Food Chef For A Day Experience - The Box Tree, Ilkley

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Richard Ward, Aug 11, 2018.

  1. It was my 40th birthday a couple of months ago, and Vicki's gift was a voucher for this experience at my favourite local restaurant. The concept is basically that you pay for the experience of working in a Michelin star kitchen for the day, then return to the restaurant in the evening for a dinner for 2. I have never worked in any sort of kitchen before so really had no idea what to expect.

    For those not familiar, The Box Tree is an ultra traditional French/British restaurant decked out top to bottom in antiques and was one of the original UK Michelin stars back in the 70s. Menu is heavy on classics (ever changing fruit soufflés are probably the signature dish here), techniques are old school and most dishes contain more butter than you can shake a cow at, although the current head chef is modernising aspects of the menu slightly and lightening certain dishes, as well as introducing some more eclectic flavours.

    The day started at 10am where I was met by the head chef, and after brief introductions and basic safety info it was straight on with prep for lunch. Everyone in the kitchen (6 chefs + porters/runners) was doing fairly menial tasks at the point. I was given a box of Girolles to clean and then pickle and then a load of chorizo to micro dice for making chorizo and apple jam. I was then sent to pastry to make bread dough for flatbreads used in canapés, sweet pastry for caramel tarts and craquelin for glazing choux buns. I was surprised at just how much they let me do to be honest. All the chefs were friendly and helpful and all were asking me about my favourite ingredients, dishes, restaurants etc as well as sharing theirs.

    The head chef gave me a "master class" in sauces - he showed and gave me his recipes for red wine sauce, game sauce, escabeche, butter emulsion etc. He also showed me how he makes soups/veloutes and vegetable purees, as well as sharing and explainingthe various mistakes and pitfalls that people often make with all of these.

    As service started I was on the passe with head chef as he plated and perfected dishes, before going back to pastry for a tasting experiment (they were trialling a raspberry sugar vs plain sugar as a brulée top for the lemon mousse). I was then taught how to quenelle ice cream for desserts and finally was given a soufflé master class by the pastry chef.

    Time flew and before I knew it service was over and I left around 3:30pm. I'd been fed various things throughout the day (including 3 full desserts!) and had various tips, recipes etc written down.

    Dinner in the evening was as good as always at The Box Tree - 3 tasty little canapés (particularly the exceptionally well made flatbread...), a celeriac espuma with almonds and parsley oil as an amuse was like eating tasty air. My starter was one of the chef's more modern dishes, lamb sweetbreads in a Korean glaze with compressed cucumber, peanuts, radish and avocado puree. Completely the last thing I'd have expected in The Box Tree but absolutely delicious, the glaze sweet, salty, sharp and hot. Vicki had escabeche of red bream with crab toast and bon bon, which was a mass of interesting flavours and textures. Main course we both had lamb - beautifully pink and tender cutlets, a piece of pressed crispy belly with broccoli 3 ways, smoked almonds and a feta bon bon, with the incredible sticky red wine sauce drizzled over. Divine. To paraphrase WG Grace, dessert at The Box Tree is easy - 9 times out of 10 you order the soufflé, the other time you think about it and then order the soufflé. Last night's was apricot served with a peach sorbet. Beautiful. Vicki had a brown butter parfait with various strawberry and clotted cream accompaniments. She said it tasted like the Wimbledon final.

    Wine wise, we had a glass each of Pedro Romero Manzanilla as aperitif, then a superb bottle of 2003 Gerard Metz Muenchberg GC Riesling for an incredibly reasonable £42. I also had a glass of the sommelier's suggestion of an Alicante Bouschet from Languedoc with the lamb, which was slightly jammy but a decent match.

    All in all a very enjoyable way to spend a day and night of my summer holidays!
     
  2. Sounds enlivening!
     
  3. But no cushion!:)
     
  4. I fear they may have retired the wine cushion.
     
  5. :(
     
  6. Don't panic Thom, 95% of things there are done the same way they were in the 1970's, it's just been lightened up a lot.

    I guess Le Gavroche is the most obvious comparison (they are really quite similar in a lot of ways), and has done basically the same thing if you were able to look at their food now and then.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
  7. True, but the good things at Le Gavroche are the old dishes,the 'modern' dishes are pretty cack-handed.in comparison.
     
  8. What a great gift Richard! No doubt one ends up appreciating the hard work that goes on in these kitchens. Young Marco Pierre White must have jumped from one classic school to another with enthusiasm for the same style rather than the poor wages of the day before he hit the London limelight.
     
    Richard Ward likes this.
  9. Is Simon Gueller not at the stoves any more?
     
  10. He is the owner and chef patron, but has no role in the kitchen or day to day running. In fact I believe the restaurant is owned in equal parts by Simon Gueller, Rene Gueller and MPW.
     
  11. Agreed. I always think of the Box Tree as the Gavroche of the north. It's now many years since I've been to the Gavroche, but standards and epecially consistency appeared to be slipping then. This isn't a problem at the Box Tree, which is absolutely consistent.

    Furthermore, and to further reassure Tom, even when there are more eclectic tastes appearing (as in that superb sweetbreads dish), the underlying technique is classical.

    Does MPW still have an interest in the Box Tree? According to Companies House, shareholders are the Guellers and someone called David Newett, whom Google tells me is a Yorkshire businessman.
     
  12. I must be out of date then - MPW has presumably sold his stake to this Newett chap.

    And you are absolutely correct about The Box Tree using almost entirely classical techniques - for example, meat and fish is pretty much all cooked in heavy bottom pans with plenty of butter, with barely a sous vide in sight - they only have 1 water bath and it is largely used to hold bottles of their sauces at the correct temperature.
     
  13. I was going to ask if Simon & Rena were around much, not that i blame them for letting their team to get on with things!

    I used to go to Gueller’s in Leeds a lot and they both looked after me admirably.

    I remember visiting the Box Tree when they first took over and Simon showing me the witchcraft that was induction stoves, placing kitchen roll under a pan & boilng water. I still use the same trick myself! ;)

    I always loved Simon’s classic style & in the Box Tree thought he’d found the perfect premises, I was there the night before they got their star which they were not expecting (and indeed did not know, the big story that night was that one of their former chefs a relatively unkown chap called Daniel Clifford was about to be announced as a new 2* !) .

    I was with Jay Rayner & the subsequent review a story for another day but I have been back & would like to do so again, especially as Simon now seems to share one of my other passions for cycling and indeed dinners at the Box Tree were all part of Sir Gary Verity’s wooing of Christan Prudhomme & the Tour de France.

    I’m always suspicious of the MPW involvement but live in hope that one day he’ll come back and cook some of his classics! Another less well known connection is that a young Nigel Slater also cut his teeth there.

    Apologies for the lengthy stream of consciousness post!
     
  14. Just read that review, and was struck by both how far the cooking has moved on and how much more accomplished it has become since then.
     
  15. I think it's easy to forget how low The Box Tree actually sank in the pre-Gueller era. At the time it lost it's Michelin star it had basically become a faux-Italian restaurant, and had alienated the local community and food critics alike. The Guellers had a huge job on to both raise standards and win back hearts and minds. They have truly done an admirable job.
     

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