THE executive chef at the helm of some of Tyneside’s most popular venues has unveiled a blueprint for their futures – and a raft of new menus.

Master Chef of Great Britain, Norman MacKenzie, joined Newcastle-based leisure and hospitality giant Malhotra Group plc five months ago, tasked with overseeing its entire catering operation

And, following stringent staff training and restructuring, Norman, a former Hospitality Guild Mentor of the Year, has re-focussed and streamlined the menus at Scalini’s, at Jesmond and Gosforth, The Runhead, at Ryton and the Sandpiper, Cullercoats.

“The restaurants within the Group’s portfolio are diverse, geographically and in terms of their market and their offering,” said Norman, “and my priority has been to preserve their individual appeal while establishing a consistency of quality and service throughout.

“Scalini’s are, first and foremost, neighbourhood Italian restaurants with very loyal core customer bases and so, along with our much-loved pizzas and pasta dishes, we have introduced specials, which will change daily in line with produce seasonality and availability.

“Our newly introduced slow cooked lemon and rosemary lamb shoulder with sautéed courgette, pimento, green beans, garlic and parmesan, served with gnocchi, is a good example of the return to traditional Italian cookery.”

“The specials will be very much down to the head chefs at each venue and will give them the chance to expand their creativity, pass their skills on to their team and, ultimately, give the customer more choice and satisfaction.”

The menus at The Sandpiper and The Runhead have also been re-worked with an emphasis on seafood at the Cullercoats venue, with dishes such as seabass en papillotte – baked in a parcel with fennel – and North Sea fish and chips.

“At The Runhead, which is very much a family venue, we are keeping the menu deliberately broad in terms of the choice – sharing platters, wraps, mains, sandwiches and so forth – but varying the dishes within those categories,” said Norman.

“So, main dishes will include baked cauliflower cheese and squash, chickpea and spinach curry alongside heartier meals such as chicken, ham and leek suet pudding and steak and ale pie.

“We have also introduced beef and ale and lamb and root vegetable sharing casseroles as part of an ongoing strategy to create a ‘home from home’ experience at the venue.”

In a career spanning almost 30 years, Norman, who is also a Craft Guild of Chefs Master Craftsman, has worked at hotels across the UK and holds a number of advanced staff training and food safety qualifications.

He will now bring his expertise to bear across other Malhotra Group venues, including Osbornes, Jesmond and its Prestwick Care residential care homes across the region.

“It’s a wide-ranging brief which covers everything from food compliance and staff development, to the re-design of kitchens,” he said, “but at the core of it all is quality.

“We are focussing on providing the best ingredients, cooked in the best way by the best people – at each and every one of our venues, to make Malhotra Group plc synonymous with quality across the board.”