Meet our Masterchef

PUBLISHED: 17:04 13 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013

In this April issue Cornwall Life talks food with Neil Haydock, Executive Chef at Watergate Bay's 15 Restaurant, who is also writing recipes for our new Masterchef series

Cornwall Life talks food with Neil Haydock, Executive Chef at Watergate Bay's 15 Restaurant, who is writing recipes for our new Masterchef series

In 2006 Neil Haydock landed a job with Jamie Oliver's latest Fifteen Restaurant in Watergate Bay in Cornwall, as Executive Chef. A tasty job no doubt, but he had come from working at the exclusive Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados. He didn't come back to England for the weather: "It was 30 degrees every day in Barbados and I arrived for an interview at Fifteen on a cold November morning," says Neil. "But a job is a job and it's not as if Cornwall isn't beautiful."

Neil has always had a love of produce, something he shared with his grandfather who was a keen shooter. "I grew up in Lancashire and used to go shooting with my grandad. He taught me from an early age that if you kill something, you eat it and there should be no waste. If I hadn't been a chef, I'd have been a gamekeeper."

Classically trained, Neil has spent time in London and France, working in a range of restaurants. "Working as a chef in London there was not much contact with suppliers and I began to feel a bit like a machine," he continues. "In Cornwall it is much more hands-on. Fifteen has three vegetable suppliers and every year we have a meeting to decide what we are going to grow over the next twelve months. Our menu changes daily so we interact a lot with local farmers and suppliers," he explains. "The restaurant serves Italian food and there may be occasions when we cannot source an ingredient locally, so we have to travel further afield."

Sourcing locally and seasonally is one of the restaurant's top priorities and it works hard to grow more produce itself and to work with more local suppliers. "At Fifteen we grow Sicilian snakes - a courgette-type vegetable that can grow up to around three foot long. People think they are exclusive to Italy, but they are grown in the UK."

"I encourage any cook to take good local ingredients that are in season and create something of their own"

Neil's job is to do a bit of everything in the restaurant. He oversees the kitchen and makes sure everything operates smoothly - no mean task when you consider there are 15 trainee chefs and 17 trained chefs. "The 15 students are called white caps in the kitchen. There are also 17 black caps who are experienced, fully trained chefs who work on a one-to-one basis with the trainees. I train the black caps," he explains.

So what does Neil look for in a good chef? "Above all, it is passion. Everything else can be learned."

Neil doesn't believe in sticking to tried-and-tested formulas and well-worn recipes. "I encourage any cook - whether a trainee or even if you are cooking at home - to take good local ingredients that are in season and create something of their own. Even if the ingredients you have in your cupboard aren't traditionally used together, no matter - everyone's tastes are different. Experiment with food and use your imagination," Neil urges.

Finally, what is this chef's favourite food? "My favourite thing is simply to eat seasonally. Right now I am really looking forward to the asparagus season and in a few weeks there will be the wonderful smell of Sicilian lemons in the kitchen. You know they have arrived from their aroma before you even see them,"

he says. "One thing I do miss, though, that was readily available in London is eating sushi. It's the first thing I

will do when I go up there to visit."

Fifteen Cornwall opens daily, 8.30am to midnight, (01637 861000,

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