Food + Drink

The unique Chequers Kitchen, Restaurant and Cookery School

Establishing an award-winning cookery school is one thing, but taking the concept and launching a successful restaurant alongside it takes a certain something special – and Chequers Kitchen in Deal has that ‘something’ in spades.

by Gemma Dunn 

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Situated off the beaten track, but still a stone’s throw from the Kentish coast, Chequers Kitchen is both distinct in its set up and unique in its results.

Run by chef, Pieter Van Zyl, and social entrepreneur, Stephanie Hayman, its winning formula is a product of its passionate team, commitment to the culinary field, and unreserved contribution to the local community. From wide-ranging cookery classes and demo-and-dine nights, to team-building events, activities for schools, bespoke group classes and more, it has one mission and that is to teach people to cook, eat well, and develop a good relationship with food.

Off the back of that very same ethos, Chequers Kitchen is a social enterprise; a Community Interest Company with a social duty to teach local people – from Dover, Deal and Sandwich – to cook with fresh ingredients, on a tight budget, so they can also access a healthy diet. Subsidised by grant funders, these invaluable Keen2Cook classes focus on those who want to turn their lives around and learn new skills where they otherwise wouldn’t have the means. As a result of its support, Chequers Kitchen deservedly took the title of Best Community Focussed Cookery School at Looking to Cook’s 2014 awards. A sign of great things to come!

And while a cookery class would – I’ll admit it – come in rather handy, on this occasion I was visiting the restaurant to enjoy a Friday lunchtime sitting. Integrated into one, the kitchen and restaurant blends stainless steel furnishings with pendant lamps and wooden flooring for a relaxed, coastal décor.

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Seated in view of the kitchen island and with my nap-preventing limit of one glass of wine in hand, the restaurant’s talented chef, Luke Jeffery-Green, prepared our first course from the day’s set menu. Allowing for an interactive experience, the open-plan interior enables diners to watch as much or as little of the cooking as they please prior to service.

Kicking off proceedings was, to my delight, watermelon gazpacho – an ideal summer-fruit variant to the classic cold soup. Accompanied by warm crostini and a sumac-sprinkled watercress dressing, the light starter was not only inspiring in flavour, but also in the sense that I wanted to recreate it at home – immediately.

To follow, our sharing-board mains comprised of locally caught, roasted mackerel, paired with a garlic-infused broccoli soffriti; and confit of rabbit bedded on a piquant orange and fennel watercress salad, peppered with walnuts and fennel blossom. Cooked to precision, each dish celebrated the season in hand, with the use of delicious, fresh produce at the heart.

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Dessert was a-calling, and I knew it was going to be good. I’d spotted it being prepared in the open kitchen, smelt the goods baking, and – discreetly – eyed up fellow diners enjoying it. And now it was our turn! Yes, coming up was a board of warm, buttery madeleines; the popular French sponge cakes traditionally baked in scallop-shaped moulds.

Dusted with icing sugar and served with a delectable lemon cream, the soft springy centres met with golden, crisp edges were divine; a clear nod to Green’s modern European influence and technique. Bon appétit, indeed!

When it comes to the Chequers’ weekly changing menus, the dedicated culinary team appoints its dishes according to provenance and the availability of fresh, local produce. And why some diners may prefer a more extensive menu, I would claim (having visited) that its ability to provide a trio of well-versed courses more than warrants its decision to serve a fixed menu to all diners.

In addition to serving lunch on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, guests can pop in for a weekday drink from the licensed bar or book up to enjoy the chef’s English-fuelled table d’hôte menu on Saturday evenings. Yet, whatever the occasion, you’re sure of a warm welcome from the friendly and attentive team and, of course, abundant, quality fare.

A homage to his mother’s kitchen, owner Pieter has spoken of his desire to enthuse guests and ‘create a place of laughter and friendship, as well as wonderful food’, and I wholeheartedly maintain that Chequers Kitchen has achieved that and much more. A testament to the town of Deal and beyond, here’s to the next award!

For more information and to see the full programme of cookery classes, demos and events, visit www.chequersrestaurant.com.

Chequers Kitchen, The Chequers, Golf Road, Deal CT14 6RG

01304 362288 // info@chequers.kitchen // @TheChequersDeal

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