award-winning chef Galton blackiston talks fish and chips, tv cookery and pan-frying on the aga with laura james.
Multi award-winning chef and food writer Galton Blackiston combines his time as chef patron and co-owner of a Michelin-starred hotel and restaurant with writing hugely successful cookbooks and regular appearances on high-profile TV cookery programmes.
When I arrive to interview him at his home a few minutes from the North Norfolk coast, he’s just got the news that Morston Hall has made it into the Good Food Guide’s 50 best restaurants in the UK for 2019 – and he’s thrilled.
“I’m not necessarily sure it means more bums on seats, because we really can’t get more bums on seats than we’re doing at the moment,” he laughs. “But it just gives us a massive boost. All of us – the kitchen, front of house, the office – everyone. It shows that we’re doing something right. It’s a proud time.”
Galton has received a succession of accolades, with Morston Hall currently holding four AA red stars and four AA rosettes, as well as a Michelin star for a remarkable 19 consecutive years.
“Again it’s something I’m very, very proud of and I never take it for granted. We didn’t set our stall out for Michelin stars when we set out. We were about cooking the best food we could. If that brings Michelin along and gives you a credit, then fantastic. I always say to young chefs that ‘you cook for your public, you don’t cook for stars’.”
His philosophy has always been, first and foremost, consistency. Morston Hall is open seven days a week and Galton is committed to ensuring each meal eaten there is as good as it can be.
“We don’t over complicate things. I’m a big supporter of trying to make sure the essential main flavour of the dish sings and the accompaniments have to marry well, but not overpower.”
Wherever possible, he buys local. “But it’s not always possible. I am a massive supporter of Norfolk and always have been. It is a great county for certain things, but it doesn’t have everything. What I say now is I’ll get you the best quality ingredients I can. That might be Scotland for scallops or Cornwall for John Dory. It will always be seasonal, but might not be regional.
Norfolk is great for pork, duck, game and poultry, but if I want to get top quality beef or lamb I’ll go further afield.
“I used spend a lot of time up in the Lake District and I remember the Herdwick sheep going up and down these huge hills. Here, it’s all flat. I think the sheep working harder improves the muscle content and makes them eat more grass so it improves the flavour. That’s why the lamb I buy is always from the Lake District.”
As well as Morston Hall, Galton has taken the unusual step of opening a fish and chip shop in nearby Cromer. “It was really a Forrest Gump moment,” he says, laughing.
It came about in an unusual way. While watching his beloved Norwich City play, a man sat down next to him and started chatting. He asked if Galton would ever consider opening another restaurant along the lines of Morston Hall.
“I get asked this a lot,” he says, “so have a standard reply. I say at this stage in my life I don’t really feel like sinking hundreds of thousands of pounds into another property down the road.”
To shut down the conversation and get back to watching the football, Galton mentioned that he was a big fan of fish and chips.
“With that the man said, ‘come and have a look at this place in Cromer’. I think he’d hoped the conversation would go this way as I’ve talked about my love of fish and chips in the past.”
A few days later Galton went to see the seafront fish and chip shop. “It was in a pretty bad state, but the position was everything. It has two floors and every window overlooks the sea. It was
a bit of a no-brainer. My wife is very good at seeing potential in a place and I have a business partner who has experience in this area, so we decided to go for it.”
It was a good move. Now, four years on, it is a fixture of the seaside town, employs 82 staff and this summer broke its record by doing 3,365 covers in a day.
Galton is a regular face on TV, where he’s been seen on programmes such as Saturday Kitchen, The Great British Menu, Yes Chef, Saturday Morning with James Martin and many other shows. He’s a natural in front of the camera, where both his cooking skill and sense of fun are apparent.
"I made a decision a couple of years ago to help out James Martin’s new venture when he left Saturday Kitchen to do his own thing on ITV. He’s a good friend of mine and we have such a laugh. That’s the reason why I do TV, to enjoy myself. It’s gone down really well. There’s talk of us doing a thing next year, which would be carnage, but in a good way.”
Galton has also written a number of books. The last one, Hook, Line & Sinker, was voted National Seafood Book of the Year. “It’s user-friendly and isn’t at all cheffy,” he says.
A big part of Galton’s appeal is that he’s down to earth, friendly and never intimidating in the way some chefs can be. Whether he’s cooking in his restaurant kitchen or whipping up something quick for the family it is making it taste delicious that motivates him.
The kitchen at the home he shares with his wife, Tracy, is a comfortable, quintessentially English family kitchen. Behind a huge island unit is an AGA cooker in dark green, which Bubbles the cocker spaniel likes to warm herself in front of. Galton and Tracy’s two boys have now left home, with one of them at college and the other working on Jeremy Clarkson’s Amazon Prime TV show The Grand Tour.
“We’ve had an AGA ever since we’ve been here,” Galton says. “Tracy wouldn’t be without one and I’m the same. We installed it 15 years ago. It took a bit of getting used to, but for every bit of cooking we use the AGA. Tracy is good at a casserole which the AGA is brilliant at because you chuck everything in, leave it for a couple of hours and it comes out great.
“I also do a lot of cooking on the AGA. When I’m at home I cook very simply – pan-frying meat or fish mainly. My tip is to make sure you get the pan very, very hot. I cook Sunday lunch very happily.
“I think an AGA cooks a roast joint better than any other cooker. I don’t know what it is about it, but it does.”