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From MasterChef to cooking over fire
From MasterChef to cooking over fire
In the heart of England, a striking manor house sits atop 45 acres of green hinterland. Hampton Manor, a 19th century estate and once the home of prime minister Robert Peel, is now a family-run hotel aimed at ‘curious foodies’.

Hampton Manor was acquired by Jan and Derrick Hill just over a decade ago. Since then, their son James and his wife Fjona have worked to transform the estate and its culinary credentials. Named by Conde Nast Traveller as ‘one of the UK’s foodiest hotels’, it’s fair to say they’re achieving that goal

Three restaurants inhabit the estate: Peel’s, the Michelin eatery, is found in the Manor, and sustainability-focused ‘immersive dining experience’ Grace and Savour is located in the Victorian Walled Garden.

On the edge of the estate’s walled garden sits Smoke: a 32-seater eatery, previously the old furnace house. It is as honest and unpretentious as the chef behind it. The estate’s ‘Fire Master’ is Stuart Deeley, winner of Masterchef: The Professionals 2019. Birmingham born and bred Deeley is unassuming despite his growing success. Former head chef at The Wilderness, Deeley emerged into the public eye with his appearance on Masterchef, during which Marcus Wareing described his food as “daring”, and Monica Galetti called Deeley “the complete package”.

Following his win, Deeley made plans to open a restaurant in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Sadly, the pandemic halted progress and ultimately led to the cancellation of the project. It was announced soon after that Deeley had joined Hampton Manor as a development chef, and Smoke opened on the property’s grounds in September 2021.

“We’re focussing on British sourcing, looking local where the quality is right and challenging ourselves to use suppliers that are doing good things. The wood-fired menu focuses on getting the most out of great cuts of meat, whole fish and texture filled veggies like celeriac.”

Stuart Deeley

Deeley’s heart stays close to home with Smoke. His cooking celebrates seasonal produce and organic farming. The menu offers cured British meats, vegetables fresh from the estate’s garden and bread from the on-site bakery. Deeley’s cooking style has a refined simplicity; he has an ability to take familiar dishes and add an edge of creativity. 

As the restaurant’s name suggests, the dishes rely heavily on smoking: Oak-smoked trout is served with pickled tomatoes and Guinea hen is paired with charred lettuce and bacon jam. The menus have been described as ‘show stopping’, ‘hearty-meaty’ and ‘groan-inducing’. Deeley cooks over coals in the old furnace house that used to heat them.

“When the opportunity to take on Smoke came up, I was really excited. I absolutely love the concept we’ve come up with. When I worked in the city, I took inspiration from the streets that surrounded me. Here, with the history of Hampton Manor, we’ve drawn on comforting classics. It’s the simple things that push my creativity – the garden and the fire. The energy down here in the garden really suits me. Smoke is about an informal experience where we let the produce do the talking.

”We use a natural, charred wood rather than briquettes. We gradually top up our coals from the back, while we cook over the hot coals at the front. When cooking over fire, you get a lot of your flavour from the fat or elements of whatever you are cooking that drip down and hit your coals. The resulting smoke that rises then infuses whatever ingredients you’ve got on the grill, adding bags of flavour.” 

From MasterChef to cooking over fire

“Undoubtedly one of the best things you can cook over an open fire is beef; you can create a beautiful crust, delicious caramelisation and a deep, smoky flavour that you just don’t get from pan-frying.”

Stuart Deeley

From MasterChef to cooking over fire

Housed inside the estate’s old furnace house, Smoke evokes rustic romance with its laid-back interior and fire pits. Guests are seated in the greenhouse area during warmer months. The relaxed energy allows guests to roll up their sleeves and fully indulge in the hearty dishes.

The Hampton estate is something of a community for creativity; a buzzing hub for wine and food enthusiasts alike. They offer workshops in cider making, a natural wine fair, chef-partnered pop-ups and a monthly Wine School.

Inspired by the fact the estate once played host to an acclaimed flower show and that all produce was grown on site, the Hill family have embraced a new sustainable ethos, recovering the Manor’s ‘lost garden’ for future generations. Whilst their vegetables are now grown with organic methods, they are aware this alone will not be enough to secure the future of food. Regenerating their land’s soil is now a top priority, and through the ever evolving estate the team at Hampton Manor celebrate grass-fed stock, regenerative farming and natural wines. 

Guests can be seen meandering through the gardens of the estate, following the hotel’s ‘Field Guide’ Tours of the vegetable gardens are common, with guests becoming acquainted with the fresh produce they will later eat.

The restaurant’s on-tap wines are the result of a sustainable cutting-edge key keg system. They champion wines grown produced without chemicals and pesticides, which simply offer exceptional fruit quality and flavour through responsible farming.

Deeley’s Masterchef win has given him a platform that now allows him to give back to his local community. He recently launched Stu Deeley’s Professional Academy at Halesowen College, where he himself trained. The main idea behind the initiative is to bridge the gap between what chefs are taught from the cookery school curriculum and the actualities of the workplace. The Academy focuses on the fast-moving world of kitchens and adapts its lessons to what is going on in the industry right now, for example, how to cook over open fire. Deeley would, ideally, like to be able to offer students from the Academy work experience at Smoke. He feels that allowing them to cook in an environment like Hampton Manor could provide the inspiration to lead them into a career in the industry. “If I can inspire just a few future chefs every year, it will all be worth it.”

It is clear that, for Deeley, Smoke is a well-fitting new home, with a well-crafted team. “For me, it’s the greatest place I’ve ever worked. I’m cooking the tastiest dishes I have ever cooked and we play loud music and drink good booze. We have built such a caring and hard-working team and they all deserve the credit more than me.

This is said, of course, in Deeley’s typically humble style. With his Academy growing and his menus at Smoke being dubbed ‘Michelin star worthy’, it seems that Deeley will continue to give people something to talk about. After all, there’s no smoke without fire.

From MasterChef to cooking over fire
From MasterChef to cooking over fire

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© The Relationship – 2024

Design ManMade