Jesmond Dene House appoints new head chef

Jesmond Dene House Hotel will promote sous chef Michael Penaluna to the position of head chef next month when Pierre Rigothier, current holder, returns to his native France.

Michael Penaluna (left) shakes hands with Pierre Rigothier

Penaluna, 29, who joined the hotel four years ago says he developed his skills under Rigothier’s guidance. “Pierre opened my eyes to different techniques and styles of presentation,” says Penaluna. “My ambition is to continue to improve standards so that Jesmond Dene House is associated with some of the best food in the north east.”

The hotel says Penaluna, who is from Newcastle, will build on Rigothier’s relationships with north-east suppliers to develop a more modern-British style of cooking. “Our suppliers are as passionate about food quality as we are,” says Penaluna. “That’s why we get the best.” He says he is also a passionate believer that a restaurant kitchen is not a ‘one-man’ show. “It’s about team-work. Give credit where it’s due, and you get the best out of the team. There’s no more important part of my job than encouraging our young chefs to improve and raise their game.”

General manager Eric Kortenbach comments: “We’re very pleased we’ve been able to promote from within. It gives the staff, and the hotel, continuity. Michael has benefited from Pierre’s skills and expertise and will now develop these further, in his own style. It’s an evolution, not a revolution.”

Under Rigothier’s three-year tenure, the restaurant gained a third AA rosette plus the hotel became AA Hotel of the Year in 2008-09.  However, the hotel says Rigothier’s long-term plans were to return to his home country, and to Paris where he learned to cook. His technical skills have won him the position of head chef at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Hélène Darroz, run by one of France’s most acclaimed female chefs.

“Jesmond Dene House has been very important to me,” he says.  “It’s developed my skills and experiences as well as helped me become customer-focused. That’s important because, eventually, I want to open my own restaurant.”  Rigothier says is confident he is leaving the kitchen in safe hands. “Running a kitchen is like having kids. You watch them develop, and Michael has improved fantastically. I now watch him make a dish, and don’t have to change anything.”

Peter Candler, managing director of Jesmond Dene House, says:  “Even though Pierre is leaving, he leaves behind a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise which is firmly embedded in our kitchen. And from which we will continue to benefit. Both Pierre, and his partner Muriel, share our passion for Jesmond Dene House. Everyone at the hotel wishes them well and we’re sure they will maintain their contact with the hotel and the region.”

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