Rus­tic & ro­man­tic

In the kitchen with Tuddenham Mill chef-pa­tron Lee Bye

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

We’re stand­ing in chef Lee Bye’s al­lot­ment. Well, it’s not his al­lot­ment, ex­actly, it be­longs to Til­brooks, a land­scap­ing and nurs­ery business in Tuddenham St Mary. But it’s just over the road from Tuddenham Mill, where Lee is chef-pa­tron, and it pro­vides some of the fresh in­gre­di­ents that go into his dishes. He and other mem­bers of the kitchen team like to get stuck in and cel­e­brate the lo­cal­ity of the al­lot­ment and the riches it has on of­fer.

It’s mid July and an­other warm – no, make that hot – day in the dusty, dry sum­mer of 2018. Lee’s apol­o­gis­ing for the parched state of the veg­etable plots and the de­pleted con­tents of the poly­tun­nel. “Its hav­ing a tough time right now with this heat,” he says. Nev­er­the­less, nurs­ery­man Roger Coleman rus­tles up some fine beet­roots, cour­gettes and nas­tur­tiums for our photo and for Lee’s menu to­day. But there is a deeper pur­pose to the al­lot­ment other than sup­ply­ing fruit and veg with min­i­mal food miles. It’s also cul­ti­vated some­thing of a con­nec­tion be­tween The Mill and the rest of the vil­lage, a con­nec­tion that Lee says was miss­ing when he first ar­rived.

“The ho­tel and res­tau­rant had a re­ally good rep­u­ta­tion, and lo­cal peo­ple knew we were do­ing well, but they didn’t re­ally feel it was a place for them. Where I’d cooked be­fore, we’d had that lo­cal con­nec­tion.” Now, he says, lo­cal peo­ple seem more comfortable

with hav­ing a na­tion­ally recog­nised, award-win­ning bou­tique ho­tel and res­tau­rant on their doorstep, where no­body minds if they just want to drop in for a beer and a sand­wich.

We head back over the road to the main build­ing, but be­fore we steal off to the kitchen to see what Lee’s pre­pared from his menu, he’s keen to show us The Mill’s con­sid­er­able com­forts. Tuddenham Mill is a res­tau­rant with rooms. The business is food-led, but there’s no dis­put­ing that there’s plenty more be­sides to draw you here. The main build­ing has three rooms, all ooz­ing lux­ury and his­toric charm, and a won­der­ful bar over­look­ing the mill pond and stream. Then there are the mill stream rooms and wa­ter meadow rooms which have their own ter­races, and the lat­est ad­di­tions, the Nooks, rus­tic and ro­man­tic, with un­in­ter­rupted meadow views. Per­fect all year round, they have out­door, decked seat­ing ar­eas, and one has its own wood-fired hot tub. And all just a short stroll from Lee’s award­win­ning cui­sine.

We’re here to talk about food, of course, but given his fairly re­cent step up from head chef to chef-pa­tron, Lee is un­der­stand­ably keen to con­vey the com­plete Tuddenham Mill

ex­pe­ri­ence. And why not? This is a des­ti­na­tion in its own right, and a top notch din­ner is so much more en­joy­able eaten in the knowl­edge that in­stead of a long drive home, one can sim­ply savour a night­cap and sink into a lux­u­ri­ous bed there and then.

Lee’s culi­nary cre­den­tials need lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion. He grew up in Fen­land coun­try­side and says he feels rooted in it. He loves it for its gen­tle pace and quiet beauty, and the chef in him can’t get enough of its abun­dant pro­duce.

He first ar­rived at Tuddenham Mill as a ju­nior chef un­der Gor­don McNeill, and then sous chef to Paul Fos­ter, who caught the at­ten­tion of the food me­dia and ap­peared on the he moved on in 2014, Lee took over as head chef, and has built The Mill’s rep­u­ta­tion in his own style.

His food is led by in­gre­di­ents, par­tic­u­larly those the re­gion has to of­fer, and he en­joys giv­ing old favourites a con­tem­po­rary flavour. He wants to give din­ers at The Mill his no fuss, unpretentious, An­glo ap­proach. Lee buys most of his fish and seafood from Stick­le­back Fish at Billings­gate, although he is cur­rently ex­plor­ing Suf­folk sup­pli­ers. Meat comes from across the Bri­tish Isles and, with Shim­pling Park and Laven­ham Butchers in the county, he says he is spoilt for choice. The Mill is about 40 per­cent self-suf­fi­cient in veg­eta­bles, the rest is sup­plied by Anglian Pro­duce.

The Mill holds three AA Rosettes, scores highly in the Good Food Guide, and was crowned Res­tau­rant of the Year in the 2016 EADT Suf­folk Food & Drink Awards. Lee was named Chef of the Year in the same awards in 2015, won an Acorn Award in 2016, which recog­nises 30 of the coun­try’s most promis­ing hospi­tal­ity pro­fes­sion­als un­der the age of 30, and the Acorn Schol­ar­ship just a few months af­ter that.

He wel­comes the ac­co­lades – such at­ten­tion can only be good for business – but also ac­knowl­edges his team. “They are what makes The Mill the spe­cial place it is to work and stay. I truly be­live it is the strong­est plat­form, in East Anglia, to learn the trade of hospi­tal­ity. Nur­tur­ing peo­ple in the business, along with grow­ing the business year on year, is the fo­cus ev­ery­day.”

En­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple into the pro­fes­sion is a pas­sion. He ac­knowl­edges a chef’s life can be a tough and emori­onal ride, and the in­dus­try needs to find ways to make a ca­reer in the kitchen more at­trac­tive. But, as some­one who be­gan at grass roots, he’s liv­ing proof that the re­wards are there for those who fol­low their in­stincts and are hun­gry to learn. “We all have our own chal­lenges, but be­lief in what we do and strong col­lab­o­ra­tions and con­nec­tions, is the recipe for us at The Mill.N Tuddenham Mill tud­den­ham­mill.co.uk

‘He wants to give din­ers new flavours and tex­tures, mod­ern food trends, but in an unpretentious way ’

ABOVE LEFT: Dessert at Tuddenham Mill.ABOVE RIGHT: Mas­ter­class at Tuddenham Mill with Lee Bye.RIGHT: Roasted Hake

ABOVE: The Tuddenham team - Justin Skin­ner, Lee Bye, Alice Smith, Stu­art Drake and Jor­dan BayesTOP LEFT: But­ter­milk with goose­ber­ries, pis­ta­chios and AmarettoBOT­TOM LEFT: Roasted hake with Nor­folk sam­phire and sea­weed ter­rine

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