Tag Archives: Donnington Valley Hotel and Spa

An Interview with Head Chef Kelvin Johnson

Kelvin has been Head Chef at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa for over 21 years since the hotel opened. Kelvin produces fantastic classic dishes using local quality produce. Let’s find out more about Kelvin.

• How would you describe your style of cooking?
Classic British with a twist of French

• Did you always dream of becoming a chef?
Yes, my mother was a chef so I started very early with her. I also won a competition at school so this pushed and inspired me.

• Did anyone in particular influence you in your career choice?
My Mum defiantly, food was a very big role at home, fresh ingredients were always key. We always sat down as a family for each meal. My Mum however did over stew vegetables so I always make sure mine are cooked correctly.

• What’s your signature dish?
Any sort of fish, simply cooked with seasonal vegetables

• What do you enjoy cooking at home?
To be honest nothing, I never cook at home. My wife is an excellent cook and I believe that my children should be brought up on her food.

• What’s your pet hate when it comes to food?
It has to be wastage, I can’t stand it. I try to use everything that I can, for example if I cook spaghetti bolognaise and I have made too much, I will make a lasagne as well.

• What’s the best piece of cooking advice you could give our readers?
Keep cooking simple and as fresh as possible, don’t over complicate it otherwise you will lose the natural taste.

• What was your first job and how long were you there?
It was at the 4 star Raven Hotel. This is where I started training as a chef and was there for 4 years.

• What do you do to relax?
Play with Apple products – I love them! I also enjoy watching my children play sport

• What’s your favourite ingredient to use in cooking?
It has to be garlic and ginger. These ingredients bring out the flavour in foods

• What’s your most exotic dish?
It would be my venison served with chocolate sauce

At Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa Kelvin offers an A la carte menu as well as the seasonal Market Menu, catering for vegetarians and all types of dietary requirements. With the lunch menu starting from only £18.00 for two courses why not stop by for a bite!

Great Wine from Greece

Many of us do not think of Greece as a great wine producing country, but I have to say that I’m coming around to thinking that Greece has a lot more to offer than just Retsina. I recently attended a Greek wine tasting hosted by Gaía Wines, who own two wineries one in Nemea in Peloponnese and the other in Santorini, one of the Aegean Islands.

So on to the wines that I tasted. Three of their wines stood out for me as being great additions to the Donnington Valley wine list; one white and two reds.

2011 Gaía Wines, Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece (white)

Assyrtiko is an indigenous grape variety and is one of Greece’s finest multi-purpose white grapes. It was first cultivated on the island of Santorini, where the grape developed a unique character producing excellent wines. This wine has slight citrus aromas well combined with elegant oak notes, a rich mouth feel, crispy acidity, intense mineral flavours and a long finish.

I like this wine so much so that I have put it as one of my recommendations at the front of the wine list.

2008 Gaía Wines, Gaía S, Agiorgitiko, Syrah, Nemea, Greece (red)

This wine is a blend of an indigenous grape – 70% Agiorgitiko and Syrah. A full bodied wine with warm soft dark fruit and a gentle spice, combined with well balanced tannins ending in a long finish.

The S after Gaía in the name of the wine can mean two things. One of them being ‘Super Nemea’ or ‘Super Tuscan’. Or the S could just simply stand for Syrah; they leave it up to you to decide. I quite like the idea of ‘Super Nemea’, but that’s just me.

2007 Gaía Wines, Gaía Estate, Agiorgitiko, Nemea, Greece (red)

A wine with a great bouquet of rich black berried fruits. On the palate the rich fruits blend well with the tannins making a very well balanced wine with a lovely lingering finish.

Going back through my tasting notes for these two red wines, I wrote ‘fantastic’ against the Gaía S and ‘love it’ for the Gaía Estate. When you’re next here, please ask to try one or more of these great wines and see if you agree with me.

I look forward to seeing you.

Chris Neeves
Head Sommelier
Donnington Valley Hotel

Spring Foods

Spring is one of my favourite times of the year with lots of interesting foods coming into season.

Lamb has to be one of my favourite meats! I source our lamb from Thatcham Butchers, who always provide high quality fresh meats that are local. There are so many different types of cuts you can buy from leg, breast, neck, shoulder, saddle, rump and loin. A great dish that I particularly like is rump of lamb braised shoulder faggot, rosemary royal potatoes, spinach, roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine and mint jus.

Rocket is very versatile. It can be used to make great pesto, and it’s great in Italian dishes, salads or used simply for decoration on a plate.  It has a strong peppery flavour, a great texture and can be grown easily. We grow our own here at Donnington so why not try to plant some in your garden or allotment.

Garlic a fantastic ingredient and I use it in almost everything. Again like the rocket it is pretty easy to grow. We are lucky to be able to source garlic all year round as it is dried, but I prefer fresh.  Add garlic to your mashed potato and serve with braised pork belly, broccoli and crackling dust; this makes a fantastic evening meal.

It’s not long until fresh asparagus is in season (around 3 weeks) and we source this from our local Cobbs Farm in Hungerford.

Have a go and cook with some of these ingredients or simply join us for lunch or dinner from £23 for two courses and enjoy some delicious dishes freshly prepared with local ingredients – click here to view our sample menus.

Kelvin Johnson
Head Chef
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Top Wedding Trends for 2012

As the wedding season is fast approaching I have put together some of my top wedding trends for 2012.

• Lace, from trimmings, round cakes and on dresses Katherine Middleton has made the lace bolero a must have for a 2012 wedding

• Sweetie bars and candy carts: these could be outside for a summer wedding or inside in the evening. Catering for all kinds of budgets, these can be a really fun thing for your wedding and keep the kids happy too! Try the new local company bonappasweet.

• Brightly coloured bridesmaids. Gone are the pastel colours for bridesmaids, letting 
them have something lovely and bright helps bring a splash of colour to your photos

• Bands are back! Although Djs are still a popular choice more and more of my brides are opting to add a set or two of a local band. A great group to try are: Got it covered: 07886 361088

• Brollies and wellies, come rain or shine you will have super photos in the shade or the shelter. Get something fun and make it part of the day – you can’t change the weather after all so work with it.

These are just a few of the top trends for 2012. If you are planning your wedding for this year or next do not hesitate to come to Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa and meet me.

Beth Willis
Senior Events Co-ordinator
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Ingredients in Season

As we are moving away from winter and towards spring there are a variety of delicious ingredients that are currently in season. Here are a few of my dish suggestions.

Ingredients in season:
Sardines
Spring Onions
Clams
Cockles
Mussels
Oysters
Seabass Venison

  • For the sardines try to buy them fresh, then grill them and place on top of toast with a tomato compote – a delicious starter or light lunch, quick and easy to prepare!
  • Try spring onions in mashed potato. Prepare your mash and when adding in your butter add a handful of chopped spring onions along with seasoning. – A great change from plain mash!
  • Combine clams and cockles to make a chowder serve this with a lightly pan fried fillet of brill – easy to make, a great for a dinner party dish.
  • You can’t go wrong with the classic French dish Moules mariniere. This dish has a wonderful creamy and garlicky flavour you can’t help but mop up the sauce with baguette bread.
  • Oysters I prefer to not complicate their delicious delicate flavour. Serve on ice and with some lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce and pickled red onion.
  • For seabass simply pan fry with a bit of butter, serve with wilted spinach and horseradish mash.
  • One of my favourite dishes is pan fried venison loin served with sticky red cabbage, potato rosti and chocolate jus – amazing!

Have a go at home and enjoy the current seasonal produce. Or put your feet up and visit our Winepress restaurant at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa and enjoy a dish!

Kelvin Johnson
Head Chef
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

My Trip to Sonoma, Califorina

Has it made the hard work worth it? Is the question I am asked the most when people heard what I won Employee of the Year. To anyone within the company who has the chance to try for the trip – Yes, it is worth every single minute of it!

I was truly honored and delighted to have won the trip to California and once it had sunk in and I had stopped bursting into tears I had already decided that I was going as soon as possible and was going to make it the holiday of a lifetime.

I look my partner of 8 years Steve and booked as soon as I could for October 2011. Having some family also in California that I hadn’t seen in 11 years just a 90 minute drive from Sonoma meant I was going be able to factor them into the trip too.

One of the best parts of the 2 weeks we had was going to visit the Peter Michael Winery. Even having worked for the company for 4 years I just had no idea how amazing the place was. Vast steep mountain slopes of perfectly straight vines stretched for miles around the gated entrance. Seeing the Vineyard poppy on everything was brilliant and really was a reminder of how closely linked we were despite the geography. The Michael’s kindly consented for Steve and I to stay in the Cabin, a building with bridge access over a stream to the entrance, hot tub and what can only be described as luxury accommodation.

During our stay we had the chance to have a tour of the winery and tasting of the wine. Cote de mere is a large platform on the top of the mountain fully equipped for 5* entertaining used for fund raising for the Peter Michael foundation every year. The view is staggering stretching across the whole of Knights Valley and each of the different wines can be seen. Tasting Sir Peters wines was a once in a lifetime chance. It was a fantastic experience and meeting the other guests brought it home to us how much of a wonderful and rare opportunity it was sitting around that table, drinking those wines and in that location.

The local sights were an excuse for a little more tourist behavior and we took the opportunity to go to the local petrified wood, eat in Calistoga and visit the Geyser. The staff at Sugarloaf Ranch could not have been any more hospitable and I would do anything to go back again for longer.

Following the trip to the Ranch we spent a couple more days with family in San Jose and even had the chance to visit a ranch where Steve fitted right in with the lads drinking bud and shooting very scary looking Guns for the afternoon. We hired a car and drove to visit San Francisco then down the coastal road route 101 with a final stop in at Universal Studios to celebrate Steve’s 30th.

All in all a truly amazing two week trip that could not have been made possible without the Employee of the Year status. I cannot thank the company or the Michaels enough and will continue trying to win to have the excuse to go back!

Beth Willis
Senior Events Co-ordinator
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Deliciously Fruity Non-Alcoholic Cocktails

As January is often the month where we cut down on eating and drinking, we have a number on non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu in the Bacchus Bar offering you a great alternative to the usual non-alcoholic drinks such as orange juice, lemonade and coke. Take a look below to find out how you can make two of our favourites – Demeter and Apollo.

Demeter

This drink provides a refreshing, yet graceful long drink. Made of strawberries, blackberries, fresh lime juice and lemons, these are all muddled together and then shaken. Once strained, the berry mixture is topped with orange juice and decorated with a swirl of lime and a strawberry, which gives a tangy, yet fruity taste!

Apollo

Named after the son of Zeus, our Apollo cocktail is a blend of cranberry juice, elderflower cordial and fresh orange juice. Simply mix all the ingredients, add to crushed ice and decorate with lemon and orange slices. This drink provides a light, fresh taste – perfect for a pre-dinner drink!

Try making these deliciously fruity non-alcoholic cocktails at home and let us know what you think. Alternatively, pop down to the Bacchus Bar and we will prepare one for you before dining in our award-winning WinePress restaurant.

Amit Rai
Food and Beverage Manager
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Gluten, Dairy and Sugar free!

I create gluten, dairy and sugar free desserts on a weekly basis for our menus here at Donnington Valley. This is a lovely light dessert that can easly be made at home. Hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

Soya Milk 200 ml
Cardamom 6 pcs
Coconut milk 300 ml
Egg yolk  7 pcs
Sweetener  11 tblsp
Gelatine 3 ½
Chopped mango 150 grams
Chopped ripe banana – 1/2 pcs
Mint leaf  – garnish

Method:

1. Warm the soya milk, roasted cardamom and coconut milk together

2. Then add the egg yolk and 10tblsp of the sweetener into the warm milk

3. Keep cooking at a low temperature until it coats the spoon.

4. Dissolve the gelatine in the warm egg yolk, coconut mixture and strain the mixture.

5. Immediately place the warm pannacotta mixture under an ice bath. Continuously mix the mixture until it starts to set.

6. Pour the pannacotta mixture in your favourite mould. Store it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

7. Mix the chopped bananas and mangoes with the rest of the sweetener, rest for 20 minutes.

8. Asemble the pannacotta on a plate and add the banana & mango salsa, use mint to garnish.

Have a go at this dessert and let me know your thoughts.

See you soon at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa!

Abraham
Head Pastry Chef
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Braised Pork Belly

ere is my recipe for braised pork belly, spiced red cabbage, caramelised apple, whole grain mustard mash and jus. This is a delicious dish perfect for a dinner party! Why not try it at home.

For 4 portions:

Ingredients for the Pork:

200ml Orange juice
1 tsp English mustard
2 cloves
3 tsp honey
1tsp orange marmalade
1 bunch bay leaves
1 glove garlic
A pinch of ginger
2 pinches of whole black pepper
1tbsp chopped purple sage
½  of a star anise
1 medium carrot
1 large onion
50 grams celery
50 grams leeks
400ml white wine
Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to 130c. Put the pork belly in a large oven tray adding all the above ingredients, top with the orange juice and white wine. Braise in the oven between 6 to 8 hours. Once cooked put the meat on a clean tray and press it tight to extract any extra juices. Ideally try to store the meat in the fridge overnight. The next day slice the pork into thick slices about 200g each, reheat the oven to 180c and place the pork in for 25 minutes.

Ingredients for spiced red cabbage:

400grams red cabbage – shredded
50ml red currant jelly
½ tsp mixed spice
1tbsp sugar
1tbsp red wine vinegar
50ml red wine

Method:

Place a pan on a low heat, add the shredded red cabbage & add all the given ingredients together cook slowly for 45 minutes. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Ingredients for caramelised apple:

2 Peeled, cut & cored red apples
2tbsp castor sugar
1tbsp butter

Method:

Place a pan on the stove. Add the sugar & keep stirring until it caramelises. Then add the butter and sliced apple, cook for 4mins until the apple is coated in the caramel.

Ingredients for whole grain mustard mash:

800grams Regular potatoes – peeled and cut
2 tbsp of whole grain mustard
Butter
Salt & pepper

Method:

Place a pan on the heat and fill with water. Once the water is boiling add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes become soft, drain and then mash them adding salt, pepper and a bit of butter. Mix the whole grain mustard with mash potatoes.

Ingredients for the Jus:

250 grams Veal bones
150 grams Chicken bones
300 grams Pork trotter
1 Onion
2 Carrots
50 grams leeks
30 grams celery
1 tbsp sugar
100 ml red wine
1 litre Water
Salt & pepper

Method:

Roast the bones and place it in to a slow cooker with onion, leeks, carrots, celery & water. Cook it slowly on a low heat for 4 hours. Then strain the stock into a separate pan. Add red wine, then reduce the stock to half. Season it with salt & pepper.

To assemble:

Reheat all the cooked products. Assemble just like in the picture & enjoy!

Try this recipe at home or come along to Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa and enjoy a meal in the WinePress restaurant.

Kelvin Johnson
Head Chef
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa