Over the coming months we will be talking to the chefs at our restaurants to find out more about them and the inspiration behind the dishes they create. First up, we talk to Nicolas Valmagna, Head Chef at the Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa’s Tassili restaurant.
Hailing from Nice in France, Nicolas began his life as a chef in his late teens and worked his way up to some of the world’s most prestigious restaurants, including Michelin-starred Chez Bruno in Lorgues, France, and a stint in Raymond Blanc’s kitchen at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Nicolas’ career at Hand Picked Hotels started in 2007 when he joined L’Horizon Beach Hotel & Spa in Jersey as Head Chef; four years later he was promoted to Executive Head Chef. In 2015, he joined Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa. We meet the man behind Tassili’s mouthwatering menu.
What was the inspiration behind your new menu for 2017?
Ultimately, it comes down to three things: using local produce, sourcing seasonal ingredients and giving our customers what they want.
What is your favourite starter, main course and dessert from your new-look menu?
To start, I would have crab with yuzu gel, bisque dressing and crab espuma. We use Jersey chancre crab (picked fresh daily from The Fresh Fish Company) and because I often find that crab dishes lack flavour, I have amplified the taste with a bisque dressing and foam made with brown crab meat and crab reduction. The crab jelly has been given a twist with yuzu (Asian citrus) instead of classic lemon. When people eat this dish I want them to feel like I did when I was young when I would eat a whole crab with lemon and mayonnaise – it was so tasty and this dish is a concentrated, smaller version of that.
For my main I would choose Classic Herd pork belly, braised cheek, black pudding, compressed apple, cider ‘Cracker’ and truffle for my main. Pork and apple is a classic English combination. The pork belly is cooked for 48 hours, the braised cheek is sticky and the homemade black pudding reminds me of my French roots. The compressed apple concentrates the flavour of the fruit and cider meringue pork crackling and truffle balance the dish. The way the French and the British eat pork was my inspiration for this dish – it is a rich, traditional dish that I hope makes people feel at home.
Lastly, dessert would be orange textures, valhrona chocolate and tonka beans ice cream. It is a chocolate ganache with various different orange elements and a silky and creamy tonka bean ice cream, which has an almond-like flavour. I do not have a sweet tooth but I like the pairing of orange and chocolate. I hope that diners feel this dessert is well-balanced and full of flavour and would be rounded off perfectly with an espresso, cognac and petit fours – the best way to finish a meal!
Do you use local Jersey produce? What do you use and where does it come from?
Our menu is 95 per cent local and we have adapted the flavours of the dishes to fit Jersey produce. Our suppliers include Classic Herd, an independent dairy farm that also produces beef and pork, and Funghi Delecti, which produces a wide range of food, from mushrooms to herbs and sources specialty ingredients from around the world. We use Kazz for foraged foods, The Fresh Fish Company for fish and seafood, La Mare for wines and Woodside Farms for Jersey Royal potatoes and vegetables.
Your dishes look like works of art. How do you come up with the designs and what is the inspiration behind them?
I am inspired by what is on the plate. There is no real science behind it – putting them together comes naturally to me and with years of experience.
How do you pair wines with your dishes? What is important and do you have a favourite wine at the moment?
We have a dedicated sommelier and between us we taste a lot of different wines each week and keep a record of the dishes we think they could be matched with. Right now, my favourite wine is Kracher Cuvee Beerenauslese 2009 from Austria.
Do you have a herb or vegetable garden on site at the hotel?
Yes, we started one last year and were really happy with the results. With a schedule now in place, we plan to improve our harvest for this year and, having recently planted Jersey Royals, we cannot wait to harvest them in April.
Can you tell me a little more about your team – who are they and what are their individual jobs?
There is Luis, our Portuguese sous chef, who joined us two years ago after working at the Sirocco restaurant in the Royal Yacht Hotel in Jersey for eight years. Marek, our head pastry chef, has been at the Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa for almost 10 years, and then there is the seasonal commis chef and myself.
How many people do you serve at each sitting?
The capacity of Tassili is 24 tables. We are very busy at weekends but during the week it is steadier. Our clientele includes both locals and hotel guests, but we are slowly building a loyal customer base.
Look out for more interviews with other Hand Picked Hotel chefs in the coming months.