Tim Ware is head chef at award-winning residential care and nursing home Green Tree Court in Exeter, an establishment that has helped turn the concept of care on its head through its luxury 5-star hotel-style offering. After finishing runner-up in 2019, Tim went one better this year by winning the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) Chef of the Year competition in January.

With his early career spent honing his skills in top restaurants such as Michael Caines’ famous The Royal Clarence, Tim won Care Chef of the Year 2016 at The National Care Awards and was a pivotal part in helping Green Tree Court to win the Care Home of
the Year Award in 2018. This latest award further shows his skill, creativity and desire for excellence, so we chatted to Tim about putting the cool in care chef, competitions, COVID-19, critics and much more.

Congratulations on the win Tim – what does it mean to you and the team?

In all honesty, this NACC Care Chef of the Year win really is the pinnacle of my career. It’s been a title we have been working towards as a team and after coming second last year, it makes it even sweeter to take the trophy. As a flourishing young business, we have aggressively targeted these types of competitions to highlight how we do things differently and to put our name central on the luxury care map. Considering we won Care Home of the Year in 2018 and Care Chef of the Year 2016, this award is the icing on the cake.

How did you get into the kitchen?

It started with baking with my gran and then following school, a course at Exeter Catering College. After graduating, I was offered a full-time role at Michael Caines’ The Royal Clarence where I had been working as part of my apprenticeship. It was here I learnt the foundation of my cooking and grew in confidence. From there I moved around to a few different restaurants such as Shropshire’s 5-star Albrighton Hall Hotel in order to increase my knowledge and skills. Next, was a move back to Devon as Chef de Partie at the Jack in the Green restaurant before I joined Green Tree Court in November 2014.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the freedom and the variety it offers. We have a rolling three-week menu at Green Tree Court with three different starters, mains and desserts every day so it’s such a pleasure to push ourselves and work with so many incredible ingredients. Just like in a fine dining restaurant, it never gets boring as we’re always tweaking dishes and trying to improve on appearance and taste.

Tell me about your kitchen’s philosophy?

I would say we have the same philosophy as most leading restaurants. It’s about being the best we can be and getting the best out of the seasonal, local ingredients we work with. This means preparing them with care to maximise flavour and showing a bit of creativity. We offer luxury living at Green Tree Court so we approach our work the same way a team would in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Every aspect of what we offer has to be 5-star luxury hotel standard and we’re very passionate about keeping these high standards. We make fresh bread daily, smoke meats, we have a full waiting-on team, six chefs and a café, where everything is baked in-house. Outside of the kitchen there is a hair salon, an in-house beauty therapist, a gym, events and much more to keep our guests entertained and look after them in style. I’d love to live there myself when I require a little support in my senior years.

It sounds incredible, how do you compare to other care homes?

I think the work we have done has played a role in raising standards across the care sector. It has certainly got people talking and there are definitely others who are looking at what we do. I’m exceptionally proud of what we have achieved during the pandemic in particular – the whole team has gone above and beyond to keep our family of residents safe and happy, making the most of a challenging situation with activities and great food. The owners have big expansion plans too. My hope is that by raising standards ourselves, it can continue to encourage others to do the same, so we ensure the older generations get the care they need and deserve.

What are the biggest challenges for a care chef?

Ensuring our food critics are happy – we cater to all residents, three times a day. If you think Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Jay Rayner are tough when it comes to reviews, they’re nothing compared to our guests! If something isn’t right, they certainly won’t hold back and will give you an honest opinion. We wouldn’t want it any other way though as it’s great to be kept on our toes and work to continually improve our offering.

How would you describe your cooking style?

I was trained in classical French cooking so that is never far away from my mind, but I really love taking classics and giving them a modern uplift and twist. It’s the same in the kitchen at work. If someone wants sausage and mash, that’s fine but we’re going to give them the best and most exciting sausage and mash around.

How important are competitions to aspiring chefs?

I competed as a youngster while at catering college and continued to compete where possible in various competitions as I progressed. It’s not necessarily about winning but more about testing yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. I did MasterChef Professionals a few years ago, which was tough but an eye-opening experience and one I learnt a lot from.

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…

What are your three kitchen secrets?

1. Go local wherever possible.

2. Follow the seasons – you will get so much more flavour out of your produce.

3. Build, motivate and appreciate your team – you can’t do it alone and it’s no fun alone.

What is your favourite ingredient and why?

Beef cheek or any of the cheaper cuts of meat. We smoke a lot ourselves in the kitchen so smoked beef cheek cooked slow and low is a favourite. It doesn’t get much better.

Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it?

I’m going with my Butter Roast Chicken, Bombay Potatoes, Spinach and Shallot Bhajis, which played a key role in me winning the NACC Chef of the Year title. I think it will be a favourite for life now. It’s a modern twist on a classic Chicken Curry, packaged in a different way with beautiful, aromatic spices. The critics at Green Tree Court loved it!