We caught up with Wood Hall’s busy Head Chef, Shane Zhao, discussing what inspires her unique dishes, encouraging future talent, and advice for young Chefs hungry to break into the industry.
When and where did you start out in the chefing world?
I left home in China and went to Melbourne Australia in 2008 for a 2-year commercial culinary course. I started working in kitchens from 2009 whilst I was studying. I cooked in a Japanese restaurant and was a chef in a catering company. At university I went on to gain my BA in Hotel Management and after this, I secured my first full time job as a chef. During my career I worked in a one Chef Hat restaurant in Australia and have achieved a Michelin plate twice in the UK. I started working at Wood Hall Hotel & Spa in June 2022.
If you had to pick a favourite dish that you have created in your career, which would it be?
Actually, there are a couple favourites of mine from our current menu - it is hard to pick just one.
The first is the seared wild caught king scallops, served with semi-dried cherry tomatoes, tomato and basil consommé, melon, basil oil and paprika and maple-glazed pancetta crisps. It is an elegant and refreshing dish.
The second is the North Sea cod topped with wasabi furikake, samphire, yuzu miso sauce and Ikura. It is a simple and fresh dish with a very rich Japanese flavour. It is a perfect combination of western and Asian cooking and flavour.
Creating dishes is a process - a journey. I’m sure I (and our guests) will have many more new favourite dishes coming up in the near future to look forward to.
You are currently running your unique tasting menu - what is your inspiration behind this menu?
The inspiration is the amazing seasonal and local produce in Yorkshire, and some Asian flavours I would like to introduce to our guests. There is Yorkshire duck, Yorkshire pork and our own Wood Hall honey on the menu. Asian ingredients like yuzu, fresh wasabi, shiso, furikake, miso, star anise, soya have been heavily used to flavour my dishes. I am delivering a flavour journey to guests throughout this tasting menu.
We understand you are supporting the Springboard Campaign, can you tell us more about it?
Springboard’s FutureChef is a schools-based programme that supports the development of key life skills whilst inspiring young people to pursue an exciting career in hospitality industry. The FutureChef competition is now the biggest school culinary competition in the UK. It is my privilege to support FutureChef 2023 as a judge and a mentor. I am very proud of my mentee Zak who is so determined, passionate about cooking and worked hard to get through the local final, won the regional final and made his way to the national final this year. It is the most rewarding thing to be part of his journey and witness his huge progress. It means a lot to me to be in the position to support the future of young talent.
What is your biggest tip for a budding ‘would be’ chef?
Keep your passion, grab any opportunity you have to progress.
Keep your head down to sharpen your skills and knowledge.
Always go for the extra mile - don’t be scared of challenges.
Most importantly, enjoy it!
Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of work?
Outside of work I am a wife, a daughter and a friend. I always work long hours so I treasure every minute I have with my husband, who has been the most supportive person in my life. I love to spend time with my family and friends too.
What is your ‘go to’ dish to make on a day off or when relaxing with family and friends?
I like to make noodles in chicken broth at home. I use a whole chicken or any leftover roasted chicken for my broth, simmer it for hours to have the rich chicken flavour. I then add any vegetables and boiled noodles in the broth, and finish with coriander, spring onion, sesame seed oil and chilli oil. It is a flavoursome, nutritional and heartwarming dish. It is always my go-to dish on the rare occasions that I am poorly too.
Are there any celebrity chefs that you admire, and who you’d love to work with?
Of course, Thomas Keller is my idol. He is my inspiration. I would be so happy if I could meet him in person, or have the opportunity to work alongside him one day.
And finally, is there anything we should watch out for - what’s coming up?
It is an exciting time for Hand Picked Hotels this year. We are working very hard on different interesting projects, to provide our guests with different magical experiences. Please keep an eye on our website and follow us on social media. Of course, don’t miss out our upcoming spring menu. It is also definitely worth a visit for our monthly changed themed afternoon tea. Team Wood Hall welcome you.
To sample Shane’s work, browse our dining options here.