The Atlantic Hotel and Ocean Restaurant’s executive chef, Will Holland, explains to Emily Moore how his Taste Jersey menu is ‘a real showcase of local ingredients and a real exploration of the Island’
FOR most people, a stroll along the beach or a trek over the north-coast cliff paths is a chance to relax and take in some of the Island’s spectacular scenery.
For Will Holland, though, while he appreciates the views, the walk is also a source of inspiration, often triggering an idea which sees him rushing back to the kitchen to create a dish based on something he has seen on his travels.
‘I look at Jersey as the ultimate chef’s larder,’ said The Atlantic Hotel and Ocean Restaurant’s executive chef. ‘When I open the back door of my kitchen, I have access to an incredible larder of ingredients from the sea, the beach, the hedgerows and the land. There is such a rich variety to explore and I take inspiration from it all the time.
‘It may sound romantic to say that I go out for a walk, see some blackberries growing along the cliff paths and then go back to the kitchen to start creating a dish which will include that beautiful fruit but it is absolutely true.’
In a similar vein, it was a walk with his dogs near Crabbé which, to some extent, inspired the dessert on this year’s Taste Jersey menu.
‘I was walking along when I spotted a beekeeper tending his hives, and my thoughts immediately turned to honey,’ Will explained. ‘I got into conversation with him and discovered that all the honey goes to a co-operative based in St Ouen, from which we now source this beautiful sweet substance.’
Indeed, many of the ingredients on the six-course degustation menu have been sourced from similar outdoor explorations and chance encounters. They are then woven into dishes in a way which exemplifies the team’s attention to detail and dedication to showcasing the best of local produce.
And this approach is apparent from the bread and butter with which diners are presented soon after taking their seats.
‘Being served bread and butter at the beginning of a meal is not unusual,’ said Will. ‘However, we soak the spelt for our sourdough in Liberation Ale to add a local element to the bread. We also harvest the seaweed for the butter from La Pulente, which is just minutes away from the hotel. This beautiful foraged ingredient is then brought back to the kitchen and combined with rich Jersey Dairy double cream to make the butter. When you consider the number of processes involved in bringing this simple-sounding bread and butter to your table, you start to appreciate both the amount of love and the dedication to Jersey produce which goes into each of our dishes.’
And foraged items feature again further down the menu in the seafood dishes which also showcase some of the ‘headline’ ingredients for which Jersey is renowned around the world.
‘When you talk to chefs in the UK and even further afield, most of them will be familiar with local lobster, oysters, Jersey Royals and the Island’s dairy produce,’ he said. ‘In fact, I know top chefs working at luxury resorts in Thailand and The Maldives who have Jersey oysters and Jersey Royals respectively on their menus.
‘While they recognise that these items are among the best of their kind in the world, what they cannot replicate is the freshness that local diners can enjoy. We are in an incredibly lucky position to be able to serve Jersey Royals just hours after they have been harvested and seafood which was still in the ocean on the same day that it arrives in our kitchen.
‘Having access to these incredible ingredients is a joy and the Taste Jersey menu showcases oysters, lobster and scallops as well as foraged sea vegetables and the wonderful apple brandy from La Mare which is used in place of traditional brandy to finish the lobster bisque.’
After two seafood courses, the main dish introduces Islanders to Jersey Wagyu beef, another ingredient which Will discovered after a chance encounter, this time with David Leng, of Blanc Pignon Dairy Farm.
‘I was a guest at a Visit Jersey cookery event last year at which the team from The Good Stone were cooking the Jersey Wagyu beef on a big open barbecue,’ he recalled. ‘I took one mouthful of this meat and was instantly captivated by its super unique taste. I’ve eaten Wagyu before and I’ve eaten Jersey beef before but the flavour and texture of this cross was just something else.’
So impressed was Will with the quality of the meat that he immediately struck up a conversation with David and, just a week later, he was at Blanc Pignon Dairy Farm, enjoying a tour – and some further samples of the produce.
‘When you look at the description of the main course, you will see that it doesn’t specify a particular cut of beef,’ said Will. ‘That is deliberate because this is an artisan meat, produced in very small quantities, which means that, as a chef, you don’t ring the farmer and say that you want a certain number of fillet or sirloin steaks. Instead, he tells you what is available, so, in many ways, the farmer is dictating the menu.’
Acknowledging that this process creates additional challenges for the kitchen team, he also says that it adds to the excitement.
‘As a chef, you never stop learning, so this approach is really exciting and rewarding,’ he said. ‘It also ties in with our ethos of nose-to-tail eating, in which you eat every part of the animal. As well as championing a more sustainable approach, it is also interesting for diners, as, in a non-obtrusive way, you educate them about different cuts and introduce them to something new.’
Accompanying the cut of beef – whatever that may be – is a bread and marrowbone pudding, which also ties in with Will’s whole-animal philosophy. ‘This is something I invented around 15 years ago and it is essentially a savoury bread and butter pudding or eggy bread,’ he explained. ‘You make a savoury custard and, instead of spreading the bread with butter, you cover it with marrowbone from the cow. This brings that distinctive Jersey Wagyu beef flavour into the pudding, which means that it sits really well alongside the meat.’
Admitting that this creates a ‘real sense of indulgence’ to the dish, Will cuts through the richness with a Jersey asparagus salad.
‘Local asparagus is just coming into season and we will be using this beautiful vegetable raw so that it doesn’t lose of any its flavour or nutrients,’ he said. ‘It will be picked on the morning that it is served, ensuring that diners enjoy it while it is super crispy and crunchy.’
Between the main course and the chocolate and Jersey honey dessert comes a refreshing pre-dessert, which features the locally distilled Sippin Gin at its core.
‘Complementing the coconut panna cotta is granita made from Sippin Gin Unusual Citrus, which is a beautiful spirit distilled with bergamot and yuzu to create a really vibrant flavour,’ said Will. ‘Not only is the granita like an adult Slush Puppy but it is also really good for cleansing the palate and setting yourself up for the main dessert, which is slightly heavier, combining milk chocolate and Jersey honey with a sorbet made from untreated milk.’
Having devised a longer menu than usual for this year’s Taste Jersey, Will admits that the extra courses have been included so that he can ‘squeeze in as much Jersey produce as possible’.
‘The menu is a real showcase of local ingredients and a real exploration of the Island,’ he smiled. ‘As a diner, this menu takes you on a journey around Jersey. In fact, I would say that, in eating this menu, you are experiencing Jersey through food.