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A passion for food

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

CULINARY INSPIRATION: Paul Boorman is putting his mark on the menus at Signatures restaurant and the Brasserie at Wivenhoe House

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P aul Boorman's kitchen philosophy is straightforward enough: keep it simple.

The award-winning head chef of the recently opened Wivenhoe Hotel is on good form after lunchtime service at the two restaurants he oversees.

After 20 or more years in the business, Paul is feeling settled in the role at Wivenhoe House which has given him the freedom and creative environment to put his own mark on the menus .

Set in the grounds of the University of Essex, Wivenhose House is a beautifully restored 18th century country house that was once painted by Constable.

It's now home to a hotel, two restaurants and the Edge Hotel School which nurtures the catering, culinary and hospitality talent of the future.

Heading up the culinary side of things, Paul brings plenty of experience to the role having worked in both restaurants, hotels and spas in the area recently.

After stints – and launches – at Clarice House (Colchester), Lifehouse (Thorpe-le-Soken) and Musa at firstsite (Colchester) in the last five years, Paul is very happy to be part of an exciting and innovative project that's allowed him to further develop his culinary ideas and philosophy.

"It's a privilege to be here, it really is," says Paul. "They've come up with a brilliant idea here. I'm loving being a part of this. The industry feedback has been brilliant.

"We're still bedding in really but the reviews and feedback have been really cool.

"Everyone is so passionate here, it's brilliant. Having the Edge School here is a huge positive. No-one is practising on anyone, the students help raise the quality of what we do.

"It's a big investment and it's a beautiful place. It's an amazing venue and an amazing project to be part of," he says.

Paul's restaurants, Signatures and The Brasserie, both part of the £10 million restoration of Wivenhoe House, offer a mixture of traditional and contemporary dining.

The traditional side of things is what you'll find at Signatures which features classic dishes – but, as ever with Paul Boorman, he's added his own distinctive touches.

Since working at Clarice House and Lifehouse, Paul has looked to make his dishes lighter and healthier without comprising on flavours. He particularly enjoys researching dishes.

"I love that side of it, it's something I feel quite strongly about. I think pre-prepared food has had quite a drastic effect on us as a society. We're the second most overweight nation now and the second biggest snackers, but 50 years ago our health was at its best. It's all about sugars, hidden sugars. Everyone gets obsessed with fat but really it's about sugar."

Paul thinks that since the war we've lost our way with food, forsaking buying fresh ingredients for packaged meals and getting used to having big meals every day rather than being more frugal before the big Sunday roast with all the family sitting down together.

With health and a fondness for classic cuisine as his guiding principles, Paul has created some familiar dishes with some interesting twists for the Signatures menu. You'll find prawn cocktail on the starters list, for example, but it won't be the type you'll remember from the 1970s.

Elsewhere among the starters, there's Joselito Iberico ham, compressed watermelon, tomato seed jelly and sorbet, cherry balsamic and bread shards; truffle'd duck liver parfait, blackberry, gingerbread, walnuts and 40c umami salmon, cucumber, liquorice fennel pollen.

In the mains, you'll find: sole, baby leeks, Laurent Perrier fluid gel, truffle and parsley; beef cheeks, crispy beef, garlic, smoked bone marrow mayonnaise, pickled walnut relish; and smoked poacher cheddar risotto, pickled vegetables, thyme and dehydrated sourdough.

Among the puddings, you'll see some intriguing and tantalising sweets, including: ultimate chocolate brownie, smoked bacon ice cream, citrus glass and chocolate mojito; peach 'donut', yoghurt, orange sorbet and lime rocks; and peanut butter parfait, chocolate mousse and popcorn sauce.

Paul tells me about the nine course meal they do at Signatures, which sounds like a culinary adventure of epic proportions, taking in an inventive array of tastes and textures that will have your tastebuds tingling.

"It's evolving, I'm very pleased with it," says Paul. "It's taken a couple of goes to get it right. I'm just trying to make eating out fun again, to make it an event. I have to hold back because I'm always wanting to add bits. The amuse bouche changes each week as does the cheese course and the menu changes every couple of months anyway."

In the brasserie, there's a completely different feel with dishes ranging from snacks to steaks and everything in between, but all done with style.

"It's all things to all people. If one person wants a sandwich and the other wants a three course meal, it's fine. It's a very relaxed environment. It's full of British favourites, we do absolutely everything the best we can."

Places are still available at Wivenhoe House's New Year's Eve casino night. At this charity fundraising evening, guests can choose from dinner in the Brasserie or Signature before the gaming tables open, the dancing starts and the fireworks go up to mark the arrival of 2013. Details of this event plus the restaurants, hotel and the Edge School can be found at www.wivenhoehouse.co.uk or by calling 01206 863666.

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