Mango Meets Martin Hadden
Tis’ the season to get together with loved ones and over-indulge until the new year. But before you start planning your turkey and trimmings, we’ve decided to seek out some culinary inspiration and find out all of the secrets to putting on the ultimate Christmas day spread, that will be sure to impress everybody around the table.
We chat to Martin Hadden, Group Executive Head Chef for the Historic Sussex Hotels Group.
Meet The Man Behind The Pass
Martin Hadden has been Group Executive Head Chef for the Historic Sussex Hotels group since 2003, offering everything from elegant dinners at Ockenden Manor, t0 cosy suppers by the fire at The Spread Eagle and family feasts at Bailiffscourt.
With years of experience and two Michelin stars under his belt – including one which he won for his work at Ockendon Manor in 2000 – there is nothing this highly acclaimed chef doesn’t know when it comes to creating culinary Christmas show-stoppers.
So first things first, what will you be serving on Christmas Day?
I will be cooking at The Spread Eagle in Midhurst this year assisting our new Head Chef Tayler McCabe, who we have recently promoted from Bailiffscourt hotel. There are other options on the menu but I am a bit of a traditionalist, so it’s roast turkey and Christmas pudding for me!
Talk us through the process of your Christmas dinner preparations… How early do you buy the food and ingredients, where do you source your produce from, what dishes are pre-prepared and what happens on the day?
We are blessed in Sussex to have an array of great local producers and suppliers. Each year we produce our ‘Flavours of Sussex’ map, so whatever the time of year we do our best to source ingredients locally. Food preparation for Christmas day starts as early as January when we make our Christmas puddings, giving them almost a year to mature and flavours to develop.
What’s the secret to cooking the perfect turkey?
We get plenty of practice at both Bailiffscourt and The Spread Eagle of cooking turkey in the run up to Christmas day as it features on our set lunch menu every day from 1st– 24th December. If you listen to all of the conflicting tips on how to cook Christmas dinner you could get in a real muddle! My tip would be keep things simple, plan well, and if you can prepare items beforehand then do that – for instance, braised red cabbage can be done a few days before and then reheated. When I’m at home we always do the vegetable prep for Christmas day as part of our Christmas Eve tradition, as it gets everyone involved and lessens your work load on the big day.
Which dishes on your Christmas/December menu do you most like cooking?
We have great fun at The Spread Eagle making Christmas puddings. There is a long tradition there of giving the gift of a pudding to everyone staying at the hotel on Christmas Eve that they can take home with them or, if they wish, they can hang it on the ceiling in the restaurant. Then on their return the following year, we will take it down and steam it for them. There are puddings hanging all year round! The tradition has been going for well over one hundred years. We also do a pudding cook-a-long on Stir Up Sunday which is the last Sunday before advent, on the 25th November this year, where family and friends get together to make their puddings at The Spread Eagle.
Favourite drink to serve with Christmas dinner?
We are very proud that we serve Sussex wines, particularly sparkling wines, at all three of our hotels. However, at Ockenden Manor the Sussex wines on the list run to over thirty – and you have to have bubbles at Christmas, right? My personal favourites are Ridgeview’s Blanc de Noirs, Dermot Sugrue’s ‘Trouble with Dreams’ and Bluebell’s late disgorged Blanc de Blanc 2008. If you haven’t yet discovered Sussex Sparkling, where have you been? You need to.
Do you have any tips for amateur cooks tackling Christmas dinner for the first time?
As I mentioned earlier, plan well, keep things simple, talk to your local butcher, buy the best quality you can, and relax.
Favourite way to use up leftovers after the Christmas feast?
It may not be for everyone, but Boxing Day morning breakfast has to be turkey dripping on hot toasted sour dough… Lucky it’s just once a year!
What makes the perfect Christmas dinner in your opinion?
Good company, good wine, good food, and a comfy seat.
Christmas at Bailifscourt Hotel
Have you ever cooked for a celebrity? If so, who?
My first Head Chef position was at the Halcyon Hotel in Holland Park, now not there, but then a celebrity haunt as it was the nearest 5 star hotel to BBC television centre – Al Pacino, Mick Jagger, Robert de Nero, Harold Pinter, the list really is long and diverse.
First dish you learnt to cook?
I honestly can’t remember! But I have fond memories of teaching my children how to make bread and fresh pasta.
Favourite dish to cook?
There’s no one dish. However, I will never tire of the anticipation of a nearly completed dish that has been interesting and fun to develop.
Sprout lover or hater?
Cast your mind back to when you were a child and your mother or grandmother were boiling sprouts and the pungent aroma that used to fill the house… Now fast forward to the last time you boiled sprouts and that pungency is no longer there – it has been bred out so that the vegetable is more acceptable to more people. I do though like both old and new.
Stranded on a desert island and you can order one meal from anywhere in the world, what would it be?
Nico Ladenis’s (my mentor and chef) hot duck liver on toasted brioche with hazelnut salad and caramelised orange – a perfect dish.