Mark Aisthorpe, Great British Menu Finalist comes to college

Mark Aisthorpe, a Great British Menu finalist from Rotherham came in to speak to our Hospitality and Catering students about the industry, owning his restaurant and his experience on Great British Menu 2022.

At the end of the talk, the students had the opportunity to take part in a Q&A with Mark about his career so far and being the head chef and owner of The Bulls Head in Holymoorside, Chesterfield.

Mark Aisthorpe

What do you like cooking the most?

‘I like cooking with a lot of foraged ingredients. Our restaurant backs onto the Peak District. We can go out with the dogs and find stuff all the time. We found a 10kg mushroom at the weekend, Hen of the Woods or Maitake in Japanese. They are about £45 a KG, so from a business side it’s great as we have over £400 of produce for free. From a Chef’s point of view, how cool is that to go out in the woods and find this mushroom covered in mud, take it back to the kitchen and turn it into a centrepiece on our tasting menu. That for us is one of the best things. We try and find the best of everything and locally if possible.’

What are your tips for people wanting to be in the industry?

‘It’s hard work, long hours, be dedicated to it, don’t expect to be able to choose your schedule, don’t be scared to get stuck in, to ask questions and it will reward you. It’s so rewarding after a couple of years in the trade, it will click. You’ll look at ingredients now and not know what to do with them. After you have been in it a few years you’ll get to know how to cook things and get different ideas, you’ll look at something and instantly get an idea. I get ideas at 2 am that end up on the menu.

When you see the ingredients go from idea, to menu, to table and the customers start complimenting you, that’s the most rewarding thing.

Just work hard and don’t be scared to ask questions. Consistently ask why. It’s down to us as Head Chef’s to teach the next generation. You need to learn. Learn your timings, they’re vital and work together with your team. Communication is important’

Did you know you always wanted to be a chef?

‘I’ve wanted to be a Chef for as long as I can remember. My Mum used to have a bakery. She used to make wedding cakes. My Aunties best friend used to run a posh hotel; I went there for work experience. My Mum and Dad intended to try and put me off being a chef. I came back thinking it was amazing. I loved it. I love taking things and making them into something else. Everyone in the kitchen is really good friends and we go on holidays together. It’s just like being with your mates.’

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

‘Doing the same as what I’m doing now. We are one of the best restaurants around Chesterfield. I’d like to teach more people in the industry. It’s great seeing people who you have mentored, it’s really rewarding seeing them succeed in the hospitality industry or be on TV etc.

Where I am now is ¾ of the way to where I want to be. I knew I’d always have my own restaurant, but I never thought about being asked to do Great British Menu. It was a career highlight and the amount of business it bought in for us is crazy. We are fully booked at weekends until July.’

What’s your favourite dish?

‘My favourite thing to cook is something fresh. This weekend we had a scallop dish with fresh kelp from a beach in Scarborough. It’s fresh, it’s foraged and went from beach to table in 4 hours. I love working with meat and fish and anything fresh. We shoot a lot of game ourselves too. We can go straight from field to plate. It’s nice knowing where somethings come from and tracing it back to the field from the kitchen. Everything we create is seasonal so there’s not really a signature dish.’

Are you self-critical?

‘Yeah, I am my biggest critic, I pick out the tiniest imperfections of a dish that people will never notice. Everything I do is never good enough, but it is what pushes me to be better. Everybody has different taste buds so it’s never going to be perfect, but it pushes you to go forward.’

Mark also discussed the work experience and current job vacancies available at his restaurant and how he is happy for the students to come down and experience how the kitchen works. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip without trying Mark’s and his team’s incredible dishes too.

Find out more about the range of courses and apprenticeships available at Chesterfield College.