Christmas cooking tips with Lee Heptinstall, head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds
PUBLISHED: 09:04 13 December 2016 | UPDATED: 09:04 13 December 2016
Lee Heptinstall, head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, invites us to his Christmas table.
You might expect the family of a leading chef to eat like kings on Christmas morning, but for the Heptinstalls it starts with a boiled egg.
‘It’s usually pretty quiet to begin with; just me, the wife and kids,’ said Lee Heptinstall, head chef at The Fourth Floor Café & Bar in Harvey Nichols’ Briggate store. ‘Our tradition is to have a boiled egg for breakfast. Then the wider family descends in the afternoon.’
Presumably, they then deny him his apron for the day and give him a much-needed break from the heat and hustle of the kitchen?
‘No, I cook!’ he said, with emphasis. ‘I like to make sure there’s something for everyone so I always start with a big selection of starters – and Yorkshire puddings are a must.
‘Then I do a selection of roasts; beef, pork and chicken. I find that most people are sick of turkey by the time Christmas is here.’
So, what’s the key to cooking a great Christmas lunch, bearing in mind that most of us don’t have access to a premier league chef on the big day?
‘Preparation,’ he said. ‘I do a lot of work the day before, like peeling vegetables and even making dishes that can be reheated on the day.
‘Timing is also vital. My advice is to look at the time you want to serve and work backwards so everything is ready at the same time.’
Unfortunately, however, Lee doesn’t believe in cutting corners or sneaky tricks, so step away from the ready-made roasties.
‘Don’t take shortcuts because you want it to be good,’ he said. ‘But don’t get too stressed about it either. Christmas is about time with the family. And if you make a mistake, so what? Mistakes add to the fun.’
And if you’re going to force him to choose between cranberry sauce or bread sauce? Well, ideally he’d opt for neither (he’s not a fan), but if you threatened him with the turkey baster, he’d go sweet.
‘We have a cranberry gel on the menu this year on the Fourth Floor,’ he said. ‘The sweet and sharp works well with turkey.’
He might not be a fan of traditional festive sauces, but Lee does love a good Boxing Day buffet – unless he’s working (the curse of the successful chef) – and sees it as a great opportunity to use up all those lovely Christmas lunch leftovers. And if you’ve got anything left come the 27th, he advises mashing it all up into crispy, savoury little bubble and squeak cakes.
Now, we know Lee has been very good this year, bringing creativity and drive to the Harvey Nichols’ kitchen, so what would he like Santa to leave under the tree on Christmas morning?
‘I’d love a Kitchen Aid for baking with the kids,’ he said, in the hope that Mrs Heptinstall is reading this and is currently putting her coat on before rushing out to the shops.
A little more about Lee
:: He was first inspired to cook by his chef uncle, who’d enlist little Lee to help in the kitchen at Christmas.
:: He was awarded three rosettes in my first head chef position at Middlethorpe Hall, which was also voted the best restaurant in York.
:: Lee’s desert island dish is rib eye steak with twice cooked chips, watercress salad and béarnaise sauce (although he’s also partial to fresh sea bass with a fennel and citrus salad, and a proper Sunday roast chicken dinner with the family).
:: If he wasn’t a chef he would love to be a professional footballer.
:: The two pieces of kitchen kit he believes have made the biggest impact in his professional life are the Thermomix and Pacojet. The first ‘creates a puree like velvet and has made life a whole lot easier for chefs everywhere’, while the second ‘allows us to make fresh creams and mousses every day’.
:: Lee likes to cook at home for his family, but this doesn’t always mean there’s a gourmet menu on offer at the Heptinstall house: ‘My two very young children tend to prefer cheese sandwiches and fish fingers.’
Lee Heptinstall is head chef at The Fourth Floor Café & Bar. To make a reservation, call 0113 204 8000 or email email@example.com