James Slater, head chef at Rydal Hall, Rydal - the Diocese of Carlisle’s retreat and conference centre

Essential ingredients = I couldn’t manage without fresh herbs, especially rosemary – that’s my favourite. Then I would say butter, olive oil and whole spices. We’re very lucky here that we have a kitchen garden where we can grow a lot of our own vegetables.

First kitchen worked in = It was at The Vintner in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a very traditional place serving English dishes in the heart of Shakespeare country. It was in a very old building that dated back to the 16th century. Obviously we catered for a lot of tourists and people going to the theatre. It was a very busy place, and a very good place to learn. I got used to dealing with unusual dietary requests as well.

First dish I prepared = I can’t remember what was my first dish, but I do recall that when I started work at The Vintner, because I was the trainee, I had to make the béchamel sauce for the cannelloni. I hated doing it, endlessly stirring. It was the job no one else wanted to do.

Signature dish = Braised ox cheek, cooked with port and star anise, and served with celeriac mash. I love winter slow-cooked dishes using interesting cuts of beef. The cheaper cuts can have much more flavour.

Food philosophy = The key to really good food is simplicity. I like to let the ingredients do the work. The more you add to a dish, the less you get out of it in terms of flavour. I like to let the ingredients do the talking.

Biggest kitchen disaster = I’ve burned a few pan bottoms trying to make chutneys. And I’m talking about really thick bottomed pans!

My favourite chef = I like Tom Kerridge. He could make fish and chips and win a Michelin star, not by deconstructing it or doing anything fancy, just by doing it really well. He doesn’t shout about what he’s doing, he just keeps it simple.

My biggest influence = The first chef I worked for in Stratford was a man called Arnault Boussos. He taught me such a lot and I have great respect for him. He taught me the love of food. He taught me that enjoying the ingredients and working with them is more important than technique.

My favourite meal = I like rack of lamb. It’s not something I get to cook very often, so that’s what I would choose in an ideal restaurant. Cooked with rosemary of course, a rosemary jus.