Chef of Chef Works: Charlie Hibbert JULY 2022
Chef: Charlie Hibbert, Chef Director.
Restaurant/Kitchen: Thyme, Ox Barn, Orchid House, Tithe Barn Cookery School and The Swan at Southrop.
Location: The Cotswolds, UK.
Social Media: @thyme.england / @charlie.thyme (Instagram)
This month we feature Charlie Hibbert, working for the family business Thyme in the beautiful Cotswolds. He is Chef Director of a growing F&B operation which is about to add The Swan pub at Southrop and The Orchid House at Thyme to the portfolio. Much of Charlie's time is spent in Thyme’s destination restaurant, the Ox Barn. Get to know our July Chef of Chef Works here…
1. Your restaurant/role:
I oversee all things culinary at Thyme, our family’s business, in the Cotswolds. It’s a big role – there’s always more to do than you think and with a new opening (the Orchid House) and a major refurb (The Swan), I’m having to manage my time very carefully right now. When we opened the Ox Barn, it was my first role as a Head Chef and I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights. Four years on, after Brexit, Covid and in the midst of national hospitality staffing crisis, I feel it’s been more like 10 years! so I’m much more able to take things in my stride. I work with a great team and like to have a truly collaborative approach to what we’re doing across the board. Of course, being behind the stoves and cooking for our hotel and local guests gives me the greatest thrill, but when I’m not there I trust the team to do a great job, which they do.
2. Describe your kitchen:
We’re in a fortunate position at Thyme to have several acres of kitchen gardens, herb beds, orchards and forage-able hedgerows and verges. Not only do we have inside kitchens, we also have external spaces which we’re in and out of all day long. We have a substantial prep kitchen for the Ox Barn with a sunny disposition, and a 7.5m open Charvet kitchen run in the restaurant, which means we are on show all the time during service. Equally, the cookery school next door means that we chefs have to look the part. The team is tight – I’ve worked in some great kitchens over the years and have understood the importance of communication and listening. Obviously, recruitment is tougher in the country than the city, but even in London, with numbers of people going into hospitality falling off a cliff, it’s rough. I hope that we can change the image of hospitality from within and persuade people of its merits and rewards.
The stunning spacious interior at The Ox Barn at Thyme, Cotswolds.
3. Favourite Chef Works item and why?
The Capri Premium Chef Coat. A smart chef jacket is the most essential item for any chef, especially when visible.
4. What was your first job?
My first kitchen job was pot washing at the age of 13. I fell in love with restaurants then and there, the atmosphere amongst the team was fantastic.
5. Favourite cookbook and why? (we love recommendations)!
I have a different favourite every week – I have a vast and always growing collection of cooking books. My more often than not “go to” though would have to be Forgotten Skills by Darina Allen – my first book and a lovely reference point.
6. Your awards/career highlights to date?
Awards are not really what inspire me, although I would always be chuffed to bits for the team more than anything to get an award. What I love more is a word from an appreciative customer or a journalist. We had a wonderful write-up from The Irish Times not so long ago "This English California in Ox Barn is Hibbert's own thing - a menu of picked-that-day ingredients with Italy and a sunny disposition running through it. This sounds simple. It isn't. Some of the finest cooking is deceptive and disciplined, knowing how to coax an ingredient just enough to let it sing as much as possible without losing its character is hard. There is an extraordinary amount of knowledge, skill and lack of ego required to make food this good.”.
Stuffed Artichoke with Spinach, Nettles and Ricotta.
7. Your cooking inspiration and why?
My mum Caryn, founder and Creative Director of Thyme, was and is a brilliant and instinctive cook. I was always hanging around the kitchen helping out, but generally getting in the way. Both my grannies were good cooks too. As soon as I could, I was off to Ballymaloe Cookery School to train. Then travelled, eating my way around India, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines before settling in New Zealand as a chef at Craggy Range Winery – one of New Zealand’s finest restaurants and wineries in the Hawkes Bay region. When I came back to the UK, I went straight to Quo Vadis, under the watchful eye of the great Chef Jeremy Lee. Of course you never stop learning – Thyme and especially the Ox Barn have been a steep learning curve for me.
8. Your speciality dish and what makes it so special (we love tasting notes)?
I don’t think I have any real speciality dishes… I really like simple things. A Tomato Tonnato is an all-time favourite, beef toms sliced and seasoned with oil and lemon juice, topped with a silky tuna mayonnaise, anchovies and capers!
9. Favourite go-to dish to eat and why?
It chops and changes. I think a plate of Asparagus, Butter Sauce, Poached Egg and Parmesan. It feels like you’re bursting out of winter when the Asparagus season starts.
Chef Director, Charlie Hibbert with Head Chef, David Kelman at the Ox Barn kitchen.
10. Weirdest thing you ever ate?
I think lots of things could be considered strange in UK kitchens, but commonly used around the world. I had chickens’ feet the other day: they were delicious.
11. Favourite ice cream flavour and what do you pair it with?
Fig leaf ice cream which we put with frangipane tarts and custard.
12. Favourite family recipe?
I always had a pavlova for my birthday made by my late Grandmothers.
13. Favourite wine – if you could only pick one which would it be?
For my wedding, we had a lovely white Burgundy. If I could only pick one, maybe I’d go posh and have a Puligny Montrachet.
Baked Lamb with Salsify and Green Sauce.
14. Who would you most like to cook for and what would you cook for them?
My family, sitting around a table on a summery Sunday is second to none. Or maybe Formula 1 driver James Hunt. Now he would have been a great party guest. I’m sure a big Côte de Boeuf would be his speed!
15. And who would you least like to cook for?
Vladimir Putin… I don’t fancy being poisoned by him.
16. Favourite things to do when not cooking:
I’m a huge racing fan, specifically F1. I suppose that’s a guilty secret, though it’s not very on brand. Otherwise, my wife Molly and I take off to eat out, mostly to London, but wherever we’ve heard about amazing places to go – we’re huge fans of Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall.
17. Your latest project at the Ox Barn?
Well, the Ox Barn’s Summer terrace opened with the good weather, and I’d say that doubled our covers. At Thyme, we have lots going on, we’re about to open our Orchid House, which sits alongside the pool. We’ll be serving light menu there, focusing on seasonal garden salad, ices and sorbets. My sister Milly has designed the space and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll go down really well with our hotel guests. The next project Milly and I have been working hard on is the refurbishment of The Swan at Southrop – a much loved and celebrated village pub that has been in our family for nearly two decades. As it started life in 1606 as a bakehouse selling bread and ale to the Southrop Manor Estate’s farmworkers, homemade bread will be on the menu with a special section of tasty sandwiches made with our own Sourdough. There’ll be an evolving seasonal menu, with pub classics, old and new. Vegetarians and vegans will be well catered for too – I’ve had lots of practice with my wife and sister. We’re aiming to open very soon – but openings are always moveable feasts in the restaurant world. Anyway, if you’re in the Cotswolds, although biased, I highly recommend a visit our way.
18. Favourite city, what makes it so special to you?
London… I grew up around Soho and worked there for six years, so I always head straight there whenever I back in town.
19. Your greatest indulgence?
20. And finally, your all-time best culinary tip:
Sharp knives. A blunt knife ruins any fun you have cooking, it becomes an untidy, drudgey task.
Photography: Jason Moore (portraits), Kirsty Young (food), Thyme (interiors).