Ben Smith is the recently appointed Head Chef at Concorde Conference Centre at the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. It's an exciting month in Manchester as Manchester Airport will be celebrating its 80th birthday, so we managed to speak with Ben to find out what inspires his cooking and what guests can expect when visiting the Concorde Conference Centre.
What made you want to be a chef and when did your love of food first start?
I have always enjoyed cooking, I used to help my mum and grandma cook when I was little. I decided to train to be a chef after I spent some time working in the outdoor education industry, one of my roles was cooking for the kids we had on camp - I really enjoyed it, so I decided to pursue it. I got my first job in the kitchen and never looked back. I love the varied life in the kitchen, no two days are the same.
How long have you been head chef at this venue/hotel?
I have been at Concorde for one month now.
Who or what inspires your cooking?
I take inspiration from everywhere I go, if you look through my pictures you will see lots of pictures that I have taken when I am out and about of food, menus or just quirky service methods. I also have a shelf full of cookbooks, my family joke that I am the only person they know who will sit and read a cookbook. I think the ultimate source of inspiration has to be a market. When I go away I always search out the best market and just look at the produce on offer, and think about what you could make. The best one I have been to is the fish market in Catania, Sicily. The array of fish and shell fish was incredible with full size tuna and swordfish been sliced up in front of you.
What are your go-to ingredients?
I enjoy Mediterranean flavours, tomatoes and peppers, anything that makes me think of warmer climates. I am also enjoying working with middle eastern flavours at the moment, sumac, zaatar and preserved lemons can be used to make anything taste amazing. There is great combinations and the subtle spice and sweetness of this region makes for great food.
What's proving to be the most popular dish this month and why do you think that is?
Our homemade elderflower custard tart is proving very popular with our clients at the moment. This is probably because it is smooth and creamy and the freshness of the elderflower really freshens your pallet after a meal.
Do you have any stand out dishes or packages which are popular with corporate guests? What can they expect to eat when attending an event at your venue?
The beauty of choosing us as a venue is that we have a number of different menus that can be tailored to your needs. We cover everything from hot carved sandwiches to buffets all the way to 3 course sit down menus. All of food is prepared by our chefs in our kitchen using the best ingredients we can source.
What options are available for bigger events such as celebrations, parties and conferences? And how much prep is required for these types of events?
There are many options available to groups of all sizes, from sit down meals to buffets and bowl food. As is to be expected the bigger the group the more prep involved. Our chefs can sometimes start 3 days in advance to ensure everything is ready for when the event starts.
What can you offer clients looking for a fine-dining experience? How do you make the occasion unique and how do you get the right combination of food and drink?
Our menus have something for all tastes, using the best ingredients and cooked well, we always ensure that a lot of thought goes into the presentation as well. Most clients have a tasting beforehand where they get to try some of the dishes and that gives them a better idea of which to choose, if you don’t like a certain aspect then we can look at alternatives to ensure you are very happy.
Do you use locally sourced ingredients and produce, and does this change seasonally? What would you recommend for a small scale meeting in the summer compared to the winter? Would it vary?
We always try to use local produce, whether it’s British fruit and veg or meat from our local butcher which comes from a farm in Staffordshire. The seasons play a big part too, in the summer I would suggest a lighter option lunch with lots of fresh salads to help you concentrate in the warm weather. Once winter rolls in, then it’s the turn of warming comfort food such as homemade soups and stews, which will keep you warm and full.
What three reasons would you give event organisers to choose your venue/hotel for their next event?
1) Good fresh, honest food with lots of choice.
2) The venue is one of a kind, there is nothing like having a meal under the wings of Concorde, with planes taking off and landing out of the windows.
3) We're more than just a room in a hotel, we can create special events.
Are there any interesting facts about the history of your venue which would interest our readers?
The Conference Centre based at Manchester Airport incorporates our purpose-built super hangar containing the Concorde G-BOAC, legendary flagship of the British Airways’ fleet. Concorde won the 2006 Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum and this supersonic masterpiece makes a perfect centre piece for any event large or small.
This year see's the 80th birthday of Manchester Airport, 66th anniversary of the treaty agreement between Britain and France to build the aircraft and 15 years since the aircraft G-BOAC was retired to Manchester. The Concorde and its Hangar oozes history and ensures a very memorable event for all who visit.
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