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Restaurant Industry News speaks with new Head Chef at Rastella; Aiden Blakely-May, all about his new role and plans for the menu

Congratulations on your new role as Head Chef, how are you finding it all?

Fun and a great challenge! I am loving having full control across all our menus and making my mark on the business. Leading and inspiring my team to achieve more awards for our ethos, Cornish Produce. We are only just getting started.

What inspired you to get into this industry?

Looking back now, I can pin point exactly where my love and passion started for this industry. When I was around 9/10 years old, my parents ran a pub in my hometown of Falmouth. We lived on site and I loved every second of it. I would help out by washing some dishes, collecting glasses and getting under my mum’s feet. I would spend my summer holiday at the pool table challenging regulars for a pound a game, this became my sweet money! I must have earned over £100 that summer. Even at that age I loved the buzz of a busy pub, full of hard work and people enjoying themselves.

Tell us all about your passion for street food and ancient cooking techniques

My passion for street food has rocketed in the last six years or so. I put this down to going back and forth to London at least once a month. Whether it was for work or University, I was moving around a lot. I found myself eating a lot of street food rather than booking into restaurants because it was a lot quicker. I could get something really delicious from Boxpark Shoreditch for under £10, and I was on my way within 15 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out in restaurants, but these early days really got me hooked on street food and exploring all of London’s best vendors. Since then, I’ve always been thinking of how to bring that style into a fine dining setting.

What is the cuisine focus at Rastella?

Cornish produce, maximum flavour, paired back elegance. I’ve worked very hard in building great relationships with local farmers. We as a team want to do our very best with what Cornwall has to offer.

What is your favourite dish on the menu and why?

At the moment I would have to say our tomato and lobster dish. Not often does lobster play second fiddle but it does in this dish. We get our tomatoes from Soul Farm twice a week, for flavour they are out of this world. Such a simple ingredient. We dice the cherry tomatoes and dress them in some dill and a smoked tomato dressing. Sliced Paul Robeson tomato seasoned with Cornish sea salt, garnished with dried tomatoes and flowers from the same farm. Finished with a Cornish lobster croquette and a tomato consommé served table side. Stunning.

Do you use local produce, if so how important is this?

Absolutely. It’s the most important aspect of my ethos. It’s the base of everything from dish development to fermentation. My farmers and growers are the best, they guide the menus really, we just make food look fancy.

How important is it to create an engaging and positive dining experience?

As important as creating great food. We can’t do it without the front of house being onboard and as passionate about great service as we are about food. We are blessed with an amazing front of house team who go above and beyond. The restaurant manager Stephanie and myself work together closely to create a great experience for our guests.

What is the Somethings Bubbling’ fermentation course?

It’s a course I’ve put together to share my knowledge and give people an understanding as to why we use preservation as a technique here at Merchants Manor. Not just used as a way of injecting flavour, but there are massive health benefits too. The course itself is a 1-1 session with myself over two days. We go through the sourdough making process, fermenting cream for cultured butter, lacto fermentation and the big wide world that is koji. You get to experience my tasting menu on night one, have an al a carte dinner on the second night and some takeaway goodies to share with the family.

Tell us why we should book a table at Rastella asap?!

We are on a journey to showcase my hometown’s produce to the best of our ability. Come and experience our tasting menu to see the journey itself. I want to show everyone that you can cook with what’s around you, rather than what was imported a month ago.

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