CORNWALL'S FOOD HEROES: BEN TUNNICLIFFE

PUBLISHED: 12:04 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:41 30 August 2017

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Ben Tunnicliffe is a celebrated chef and restaurateur, who has been a leading figure on the Cornish food scene for more than 15 years.

Ben Tunnicliffe is a celebrated chef and restaurateur, who has been a leading figure on the Cornish food scene for more than 15 years.

Ben and his wife Kinga opened their first restaurant in Penzance in partnership with Jean Shrimpton and her husband Michael. The Abbey Restaurant quickly gained an outstanding reputation, which was confirmed with Ben’s award of a Michelin Star in 2003 - he retained the Star until the sale of the business in 2008.

In the years that followed, Ben was in high demand as a consultant on various projects, including overseeing the development of the food offering at The Scarlet Hotel in Mawgan Porth, one of Cornwall’s top boutique hotels.

Ben gave up his position as Head Chef at The Scarlet in order to go back to his roots. In 2012, he took on the lease at The Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn – a move which has allowed him to cook fantastic seafood in a relaxed setting, creating a dining destination to rival those of Padstow, Rock and St Ives.

Ben’s latest project saw him take over the lease on what was The Beach Restaurant in Sennen in 2014. The iconic building, which enjoys stunning views over a wild and unspoilt bay, is now a family-friendly restaurant which majors on great quality, locally sourced food (including Ben’s Market Selection; fresh fish landed at Newlyn and Sennen daily) cooked to perfection. Ben Tunnicliffe Sennen Cove reopened for its second season on 12th February.

Ben lives in Goldsithney with his wife Kinga and their two sons, Ollie (10) and Xander (5).

How would you describe your food style? Honest and simple, with robust flavours.

Who has been your greatest food influence? Colin White, a Head Chef early on in my career taught me what real food was all about. He instilled in me the belief that seasonality was of paramount importance and that food shouldn’t be messed about with. He believed in cooking from the heart, showing food the same respect as the people who had grown, caught or reared it.

How important is seasonality in your menu? Seasonality is quite simply the most important part of my cooking. It’s what keeps things fresh and interesting all year.

What is your favourite flavour of Cornwall? I’m passionate about Cornish seafood. Given my proximity to Newlyn’s wonderful fish market, it would be hard for a chef not to get excited about cooking with the freshest and most diverse selection of fish in the UK. However, it is really hard to pinpoint one flavour or ingredient, especially given my answer to the previous question. There is always something exciting to look forward to with every change in the season, whether that is oysters, asparagus, wild mushrooms or spring lamb – the list is endless.

What ingredient couldn’t you do without? A difficult one but I guess it would have to be salt - under seasoned food is shameful!

What was your most memorable meal? I have eaten in some pretty serious places over the years and, despite being a chef, I can honestly say that my most memorable meals have been the simple ones – a barbeque in a friend’s garden or fish and chips after a stroll on the beach for example. Good food doesn’t have to be complicated, and is most enjoyable when enhanced by good wine and the company of family and friends.

Why did you become a chef? By accident really. I didn’t get any qualifications at school and in a meeting to discuss my future it was suggested I was quite good in Home Economics. I was asked whether I had considered going to the local college and training to be a chef. Luckily for me my local college was Bournemouth, where I studied a Hotel Chefs Diploma over two years, spending six months in a two Michelin starred restaurant in the South of France.

What is your food heaven? Simply cooked seasonal ingredients, enjoyed with friends and family.

What is your idea of food hell? Basically all multinational fast food outlets – those places are about as far from my concept of food’ as you can get!

What’s going to be big in 2016? Not very exciting I’m afraid, but as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Therefore for me it’s more of the same; the best local, seasonal ingredients cooked with skill and passion - in the hope that we continue to put smiles on people’s faces at The Tolcarne and Sennen Cove.

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