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Ben's team are centre stage

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: June 28, 2012

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FOLLOWING a multi-million pound extension and renovation project lasting 14 months, The Magdalen Chapter Hotel opened on Monday.

The former West of England Eye Infirmary has been transformed inside since Hotel Barcelona closed in December 2008. Following a change of ownership and a new name, the Magdalen Chapter is the second hotel in the multinational Swire Group's new portfolio of UK venues, after the Montpellier Chapter in Cheltenham.

And head chef Ben is hoping to put it on the map for the quality and variety of its food.

Diners in the restaurant will be able to see Ben and his team at work in the theatre-style kitchen. And the on-site chef's garden, can be seen through the window.

Food will also be served all day in the new, glass-fronted lounge area created in what was previously a courtyard at the back of the hotel.

Ben, who used to work at the Riverford Field Kitchen said the ethos behind his food is simple – good food, done well.

"It's seasonal and committed to the best local produce. Ingredients from the kitchen garden will be incorporated in the menu, reflecting the simplicity of great produce-driven food and the changing seasons," he added. "It is really all about good quality fresh ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. So often chefs focus on the technique and tricks and they forget about what really matters in a dish.

"Already our guests have commented on the wealth of vegetables on the menu that comes very much from my work with Jane Baxter at Riverford. So often the protein is the VIP on the plate and the vegetables less important. I have worked closely with nationally renowned chef and cookery writer Simon Hopkinson on designing the menu for The Magdalen Chapter and we both believe that sometimes it is more about what you don't do to things, than what you do."

Ben said he is inspired by his suppliers.

"They are really passionate about their products," he added. "The people I have met while setting up the kitchen here are the best I have worked with."

Ben has been interested in food for as long as he can remember.

"Both my uncles have owned hotels in Cornwall and I used to spend my summers working for them," he said. "I would often cook for my family at home and then after my A levels I knew that university wasn't going to be for me, so I got myself a job at the best hotel I could.

"I trained at The Castle Hotel in Taunton under Phil Vickery. It was a fantastic experience and the best thing was seeing the amazing ingredients turn up and not really knowing what most of them were but then learning how to prepare and cook them.

"The worst part was if you didn't keep the senior chefs happy they could make your life hard – that's their job."

So what's the best and worst thing, about being a chef?

"The best bit about being a chef is of course – the food," Ben smiled. "I like to eat well and so being surrounded by good food is just great. The worst part of my work is not always having enough hours in the day."

Ben said he is really enjoying being part of the team at the new hotel.

"We want the experience at The Restaurant to be truly memorable, for our guests to walk away knowing they have had excellent food and great service and that we have met all of their expectations.

"I want to be a part of making this hotel one of the very best places to eat, drink and stay in Exeter."

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