Rustic & romantic
In the kitchen with Tuddenham Mill chef-patron Lee Bye
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