MICHELIN-STARRED chef Martin Blunos has taken up the helm of the five-star Seaham Hall Hotel as part of its £2million relaunch. Georga Spottiswood met the man who has big plans for the venue.
“If I could choose someone to cook for, it would be a person not of this world, a mighty God like Thor; I’d cook him something really (funny) too, such as steamed quails’ eggs,” guffawed Martin Blunos when I met up with him in his new restaurant at Seaham Hall.
The hotel has recently undergone a £2million refurbishment in a bid to pull in guests and turn its tarnished reputation on its head.
As part of this “new dawn” era, owners have brought in Martin, who has two Michelin Stars and a string of TV programme appearances under his belt, including Saturday Kitchen and James Martin’s Feasts.
“Twelve years ago this was the place to be, then it became like a toilet. Now it can only go up, like a phoenix rising from the ashes; I’m excited to be part of that,” says Martin, 53, a flamboyant character who describes himself as a “Viking pikey” with his long, strawberry blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail and a walrus-like moustache.
The chef, whose Latvian parents came to England just after the Second World War, originally wanted to join his dad’s flooring business.
“I was really hurt when he told me I couldn’t join the company when I left school. Looking back, I can see it was his way of looking after me. He knew that I’d get more satisfaction doing something else.”
Food became the way forward and Martin carved out his craft at Cheltenham and Cambridge. “I remember baking a rock cake for my dad. He couldn’t eat it – it was like rock,” laughed the chef who went on to work at The See restaurant in Lake Constance, Switzerland.
“I was in my 20s and the only member of the chef’s team who could speak English, as well as the chef, so all the lads thought I was kissing up to him – I got a lot of stick. I just thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen, I get beat up?’. Eventually I became part of the gang, the boys were my mates and we’d be drinking beers together,” said Martin, who opened his first restaurant in Bristol in 1988.
In Lettonie (French for Latvia), Martin adopted a Franco-British cooking style. He opened it with his now wife, Sian, but sitting under one of the £40,000 chandeliers in Byron’s Bar at Seaham Hall, he uttered to me: “I’d never go back to having my own place, it’s better using someone else’s money. When it’s your own, it hurts.
“Sian was pregnant with our first son, Leon. She’d be running out the back to yak up then putting on a face as front of house. We couldn’t afford to employ anyone else, it was pretty tough going,” said the chef, who earned his first Michelin Star there in 1989, and a second in 1991.
A few years later and Martin moved Lettonie to a larger premises in his hometown of Bath. By then, he and Sian had their second son, Max, now 21.
“It’s no wonder the boys didn’t gravitate towards restaurants. I’d be downstairs cooking, running upstairs screaming at them to get their homework done, then answering the phone late at night in a posh voice, ‘Oh hello, yes, of course you can book a table for two’, because when it’s your own business you’re constantly on duty. It was very stressful,” said Martin, who threw in the towel when his daughter Coco (named after Coco Chanel) was born 12 years ago.
“We sold up and got out. Yes, I had two Michelin Stars, but they don’t pay the bills,” said Martin, who landed himself a role as judge on Junior Masterchef.
“TV is a totally different discipline. It’s more like becoming a salesman. You have to sex things up for the camera,” said the chef, who’s cooked for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they visited Bath as part of the Golden Jubilee Tour.
“She’s just like this little gran. Who I’d really like to cook for would be someone like Maggie Thatcher or Adolf Hitler, just to ask ‘why?’, or Neil Young as he has that hippie thing going on.”
Martin has now been appointed director of cuisine at Seaham Hall and as well as taking the helm at his restaurant, Blunos Sea Grill – which features velvet sofas, marble tables and purple mood lighting – he’ll be overseeing the food operation at the hotel, including Ozone restaurant, room service, bar snacks and banqueting.
In the Sea Grill, he’ll be serving up dishes such as slow cooked pork, bread and dripping and Bryon lobster.
He said: “It’s the dawn of a new day here, and I’m thrilled to be part of that.”