Earlier this year I had the delight of visiting The White Horse Brancaster Staithe to meet Head Chef Fran Hartshorne and discover the inspiration behind her becoming a chef and what it is like to run a busy kitchen on the North Norfolk Coast.
Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, Fran learnt how to bake in the kitchen with her Mum and was drawn to becoming a chef through the creativity and art involved in cooking. She studied at Stamford College at levels 1, 2 & 3 in catering culminating in a Diploma in Hospitality & Catering. Whilst at college Fran enjoyed work experience at Morston Hall, Norfolk. After college she took a 2 year placement in the USA cooking in New York’s Long Island and Florida West Palm Beach, both exclusive Members’ Clubs. She then returned to what had become her beloved Norfolk for a job in the kitchen at The White Horse.
Fran says “North Norfolk is a fabulous area where you can obtain an abundance of local ingredients from both land and sea. There are also other great restaurants to work along side”. We agree. If you love a beautiful landscape and fabulous food there is no better place to be than Norfolk.
For the last 10 years Fran has been at The White Horse working her way up to Senior Sous Chef in 2009 and now Head Chef. Fran lives locally and married to Phil who works as Bar Supervisor at The White Horse. She says she doesn’t closely follow any other particular Chefs, but Tom Kerridge’s name was mentioned during our conversation. Instead, inspiration comes from her surroundings, local suppliers, books, magazines and food shows on TV.
So, what’s it like in the White Horse kitchen? Well at this time of year there are 7 members of staff rising to 13 in the Summer months. The place is busy, with 200 – 400 covers on peak days rising to 650 in the Summer. However, this does not bother Fran. Her extensive knowledge of The White Horse kitchen, wealth of culinary experience and her strong organisational skills makes for a great team.
During my visit to the White Horse kitchen I see the delights of Brancaster Oysters (12 to 15 dozen are served per day in the summer), Cyril’s Brancaster Mussels (so local you can see them being harvested from the restaurant itself), and Smoked Mackerel Pate being prepared as Starter dishes. Fran was preparing Slow Cooked Porchetta and Letzer’s Smoked Cod for main courses, and Dark Chocolate Mousse for Dessert.
For our lunch, we had the slow cooked Porchetta (was melt-in-your-mouth fabulous, with a hint of Moroccan spices), the accompanying Israelian Cous Cous (very very fresh being cooked in orange juice) and Simon Letzer’s of Docking Cod (which had a lovely smoked taste to it and went perfectly with the creamy leeks, mashed potato and crispy quail’s egg from Havensfield Farm).
Sea Purslane was present on this dish – a first for me – and foraged just along the coastal path by Rob Doy the White Horse’s very own Junior Sous Chef. Rob has been with the White Horse for over 10 years and collects seasonal herbs for the kitchen, including Sea Buckthorn and Sea Beet in return for Beer. We like it!
For Dessert, the Chocolate Mousse was very light and a lovely mix with the crumble and jelly. The lemon balm micro herbs, by Nurtured in Norfolk, were a great accompaniment. I was very impressed by the presentation of the Trio of Winter Apple – Apple Sorbet, Apple Upside Down Cake and Apple Panna Cotta. Taste-wise, what can I say? Amazing. The sorbet was just like eating the real apple itself.
When not running the White Horse kitchen and creating fabulous dishes, Fran helps Husband Phil with his passion for gardening and vegetable growing (I think I’m right in saying that some of the produces makes it onto the menu), seeing family, walking the dog and generally chilling out. But, always a Chef first, Fran is continually searching for new ideas for the food at The White Horse.
The White Horse says “Fran is home grown and has been on a great journey with us at The White Horse. She is passionate about seasonality and the provenance of the ingredients she uses and aims to explore, experience and use every available local ingredient in her menus, taking local produce to its highest level”.
Praise indeed. It is easy to see that there is a great, close team at The White Horse Brancaster Staithe. No wonder it never fails to impress us.