The Wordrobe gets up close and professional with Ian Swainson, Head Chef of The Pass, a fine dining restaurant in the luxuriant South Lodge hotel near Horsham
What inspired you to become a chef?
Being a slightly rotund child, I was always partial to good food and in particular my grandmother’s, but I never had an affinity to cook. This came in the question of what I wanted to do for work experience as a school boy aged 15.
Someone in the classroom was joking about working in McDonalds, when it struck me that cooking could be fun and, honestly, from that moment I have never looked back, I guess you could say that I’m quite tenacious like that!
Where did you train? Tell us more about your culinary background…
After my two week work experience, I went back to school with the idea of getting into the hospitality trade, but was not entirely convinced that it would be in the kitchen, so I joined college in Bournemouth, studying hospitality management, but at the same time to keep my toe dipped in, I had a weekend kitchen job making sandwiches.
After the first year, we needed to do another work experience, for which I was rather pushed into going to work in France at a 1 Michelin Star hotel called L’Auberge de Noves, outside of Avignon in the Aix de Provence region.
I stayed there for 4 months and on returning decided to stop kidding myself that there was anywhere else in a hotel that I wanted to work. I then managed to get another work experience, again in France at a 2 Michelin Star hotel restaurant, before I joined the real life of full time work.
My first real job was in London at 90 Park Lane, working at the infamous Chez Nico, before moving to the Chewton Glenn Hotel in Hampshire and then L’ortolan Restaurant, Reading. This was where I worked under Alan Murchison, it was the real big changer in my career, a kitchen with amazing drive and an almost pirates creed!
We earned a Michelin Star in his first year and I stayed there for a further 2, before he, Alan, opened his next restaurant, with Will Holland at the realm, named La Becasse in Ludlow. I was asked to go there as his number 2 and again within 1 year we had earned a Star; I stayed for a further 2 years before becoming a head chef in my own right.
Do you have any favourite spring dishes?
I don’t have any favourite spring dishes as much as ingredients. Our menu is constantly evolving and so the real constant is the produce, but as a chef this is my most favourite time of the year!
We start with wild garlic and asparagus, morel mushrooms and eventually elderflower, as well as suckling pigs and lambs and really this is just the start! There is such a plethora of incredible ingredients just starting to arrive that inspiration is very easy to come by. When I see the first blooms of elderflower or meadowsweet I always get so excited!
Name us three of your favourite restaurants
The best restaurants I have ever dined at, are as follows:
1 Quique Dacosta, Denia, Spain
2 Blue hill Farm, New York State
3 The Ledbury, London
Saying that, they are not per se my favourite restaurant, as you don’t have to eat at the very best places to have the best time. Where I live in Brightonm we have some great little places to go, including The Little Fish Market, Set Restaurant and 64 Degrees… my favourite is The Fish Market though.
What does hospitality mean to you?
Being in this industry as long as I have you become quite subservient, but I don’t mean this in a bad way, instead I mean that you love to please other people.
For example I would never cook food for myself alone, this gives me no pleasure at all, but to make others happy with the gift that I was given is an honour.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
Work hard, listen, learn and enjoy.
What’s next on the cards?
I had a Michelin Star for 3 years in my last establishment and since moving here we are yet to regain this, so this is what I would really like to be the next step, but in essence it is all about profiling my name, making the restaurant busier and becoming a better, purer and more artistic chef in the process.
Finally… what’s your favourite midnight snack?
A cheese and onion pasty sandwich with mayonnaise, after four beers!
Make it happen
Where: Brighton Rd, Lower Beeding, Horsham RH13 6PS
Wallet: Prices start from £80 per person for an eight-course menu
Bookings: Click here to make a reservation