Grilled: Dan Moon, The Gainsborough Bath Spa
05 June 2017
"Dan's social media feeds are full of saliva-inducing, hunger-making pics of yummy ingredients and his latest culinary creations"
Emma Dance quizzes Dan Moon about his first 18 months at the helm of the kitchens at The Gainsborough Bath Spa
It’s only a little more than 18 months since Dan Moon took over running the kitchens at Bath’s Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel . But in that time he’s really made his mark on the luxurious venue, transforming the menu and increasing the number of customers by more than a third. No mean feat when you consider just how competitive the Bath restaurant-industry is, with a seemingly endless stream of new openings.
Of course the fabulous food (the team is keeping its fingers crossed for a Michelin star) and sumptuous surroundings helps, but one of the factors Dan attributes to the restaurant’s growing success is social media. Because it seems that Dan is almost as handy with an iPhone camera as he is with kitchen equipment and his Twitter (@danielmoonchef) and Instagram (@Danielmoonchef) feeds are full of saliva-inducing, hunger-making pics of yummy ingredients and the latest culinary creations to grace the Gainsborough’s menus.
“I’m really keen on the social media side of it all,” he says. “It definitely helps with the PR – for the restaurant and for me as a chef.
“My Twitter followers have grown a lot, and now I’m getting between 400 and 500 likes on my Instagram posts which isn’t bad!
“It’s really good for the guys downstairs in the kitchen too, to see people liking what we’re creating, and when people take their own pics and share them and say positive things.
“And from my point of view, it’s practically a CV in itself. Anyone can look at my Twitter or Instagram and see the kind of food that I cook.”
Don’t think though that Dan’s busily snapping away while he’s at the pass though! Instead he does special photo sessions, ensuring he captures the dishes from the best possible angle, from the best possible light, and on the best possible crockery to showcase the colours and textures. And it’s not just about the social side of things either. “The photos are a really useful tool for training,” says Dan.
And since Dan started he’s had to teach the 11-strong brigade his style of cooking, because although there’s still a few traces of the original “Johan Lafer at the Gainsborough” branding, everything that comes out of the kitchens now is very much his own creation.
“When I first got here of course there were menus in place, and of course we couldn’t change everything at once. We started with the lunch menu, then moved on to the dinner menu and we did it week by week so the team could get adjusted to my cooking.”
It’s not only the team that have got adjusted to his cooking now it seems – it’s also the general public, as the restaurant is now the busiest it has been since opening.
“When I first got here we were dead, but it’s so much better now,” says Dan. “Last year we introduced a 2-4-1 lunch menu which was really popular and really good for us as it brought people in, and we are still doing it as lunch is such a competitive market.
“Now are dinner trade is growing now too. We make fresh bread every day, and we churn our own butter and things like that, people really like.
“We can do about 55-60 customers on a busy night now, and we wouldn’t want to do any more than that. We’re working on quality rather than quantity.”
Although all the menus are now completely Dan’s, they still change very regularly. “People talk about cooking with the seasons,” says Dan, “but there’s seasons within seasons so the dishes are constantly evolving.
“For example, I really like my chicken liver parfait and sorbet dish. The sorbet really cuts through the richness, but I change the sorbet and the other accompaniments with what’s coming into season. At the moment I have it with apple blossom, which looks and tastes beautiful, but I’m changing it tomorrow!
“We have a 5-5-5 menu [five starters, five mains and five desserts] and I’d never change the menu all at once.”
There’s one dish however, that is an almost permanent fixture on the menu.
“My signature dish has always been Creedy Carver duck,” says Dan. “I’m from Exeter and Creedy Carver is from that part of the world too so it’s a nice link.
“Here I do it with a little spiced spring roll so there’s a bit of Asian flavour. YTL [the company who own the Gainsborough] started in the Far East so there’s a tie-in there too.”
Although Dan is thriving, it’s not a job without its challenges. “It’s really good fun,” says Dan. “But of course there are challenges. For example, the kitchen is downstairs so everything has to come up under a cloche in a lift.”
It might not sound like a huge deal, but when item is placed on the plate with such precision by the kitchen team downstairs it’s vital that it arrives at the diner still looking as perfect as it does in Dan’s pictures! And when I see the duck dish, the full scale of the challenge becomes apparent. It’s a tower, with every element placed just-so, in order to make it as stable as possible. “It took a bit of work” admits Dan when I ask him about it later. “Everything has to be the right size and in the right place to stop it falling down!
“I am very lucky though. This is a great opportunity and a great platform for me. I’ve had a lot of support from the hotel management and Andrew Jordan (YTL’s executive vice president). I’ve had a huge amount of freedom when it’s come to creating menus and dining offers and I have all the resources I need.
“My dream is to have the restaurant busy all the time, and to win a Michelin-star, and I think that both those things are achieveable!”
Images taken from Dan's Instagram feed