35-year-old David Quinn is the new head chef at Doxford Hall in Northumberland. Originally hailing from St Albans, he now calls the North East his home. We chat to him about revamping the Sunday Lunch at Doxford, the best dish on the menu right now and how he likes to spend his free time.
When inspired you to become a chef?
A bit cliche really but I’ve always loved food. I used to cook at home a lot with my mum and grew up in a very foodie household.
Was it a natural career path (via school education) or did you fall into it?
It was always in the back of my mind to be a chef but having always done well at school I got slipstreamed into the expected path of A-levels and going to university. It was only after trying three different subjects at two different universities that I decided that I was going to give it all up and train as a chef.
Where have you worked prior to Doxford Hall?
I have worked all over the country. I was at uni in Nottingham so when I left I stayed locally and started working at the Hilton. I moved within the Hilton group before returning to the East Midlands at the Priest House on the River. I then worked as a sous chef at Blenheim House for a few years before taking my first head chef role with the MacDonald Hotel group at Linden Hall. I left this role to get some experience of real fine dining, working with Phil Thompson at Auberge Du Lac in Hertfordshire, and then with John Schwartz at Judges in Yarm.
Feeling far better equipped for the challenge I took on my second head chef role at Dunsley Hall in Whitby. I became executive head chef at Lythe Hill Hotel in Surrey before returning to MacDonald Hotels as regional executive chef, overseeing multiple hotels in the North of England and South East Scotland. In October 2018, I left MacDonald and joined Doxford Hall.
Any standout moments of your career thus far?
I think the highlight for me is the people I’ve worked with, particularly those that come and work for me and I can see develop and progress. In tough times for chef recruitment I’m extremely lucky to have a team of talented and committed chefs to call upon, and hugely grateful that so many of them are willing to work for me time and time again!
What brought you to Doxford Hall?
I’ve been aware of the property since it opened and have always associated them with quality, particularly with the food. Having worked under quite tight restrictions in previous roles I loved the idea of getting back to a family-run environment with more emphasis on using great local produce.
Doxford has a variety of dining options – can you talk through what’s the style of food on the menu at each one?
The George Runciman Restaurant is very much our fine dining offering. We want to create a gastronomic experience, add a little theatre to the dining room and offer diners a chance to taste things they probably have never come across before. We won’t be serving tiny portions and I’ve never been a fan of using chemicals in the food so it’ll be based around fantastic produce, as much of it locally sourced as possible, cooked with skill to create memorable plates of food.
Currently we offer a very traditional afternoon tea, all our cakes are made on-site and everything is freshly prepared daily. It is however an area we’d like to expand and will look in the spring at introducing a ‘less traditional’ afternoon tea tailored for the North East.
On our Lunch Menu in the Lounge, expect home comforts. A contrast to the George Runciman Restaurant, our lounge serves freshly prepared, traditional dishes that are recognisable and create that home-from-home feel.
Our Sunday Lunch menu is going to be revamped in the coming months. The vision is that of a traditional Sunday roast dinner but with a few twists to bring it up to date a little, its one of the most competitive markets in hospitality and with so many places offering a great Sunday Lunch Doxford’s will need to be something special and that is very much the plan!
What can people expect when coming to Doxford Hall?
A warm welcome at a stunning country house, Great food from being served from breakfast through to dinner, and a fantastic location to experience Northumberland.
What dishes on the menu do you like at the minute?
I love the venison dish we have on, its rich, indulgent and couldn’t be more seasonal. I think food is about emotions and eating this dish just feels like Christmas on a plate. I also love the scallops as a starter, mostly because I love scallops, but I think the nuttiness of the artichokes and the sweet sticky pork belly are as good a way as any to do them justice.
What do you love about your job?
Most of it, I’ve always loved the camaraderie in a kitchen. With the hours we work you have to form close bonds with your team and when the going gets tough you need to know you can depend on those around you, and that’s a great feeling when you finish service and know you’ve come through it and produced some great food. I also love the constant learning, every day is a school day in a kitchen and we never let ourselves get comfortable, we’re always looking for new ideas, ingredients, flavours, techniques or trends, it keeps us on our toes and makes every day different.
What do you want Doxford Hall to be known for?
Simply great food. I’d love us to be known as the place in Northumberland that you go to for special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries and those times when you really want to feel spoilt.
What’s your vision for the future of Doxford Hall?
To be the best dining experience in Northumberland. I think it’s already up there but I’m sure with a little time we can push it so it stands above the crowd a bit more. We’re not chasing accolades or awards, but when the restaurant is full and everyone leaves smiling we’ll know we’ve achieved something.
When it’s your day off, what do you like to do?
Time off is a premium as a chef so most of it is spent with the family – my wife Lindsey (who is also a chef at Doxford Hall) and our 11-month-old son Tristan. We also have two huge Bernese mountain dogs, so we go for long walks in the woods or the beach come rain or shine. On the off chance I have any free time left I’m a massive football fan and follow Spurs as much as I can.
What restaurant would you love to eat at?
There are so many. I married a chef so we have booked most of our holidays over the past 10 years around restaurants on the ‘to do’ list. I think we’ve eaten at ten or so of the world’s top 50 restaurants but every year there’s a new one making the headlines or doing something different. On a global scale I’d love to go to Alinea in Chicago or Osteria Francescana in Italy. Closer to home I’d love to go to the Black Swan at Oldstead.
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
I’m not sure how guilty I feel about it but I generally cook Thai food when I’m on my own, the spicier the better.
READ MORE: Make David’s Venison recipe.