There are scary chefs and there are smiley chefs, and Andrew Mackenzie at Lainston House is definitely a smiley chef.
He’s so smiley, in fact, that when the Exclusive Hotels and Venues Group, of which the five-star hotel near Sparsholt is a part, decided to launch a Chefs Academy to nurture rising talent, it was Andrew they asked to lead it.
And so the executive chef who transformed Lainston House’s restaurant into a cracking place for really good locally-sourced food suddenly found himself back in the classroom.
“I’ve always been a people person,” says Andrew, who celebrates 30 years at Lainston House this year. “The Chefs Academy now shares the amazing kitchens in Season Cookery School. Classes available to everyone include parent and child sessions, world cuisine, patisserie and bread making as well as festive cooking and cake making in the run-up to Christmas.”
On the day I visit, Andrew is just back from a night trip to Brixham Fish Market, where he’s taken Academy chefs to see fish come straight off the boats. “It’s easy to forget where the food we eat gets on your plate,” he says. “We’re lucky in Hampshire to have such a wealth of really good produce.”
It was Andrew who kicked off Lainston House’s kitchen garden, which now supplies the hotel and the cookery school and has become a much-visited part of the hotel grounds. “Growing food makes you appreciate it that bit more,” he says.
He’s on the board of Hampshire Fare, which champions local produce and regularly hosts classes at Season too, where his enthusiasm and passion for local fare really adds to the experience.
There, as in the hotel, where chef Phil Yeomans has furthered the reputation of the fine food, almost all the fresh produce comes either from within the kitchen garden or from just a few miles away.
At home Andrew’s partner, Sarah, does most of the cooking. “She’s pretty good,” he admits, “although when friends come over, it’s me who takes charge. Even so, I’ve always said there’s no point having a dinner party if you end up alone in the kitchen: I like everyone to pitch in, and that makes the eating more enjoyable too.”
It’s a philosophy that is applied to classes at Season Cookery School too, making them informal and fun. “Yes we hope to teach people something new and go away with new skills or dishes to recreate at home,” says Andrew, “but what I really want to do is put the enjoyment back into cooking for everybody. There is nothing better than food made with a bit of love and enthusiasm.”
Season Cookery School is based at Lainston House Hotel, Sparsholt. 01962 776088. www.exclusive.co.uk/Lainston-House