Exquisite Evenings - the aristocratic style dining experience at Knowsley Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2017
One of the North West’s stately homes is opening its doors so diners can sample Paul Macnish’s stylish cuisine in stunning surroundings. Emma Mayoh reports
ALl Paul Macnish knew about working for the British aristocracy came from one not terribly reliable source – Downton Abbey. While the surroundings at Knowsley Hall might be every bit as stately as the TV soap, the cuisine is distinctly more exotic since the arrival of its globe-trotting chef. And now, you can sample it for yourself.
Paul has travelled the world, working in an astonishing 26 countries in just three years. But there has been no job like cooking at a hall which in parts dates back to the 1500s.
It is almost two years since the 38-year-old, who once owned his own multi-award winning restaurants in Australia, was recruited as executive chef for Knowsley Hall by its residents, Lord and Lady Derby.
He arrived with his partner Lauren, who also works at the historic property near Liverpool. Paul had to choose between Knowsley and a job as a private chef on a super yacht. He opted for dry land.
Paul said: ‘At first we didn’t even know what the life of a Lord and Lady would be like. Our only reference point was Downton.’
While he and Lauren were working at a luxury ski chalet they found themselves cooking for Lord and Lady Derby and their family who were holidaying in France.
‘It’s got to be the best kind of job interview you’d ever get really,’ said Paul, who was born in the UK but moved to Australia when he was 13.
‘You’re with the guests all of the time so they get a real flavour of who you are. It was Lady Derby’s sister who said I should do the food for the estate.
‘There’s never been a job like this. It was definitely worth moving across the world for. Everyone from royalty, international dignitaries and celebrities have been hosted by Lord and Lady Derby. We also get the privilege of doing food for weddings and others events here and over on the estate in Derbyshire.
‘It’s a fantastic place to work and we also get to live here. Lord and Lady Derby were fairly conservative in their food tastes when I first arrived but I hope I have encouraged them to try new things.’
Some might be intimidated by coming into such an historic institution. Not a bit of it. Paul relished the challenge.
And while some might think the dining experience at Knowsley is all about silver cloches and butler service – of course, there is a fair bit of that – Paul has also been determined to shake things up. He also encouraged sourcing more local produce, including game from the estate.
While Lord and Lady Derby still have their long-standing cook prepare meals for them in their private residence – Paul says no one would ever make a Sunday dinner as good as her – Paul’s new vision has introduced more adventurous dishes and variety.
Lord Derby said: ‘We have really enjoyed being introduced to all sorts of new ingredients, some of which I have never heard of before. It showed that things can be healthy and delicious.
‘Paul has helped to modernise our thoughts about food and his talk of seasonal and local food both resonated with our own vision.
‘It is great to see how much game he is using from the estate. It is very healthy, cheap and a low fat protein from animals that have grown up on the estate. It is organic and has no food miles.
‘When we first came across Paul cooking in the chalet we were very impressed. We realised we might be looking to take on a more senior figure with responsibility across our kitchens and also needed another person within the structure of Knowsley Hall.
‘Paul and Lauren applied for these two new positions and we were delighted that they were successful.’
Paul and his kitchen team have now launched a fine dining experience where diners can enjoy the opulence and hospitality Knowsley Hall has to offer as well as a rare opportunity to stay over in the magnificent building.
‘The Exquisite Evenings are our chance to show what we can do here at Knowsley,’ said Paul.
‘Lord and Lady Derby are inviting people into their remarkable residence and it is a special opportunity for them.
‘This is a fantastic place to work and live and we have been really welcomed. I’m very proud of what we’re doing.’
To find out more go to knowsleyhallvenue.co.uk