Meet Norfolk’s Chef of the Year
PUBLISHED: 20:30 10 December 2019
Fabio Miani, head chef of The Wildebeest at Stoke Holy Cross, was crowned the best chef in the county in the EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2019. Here he talks about his career so far and shares his love of food.
Where did your love of cooking come from?
My passion for cooking was born in Italy where, from a young age, I watched my father cooking at home for the family - using produce from his own vegetable garden and always experimenting with new dishes.
Tell us about the route you took to becoming professional...
Aged just 15, I took on my first job alongside my studies in the kitchen of a local restaurant as commis chef and, later, was lucky to attend one of the very best catering colleges of professional cookery in the north of Italy - The Istituto Erminio. Since then, I've worked in many other restaurants and hotels, always learning new skills. I spent time working at the 2-Michelin starred Piccolo Lago and the San Rocco Hotel alongside some of Italy's top chefs. After moving to England aged 18 to begin a new chapter, wanting to widen my skills and learn new techniques, I worked at top British restaurants including The Criterion in London.
Are there any people who have had a particular influence on your cooking?
As the youngest chef in the kitchen I was lucky to work with Marco Sacco, head chef and owner of at Piccolo Lago. At San Rocco I worked alongside Paolo Viviani who was the first Italian chef to win "The Rice Olympics". While, at the Criterion, I learned all about seasonality, sourcing fresh, local products and respect for every single item of food handled in the kitchen from head chef Matthew Foxon.
What was it that made you want to work at the Wildebeest and what is it like in the kitchen there?
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Since joining The Wildebeest in July 2018 as Senior Sous Chef after meeting chef patron Daniel Smith and then head chef, Charlie Wilson, I've loved helping to support the team, and now as head chef myself I take all the opportunities offered to me to train new chefs and apprentices and responsibility for developing all aspects of the menu.
How did it feel to be named Norfolk Chef of the Year at the Eat Norfolk Food and Drink Awards?
Winning the Norfolk Chef of the Year title for me was exceptional. It felt amazing to be crowned the best in Norfolk, especially amongst all the talented chefs that we have. I felt so very proud of myself as it's such a big achievement for a young chef to be awarded this accolade. I'm thrilled that it's had a real positive impact on the business too, with lots of new customers coming to try out our food. It's fantastic that Wildebeest chefs have taken the title in both 2018 and 2019.
Are there any ingredients or styles of cooking you are particularly enjoying at the moment?
I love spending time in the kitchen experimenting, however I'm always mindful of working with the seasons. I'm particularly enjoying creating dishes using pheasant and venison for example. At this time of year I always like to use root vegetables including salsify, if you've not heard of it before it's a leafy underwater plant that's bang in fashion. It looks quite ugly with its knobbly and stick-like appearance.
Do you have any new year's resolutions?
I want to continue to grow and expand my culinary expertise. I'd like to think that our kitchen brigade here at The Wildebeest can work towards achieving 3AA Rosettes - this would be something really special for us that we could all be proud of.
How would you spend your perfect day in Norfolk?
Horsey Beach is a favourite of mine especially when the seals are pupping. I'd enjoy a long walk on the beach before swinging by The Ingham Swan to enjoy some 'cheffy' conversations (and lunch of course) with my fellow kitchen team. I'd then head into Norwich and have a mooch around Norwich Market selecting produce for a special dinner with my partner. I'm at my happiest when I can cook using exceptional ingredients and plate up food that makes the people I love happy.
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