FROM mechanical engineering to cooking, Paul Routtledge has always followed his passion, and now is continuing his love for food at The Walnut Tree in North Petherton.

After working at Anglo American, Paul came back to England at the age of 32 but found that he was too over qualified for any of the mining jobs he applied for in England.

Paul explained: “At that point I decided to take up my passion, my hobby – cooking, and I have been doing that ever since.

“It has always been hotels. I’ve never done a restaurant, it has never appealed to me. I like the whole buzz from breakfast service to evening service to closing down.”

Paul has now been cheffing for nearly 30 years and he decided to move to The Walnut Tree this May.

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Paul said: “I started working in Devon. Moved to North Devon and then the hotel closed, so I followed my passion and moved to Scotland for five years.

“I was offered a job in small boutique hotel in Porlock, which I loved, but it was too much work.”

Paul then moved onto work at The Beach Hotel in Minehead – a training hotel for young apprentices.

He added: “Working with the community, I was able to do two four-hour stints at Minehead community college in the catering section as a guest lecturer. So, they put me through the City in Guilds Apprenticeship Assessors Certificate.

“And then when they closed, I picked my next set of apprentices and finished their education.

“Then the YMCA expanded and brought four other catering establishments.

“I left the Beach mainly because they were putting more on me and I was barely in the kitchen, I got fed up with not being I the kitchen so I came here.”

At The Walnut Tree, Paul is working hard to change its reputation from a guests only restaurant and into a thriving restaurant for everyone in the community.

At the moment, he has redesigned the existing menus, but in September Paul will create his own menu based on his style of cooking.

He said: “My style of cooking is modern English with a French slant. I pick the French classics and modernise them to English taste. I was classically trained, I love the French language and the way the French have this mixture of words that sound nice.

“This is because a lot of diners today wouldn’t know a lot of French cooking terms. Some of the process are quite heavy with a lot of butter and a lot of cream so we tend to lighten them and reduce the butter and cream.

“Dauphine potatoes (Pommes Dauphine) for example, is choux pastry with mash potato made with double cream. So, we have taken the double cream out and just used the choux pastry.

“It is the same taste and the same presentation but is not a calorie-heavy dish.”

Ingredients are key to the dishes that Paul makes at The Walnut Tree. He is aiming to make sure that most of the dishes on the menu are sourced in Somerset.

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Paul said: “When I came here the previous chef was buying from all over the place.

“I’ve now spent about ten or twelve hours at Pynes and I have told them what I want and then we negotiate the price. 95 per cent of all the meat now comes from Pynes.”

“There’s a farm outside Bristol called Arthur David which is where our veg and dairy comes from.

“Mainly because they deliver at 3am and they have won a lot of award for local purchasing and growing and so on.

“Using them helps us as well. We have reduced the number of deliveries from other suppliers and now we only use five.”

One ingredient that Paul couldn’t live without is tomatoes, he finds them really versatile and is currently experimenting with a tomato terrine which is on the specials board at the moment.

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He said: “What we are doing is new dishes that we want to play with, we’ll put on the specials board and see how it works for guests and from the kitchen.

“We have put in some new vegan dishes too and they have really taken off.

“One of the really popular dishes is one of my favourites. The bottom is a portobello mushroom which has been marinated in balsamic maple syrup and coconut oil, with olive oil mash and sautéed vegetable with aubergine crisps on the top.

“I will wake up at night thinking about a dish and I have to write it down because I won’t remember it in the morning.

“I will get up and actually scribble notes on a pad beside the bed and finish and design it.”

The Walnut Tree will release their new menu this September.

Paul decided to give us a sneak peak of his favourite dish, he explained: “One of the dishes will be seabass with a lemon mousse topped with black sesame seeds on tomato concasse with a potato rosti and basil oil dressing.”

If you would like to find out more or book a table visit www.walnuttreehotel.com or call 01278 662255.