?
Yes, I would absolutely, but that’s kind of down the line quite a bit at the moment. I’m just enjoying doing what I do with other people at the moment, rather than going alone.It’s definitely something I’ll do in the future, I might stay at Whatley and have it as another avenue, doing both at the same time – definitely something for the future.
What’s your favourite dish to cook?
I get the most pleasure personally from cooking steak, “So if you had someone in the restaurant and they asked for their steak to be cooked well done what goes through your mind?” – I usually won’t do it! At Whatley we’re not ala carte we have a chefs tasting menu, it’s a journey of food and tastes for our guests to enjoy, I wouldn’t want you to pay £175 for this experience and have a shrivelled-up piece of wagyu beef, I just wouldn’t do it.
Finally tell me one thing about yourself that will surprise people?
Well I do amateur strong man, and I’m also an iron man athlete. I’m not doing iron man at the moment I’m too heavy. I’m concentrating on strong man training – “Can you lift a car?” A toy car I can! I’d eventually like to compete. I train for about an hour and a half pretty much every day – it gets me out of the kitchen and clears my mind.
Let’s hope it doesn’t keep him out of the kitchen for too long, especially tonight as we can’t wait for the evening’s dining to begin.
The evening kicked off with a private champagne reception where the lovely Steve and Edinafrom Gaggenaumade sure the selected few (twelve to be precise) who were dining at the chefs table knew a bit about the history of Obsession 19 and how Gaggenau are proud to be involved, Niall even popped in for a few minutes to mingle and chat a little about the evening ahead.
Making our way to the chefs table and walking through the kitchen, it’s hard to believe Niall and his team are cooking for one person let alone one hundred, everywhere is spotless, with the chefs workingneatly and preciselyin their own section within the kitchen.
Each course was paired perfectly with a wine that not only complemented the dish, but also enhanced the flavours. Our gastronomic journey beganwith Smoked Eel Tempura and Trout Roe Tart paired with a sparkling Cremant de Limoux Rose. Niall and his team were certainly setting the bar high, with the delicious tastes and textures within these dishes. And the bar continued to be kept high as each course was served, and the words ‘this is my favourite’ kept coming out of my mouth – Black Truffle Custard, Risotto with a Raw Scallop and Egg Yolk, Salmon with Aloe Vera and Caviar Beurre Blanc, Wagyu Beef with Turnip and finally Caramel Custard Tart. The accumulation of flavours, the perfect presentation and foods that you wouldn’t normally associate with putting together made this journey a real exploration that kept igniting your taste-buds at each mouthful.
It is obvious from each plate that great care has been taken by Niall to create a dish that not only tantalises your taste buds but also wants you craving just one more mouthful, this was certainly true for me especiallywith the salmon and the wagyu beef dishes both the fish and the meat were full of flavours and both literally melted in the mouth.
As each dish was served Niall joined us at the chefs table to talk us through the ingredients, flavours and ideas behind the dishes and to answer any questions as did Tamas our sommelier who described the reasons he chose each wine and what tastes we should be experiencing.
All too soon this divine dining experience was over and it was time to retire to the bar for a nightcap or two and reflect on a culinary journey that none of us will forget in a hurry.