StyleNest talk to Executive Chef and Head of Product Development at Morrisons, Neil Nugent to find out what’s in store for Britain’s favourite supermarket.
We find out more about the man behind the food and his inspiration behind the Morrisons meals as well as what Neil likes to get up to in his spare time.
As well as co-owning a restaurant in York, Neil’s experience in the retail sector is vast and he certainly knows a thing or two about shopping sensibly (something us women probably won’t ever learn).
You trained at a range of reputable establishments. What has been your favourite restaurant you have worked in?
I worked at a great restaurant in Covent Garden called the Boulestin. At the time it was one of the oldest French restaurants in London – it closed in the recession of the early 90s after 60 years of trading. It was a typically French, classic restaurant and the perfect training ground.
You are Executive Chef and Head of Product Development at Morrisons, what do you find most interesting about your role here?
It’s so diverse – from working with our Academy trained fishmongers, butchers and bakers, to creating ready meals, pies, salads, sandwiches – the list goes on. We have a fantastic product development team in the M Kitchen, so there’s a lot of scope for innovation. All of our great food ideas begin in the M Kitchen, a real life working kitchen at our head office, where my team and I develop our new ranges. Nothing gets to store with Morrisons name on it until I’m 100% happy with the way it tastes, how it looks and how much it costs.
How have you helped transform the Morrisons brand?
My job is to get great food on the shelves at great value for our customers to enjoy and therefore come back to us for. I’m responsible for all our own brand food ranges, masterminding new products and developing the overall brand. I believe in using the best of British fresh produce, as well as setting a high benchmark on quality and being able to trace back the food on our plates. As Morrisons owns its own farms, abattoirs and fish factory, we’re really close to our ‘field to fork’ supply chain. I think we have created some truly great products and recipes with quality ingredients, while keeping prices affordable.
You help create nutritious and delicious recipes for Morrisons, what inspires you?
Good quality ingredients inspire me – whatever it is. A tomato, an aubergine, or a good steak – it makes me want to cook.
You also own your own restaurant in York, J. Baker’s Bistro. Can you tell our readers a little bit more about it?
It’s a small Bistro in York, which I own with my business partner Jeff Baker. We’ve known each other since the late 80s when we were both learning to cook, he’s a great chef. I think we have the same principals as Morrisons, great quality food at great prices.
Timesaving appliances are being launched every day with cupcake makers and chocolate printers. Do you welcome modern tools of cooking in your kitchen or do you miss the former more traditional approach?
In general, I tend to avoid gadgets, as I am very traditional when it comes to cooking; however, if something can help prepare food better, I’d say go for it.
It’s so easy for kids to go out and pick up fast food that many don’t even know how to cook. How would you advise mums to introduce cooking at an early age into the family?
Cakes and puddings are a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen – I’d recommend using lots of fruit. Then move them on to savoury recipes, using lots of vegetables in sandwiches, pasta and salads. Kids also love working with pastry, so making pies and quiches can be fun to cook together.
Any top tips for mums who aren’t confident cooks? Any secrets how to get little ones to get excited about veggies?
Exploring recipes together as a family can help children get excited about home cooked, healthy meals. Try getting them involved in peeling, chopping and mixing ingredients together so they feel involved in the food they’ll be eating.
When you are not busy working and cooking away, what do you like doing to sit back and relax?
I play a bit of guitar (badly) which helps me to relax. I also enjoy a glass of wine and a good film when I’ve got time to take a break.
What’s your ultimate comfort food?
I love a good pie – it’s a great British classic that you can do almost anything with. Hot pots are also a warming, comforting meal on a cold day.
What advice would you give parents to help prepare time efficient, nutritious and tasty meals for the family?
Plan ahead – it’s much more efficient to plan a week’s meals before you go shopping and stick to your list, as you can be in control of what your family is eating and keep to your budget.
Only buy what you need – visit the meat or fish counter in store to get the portions you need, minimising waste.
Batch cook healthy meals – things like soup and low fat mince can be frozen, defrosted and reheated when needed, so make and enjoy one meal and save the rest for later in the month.
As a chef you spend hours in the kitchen, do you still get pleasure cooking at home or would you prefer to go out to dinner?
I love cooking at home and I’m sure I always will. I also love eating out, enjoying good food and good conversation, so I think they’re both pleasurable in different ways.
Which are some of your favourite restaurant haunts from around the UK?
I love Koffmann’s French restaurant in Knightsbridge – it’s the best. I go to Joy King Lau for Dim Sum in London’s China Town, and of course J Bakers Bistro in York.
Can you give StyleNest any exciting inside news on any current or future projects you might be working on?
We have some great new products coming out for this summer which I’m really excited about; a great BBQ range, British burgers and sausages, salads etc. and even a fresh hot dog. We’ll soon be re-vamping the Morrisons cake shop range, which will improve our Market Street offering even further. We are actually working on some exciting things for Christmas already – we have to work that far ahead.
What inspirational chefs do you admire?
I really admire ‘The Master’ Pierre Koffmann and Anthony Demetre is also a great chef. There’s also a fantastic ‘BBQ hero’ called Steven Raichlen.
What advice would you give our readers who want to set up their own business?
Plan for all scenarios, only spend what you absolutely need to spend and remember it’s going to be a lot of hard work – so be prepared.
Do you have a motto in life?
You can only affect what’s happening now.