When you combine the impossible romance of the Ivy House Country Hotel in Oulton Broad with the classic cooking of Michelin-trained Head Chef Keith Parton, you have an intoxicating mix. There is little doubt that Keith is incredibly passionate about his work, having spent most of his life in the kitchen; Samantha Mattocks went to find out more.
I was born in the Midlands and when I was 15 years old, I stepped into a professional kitchen for the first time, starting as a pot washer at the Metropole, Birmingham. From there, I went to the Hilton Coventry for its grand opening. There, I apprenticed under Executive Chef Jonathan Fraser, who worked worldwide with the Hilton Group. I was there for four years, and when Jonathan moved to the Bath Spa Hotel, part of the Forte Grand Group, I went with him. I was there for 10 years, and I learned so much during this time, and I was named Employee of the Year for the Forte Group five times, a huge achievement.
It was also during this time that I went to the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, where I cooked under Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc. Under them, I honed my skills and, combined with Jonathan’s mentorship, this has made me the chef I am today.
Ivy House Country Hotel
I came here nine years ago – and having worked in London and Midlands, the tranquillity and pace of life of this part of the world took some getting used to! My cousin, Dr Adrian Parton MBE, owns the hotel, and he runs it as a family business. In fact, my wife, Mair, works here as does my eldest daughter, Lia, while my son, Cain, is a pot washer. While Lia plans to make her own career in hospitality, Cain wants to be an engineer. My family is very supportive – so much so that my wife does all the cooking at home! My children, including my youngest, Katie, prefer Mair’s Sunday roast to mine! I think that is down to my love of rich sauces and the classics.
One thing I love about working here is that I get to be hands on in different areas of the business. If we are busy, I will work front of house at functions, and I love speaking to the customers. Here, it is all about personalising the experience – and I especially love to do this at weddings! We hold around 50-60 weddings here a year and have often themed them. We even did a Mexican theme that not only included the food but also turning the bridal room into Mexico for them!
While it may have taken me a while to get used to the pace of life here, one thing I am overwhelmed by is the quality of ingredients in this area. The halibut and the cod are the best I have seen anywhere – the fish is so white, and the flavour is so good.
We locally source all the produce we use here, from Jim’s Butchers in Great Yarmouth, World of Fish just up the road, and Marshalls Produce in Lowestoft for our fruit and vegetables.
I love supporting local producers and East Anglia has so much to offer – including the humble potato!
Part of being that chef is about not taking any shortcuts. I never make a sauce from a roux, for example, as that was not the way they taught me; instead, I reduce my sauces naturally. I am a classic chef, and I love classic styles and flavours. It may be old school, but it is also elegant.
I also don’t take shortcuts in looking after people; I listen to what they want and realise their dreams for them. There is no point in putting my own ideas on if that is not what the customer wants – it is about them and making their day special.
Above all, if I promise something, I will make sure I deliver it. There are no shortcuts in service, and I ensure my team has the same ethic.
My early inspirations as a child were Ainsley Harriott and Rustie Lee! I would watch them on television, and I loved the passion that they shared – plus Rustie’s laugh, of course!
I have tried to continue that passion all my life – and even now, I am driven by a passion for what I do. Even if I am tired, I get up and get into the kitchen. And I am very clear, this is a team effort. We have some great apprentices, both in the kitchen and front of house, and that is wonderful to see.
My favourite moments are when we get feedback on our weddings, but serving food every day in the 16th century Crooked Barn is truly special. Ivy House Country Hotel is a unique place and I love working here.
I love cooking with all food, although I especially love the fish that we have here. I don’t really have a signature dish – but I think that any of my fish cooking is right up there.
It is hard to select some of my most memorable dishes… There was one – duck breast cooked with a
sweet curry sauce served with monkfish with a bitter chocolate sauce. It sounds strange, but it worked well, and I had the sauces blending together perfectly.
On Valentine’s Day, the menu included a trio of soups – again, the idea being that they are together in the bowl, but they don’t mix until you stir them. The heart was a tomato and basil soup, with broccoli and Stilton on one side, leek and potato on the other. Making dishes such as these are great fun!
I also do a great cheesecake and can make any flavour the customer wants. I love doing things such as these.
Since I left home at 16, I haven’t stopped cooking, and I am very lucky. I have cooked in the Lake District and done outside catering for Film 4. My career has seen me back in Birmingham, working at the NEC and ICC in Birmingham, where we would easily do 10,000 covers a day. As a result, I have cooked for some famous people, including Madonna and four Prime Ministers. I also did Rugby Union’s Paul Grayson’s testimonial dinner, which was a great experience.
I want to be successful here, and I want to drive it forward. It is all about the team here, not just me, and I want everyone to be able to say, “we’ve done this.”
As for the bigger goal? I would love to cook with Heston Blumenthal. I love the science of food, and no one does it better than him.
In this job, you have to like every single aspect of it, and looking back, I can say that I have had a good career and a good life.
We had two AA rosettes for our food, but after all the pressures the pandemic put on the team, I sent them back. With the continuing hospitality crisis – with amazing chefs now preferring to be Amazon delivery drivers as the hours are better – we are under enough stress. I would like to build our team enough that we can get back to the rosettes; for now, I just want to support and encourage them to be the best they can be each day. Every chef is unique, and it is all about nurturing that talent.
- The Ivy House Country Hotel is open for lunch and dinner six days a week, including Sunday roast.
- to find out more and book your table online, visit www.ivyhousecountryhotel.co.uk
- to try Keith’s delicious seabass recipe click here.