Sam Griffiths joined the team as head chef at Palé Hall in the summer of 2023, following a string of successes in his culinary career. Having trained under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred chef, Simon Radley, Sam went on to win Welsh Chef of the Year and is now busy blending his style of classic cooking with a lightness of touch to suit the modern diner at the highly acclaimed luxury destination based in the Dee valley. Almost 12 months on from his appointment, we caught up with Sam to learn more about how he has been getting on and his plans for the future.

Have you had any positive mentors?
I have tried to take the maximum from everywhere I’ve worked and every chef I’ve worked under. Being a sponge in the kitchen is so important, never waiting to be shown anything, but pestering with questions and getting involved is the best way to improve at any level. Every chef I’ve worked under has had a positive impact on me and has given me tools I will always use throughout my career. I look up to and am inspired by countless chefs, standouts being Gareth Ward at Ynyshir for being completely unique and extraordinary, dining there was something I’ll never forget.

How did your culinary journey start?
My first role was work experience in a local Indian restaurant, front of house for the first week, then kitchen for the second week. I wasn’t sure at that point if it was what I wanted to do, but it allowed me a look into a busy kitchen. I really enjoyed speaking to guests too and loved the service side. The kitchen role was just a lot of prep jobs for me, as the guys didn’t speak English. But they showed me base sauces and allowed me to taste spice mixes/pastes that were the foundations of what they did.

What do you enjoy most about creating a new dish?
One thing to remember when playing with ideas for a dish is that most things have already been done. But using that as a positive and creating something better than before, with unique twists or additions is the key. The point where a dish is ready for the restaurant, especially when the whole team has been involved in the development, is one of the best parts of the job.

Do you have any “go-to” cuisines or global dishes that you gravitate to more than others?
Not really. The places I’ve spent most of my career so far shaped me into having a modern style with appreciation of classic technique. I love blending new with old, and using Asian ingredients to elevate seasoning and acidity. I hope that I will always keep consistency in that identity, and every dish I produce should have the same principles, even as my style may change.

What did it mean to you to win the National Chef of Wales title?
It was really great. Working at the level I was at the time was intense and fairly consuming. I loved it, but it was nice to do something for myself, and to do it whilst competing for the Welsh title was amazing. I was absolutely chuffed to win it, and it opened lots of doors for me including competing on the world stage in Abu Dhabi. I’m proudly Welsh and to win it was something I’ll never forget. ‘NCOW20’ is even tattooed on my arm!

What was it like competing in Abu Dhabi & what did you learn from the experience?
It was intense! A massive step up from any competitions I’d done previously, and I definitely did go into it naively. I had a great time, met some great people and had fun representing Wales.

Which food trends are you looking to incorporate into your menu this year?
Trends are a massive part of the industry but not necessarily something I try and jump on. You can be inspired by them sure, but sometimes they just aren’t suitable for your style and business. Sticking to my style and principles are more important in my opinion than keeping up with a trend which might not last. Consistency is key!

Looking back on your career to date, what have been the defining moments?
Getting the job as a Demi CDP at the Chester Grosvenor, taking what I thought was a big step back in stature and salary was actually the best decision I ever made. I was actually on the verge of leaving the industry for an engineering apprenticeship! I can’t stress enough how important it is for young chefs to learn the basics and throw themselves at a decent kitchen to absorb every bit of knowledge they can. There are no shortcuts. I would never have been considered for this role without that step.

Have you implemented any change at Palé Hall?
My first six months were always going to be a settling in period. That said, the whole offering has been refreshed, tasting menu dishes change as and when the season dictates with some ingredients, and just when I fancy a change with others. I’ve been trying to build a relationship with my team and show them how I like a kitchen to be. There have been a few bumps for sure, but we’re optimistic for 2024.

What’s your next career goal?
Establishing myself here at Palé Hall, offering the best product we can with a happy team inside cooking great food, and supporting the business through the treacherous time hospitality is having at the moment.

What challenges are you looking forward to tackling this year?
I think the challenges our industry faces are pretty scary and intimidating rather than exciting. That being said, constantly improving myself, offering a great environment to work, develop and learn for the team and helping the business grow in really uncertain times are right at the forefront. Sticking to what we do, delivering amazing hospitality in a beautiful location at the highest possible standard is the key to overcoming challenges undoubtedly coming our way this year.