Michael Tweedie is one of the most talented chefs of his generation. He is the rising star of luxury hotel and spa, Lucknam Park, in Bath, where he has been working for two years. The Somerset-born chef recently won the prestigious title of South West Professional Chef of the Year 2012, impressing the likes of Michael Caines with a menu comprising roasted turbot and panna cotta. I caught up with Tweedie to find out when he first gained his passion for food, what his next big challenge will be and why he admires the chef Tom Kerridge. Check out the interview below and don’t forget to take a peak at the rest of our An Interview With Chef series too.
My older brother was a chef and I always looked up to him. I went to work for him as a waiter in his pub and I fell into cooking from there. My love for cooking just got stronger and stronger. I went to a catering college in Exeter where I spent two years doing my NVQ. I didn’t attend college much to be honest, it just didn’t interest me. I preferred being in the kitchen. After that, I spent a year with Steve Pidgeon at the Arundell Arms [in Devon]. On my days off I was always in the kitchen. Later I went to work at the The Castle hotel in Taunton before the opportunity at Lucknam came up. They were looking for a junior sous chef and two years on I’m still here. It’s all down to hard work really and it’s really paid off.
Winning South West Professional Chef of the Year 2012 must have been a highlight of your career, can you talk us through your menu?
It was a huge honour to win such a prestigious competition. I was up against some fantastic chefs. I thought I’d gone for far too simple dishes but it paid off at the end of the day. We were given a mystery basket of products and we had 15 minutes to think up a main course and dessert. We had the option of two proteins: lamb or turbot. Then we had a pantry of vegetables and spices. I decided to stick with three key ingredients: turbot, mushrooms and celeriac. I roasted the turbot, made a wild mushroom purée and celeriac fondant. I kept it simple. Those three ingredients sang out on the plate and I had different textures and different flavours. For dessert, I went for something even more simple. I just did a panna cotta. I’d had some advice from Kesh [head chef at Lucknam Park]. He told me that when he did the Roux Scholarship competition he did panna cotta and for some reason that stuck in my mind. He made sure I knew that in competitions it’s key to keep it simple and stick to what you know.
What’s next for you?
Winning the competition has opened doors for me. I was able to cook for the likes of Michael Caines, Ian Webb and Matt Mason. So in January  I’m going to go to work at Gidleigh Park [in Devon] as the junior sous chef.
What is your food philosophy?
I like having lots of different textures on the plate. I like classic and modern food. I’m not classically trained but I know lots of classical dishes. I like to push my own boundaries and learn modern techniques but unless you have the classics you won’t go far. You can’t just use a water bath to cook everything. You have to know how to roast a piece of meat. You need those basics to be a success.
Who do you rate or admire in the industry?
Definitely chef Kesh at Lucknam. He teaches us so many things every single day. His technical ability is amazing. I like what Matt Mason is doing down at the Jack in the Green and Tom Kerridge at The Hand and Flowers. What Kerridge has done to change people’s attitude toward Michelin stars is great. He’s shown you don’t have to be a stuffy restaurant or hotel. You can go anywhere in the world to eat good food but a few years ago, a pub would never have been awarded stars.
What is your most memorable meal of all time?
I went for lunch at Gidleigh last week and it was one of the best lunches I’d ever had. We had baby vegetables with a quail egg tartlet, then a saddle of venison with chestnut purée and root vegetables. Everything was fantastic. You couldn’t fault a single thing.
So, you’re off to Gidleigh now, but what does the future hold for chef Tweedie?
I’d like to spend two or three years at Gidleigh. It will be my first two star experience. Then I’ll go from there. I’d love to open my own place back home, a small restaurant or pub. There’s no set plan yet, it’s a case of seeing what happens. I’d like to have my own Michelin star eventually. I know it’s not going to come easily, it’s something you have to work hard for but hopefully going to Gidleigh will help give me an edge and more of a chance when it comes t getting that star.
Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, Bath, Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 8AZ
Tel: 01225 742777