Head Chef Mark Taft Interview on Winter Menu and Hard Times

Juliet Watkins has an accomplished hospitality pedigree after 35 years of marriage to the late Denis Watkins so it is unsurprising that she has done so well at the helm since her husband passed away.  One of her first influences was to insist that her Chefs, namely Head Chef Mark Taft under the directorship of Bruce Elsworth, produced a new brassiere menu every quarter in line with the changing seasons.What this did for the kitchen was to ratchet up the pressure, but by doing so, created a focus on seasonally available produce, which fitted nicely with the Angel’s longstanding local sourcing policy. Juliet then asked Mark and his team to come up with at least three vegetarian starters and three vegetarian main courses, which resulted in further developing the team’s creativity (as most Chefs are male carnivores with very poor eating habits themselves, this really forced the team to think outside the box!).  This resulted in an award from the Vegetarian Society last year.So the other night when Juliet tasted Mark’s latest collaboration, the Winter Menu, Mark was delighted when she declared that it was his best menu yet.

So we decided to interview Mark to find out his insight into why he thinks this menu is so successful:

  1. 1.       So Mark, what do you think was the most technical aspect to this menu?

A very good question! I would have to say that I’m spilt between three aspects and they are the rocket foam, the veggie black pudding and the spiced and roasted nuts. The rocket foam has sent me in the direction of more scientific methods, using such things as Agar Agar, Maltodextrin, Iota carrageenan and sugar ester T15. The veggie black pudding I know would have people thinking we’ve made a typing era, but this is a little how my brain works. Take a dish or an aspect of a dish pull it apart and then put it back together but in a different way. The Lancashire hot pot I did three years ago making veggie gravy and with this menu pulling apart a classic “prawn cocktail”. The most difficult aspect of making veggie black pudding was to get that spice and flavour. I had such a good template thanks to the late Denis Watkins with our very popular black pudding recipe. Replacing the obvious with beetroot and adding a few new ingredients but still keeping the spices that we have always used. The nuts we sell as a nibble contain four different types, walnuts, peanuts, cashew and hazelnuts. They are also cooked in four different ways, roasted, fried, smoked, marinated and some of them are cooked using more than one method. Confused? So was I for a full afternoon, when creating the nibble I realised that one could not over power the other. Thank fully after spending time going nuts in the kitchen I feel we may have just cracked it.


  1. 2.      What is your favourite dish this time round and why?

This is again hard for me to do as there is a lot of personality and pride goes into all of my dishes. As being a Lancashire lad and having had my first tasting of black pudding form the market on match day at the age of 5, I’ve always put a lot into this dish. However, as it is one of the best sellers and it is a classic winter warmer dish the suet pudding makes me smile as it leave the pass. It utilizes two very local products in Hetton Ale and Bolton Abbey Mutton, could you get any more local?


  1. 3.      Where have you drawn your influences from?

I have a saying “that we are a mere products of our own environment”, such things as a book I last read, a meal I enjoyed, a chef I have worked for or with, all of these things make me into the chef I am today. A book I last read was Nico by Nico Ladenis, a meal I last enjoyed was the Plumed Horse in Edinburgh on our staff do. The chefs I have worked for… well lets just say there has been a few but one does stick out and that would be Shannon Bennett of Vue De Monde in Melbourne Australia www.vuedemonde.com.au . Shannon pushed and pushed his chefs in the twelve months I was and out of a 6 chef brigade 42 different chefs came and went. Yes it was hard and intense but that’s catering and that’s who good cooks become chefs. This year I have clocked up 12 years since being interviewed by Denis and Bruce as a young wet behind the ears cook. I owe a great deal of what I am and how I do it because of Bruce Elsworth, to put too finer point on it I have spent more time with Mr Elsworth than anyone else I know. He has guided me, taught me and supported me in everything we have done, from spending a £1000 on a mixer to teaching me man management and interviewing techniques.    


  1. 4.      The standards expected by the Guides are constantly changing, how do you aim to keep up with these expectations?

The expectations of the guides were something in the early days that I would physically lose sleep over. The influence they can have on the business is huge, chefs look to work for a restaurant on the basis of how many accolades you have and customers read about you raise and fall within the industry. It wasn’t until the wise words from both Juliet Watkins and a Michelin inspector that asked me “why let these guides way me down when you just need to open the diary and see full nights, large turn over and great customer feed back”. This is what keeps us going in such hard financial times, not the opinion of one person that comes to pass judgement. Another saying I have is that “an opinion is like a finger print everyone’s is different”. Of course this does not mean that my hands do not clam up with the thought of an immanent inspection. I feel the menu and brigade that we have at the Angel is one of the best we have had for a long time. It is a pleasure to work with people like Simon Farrimond and the front house team. We are constantly looking at what we do and what others are doing in the industry, with such influences as the internet the answer to a question is never too far away, I just feel as a business its important to always ask questions as Pascal always does!

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