Since the thirteenth century the great kitchen in the east wing of the Bishop’s Palace has been at the heart of ecclesiastical life in Chichester.
With its unique hammer-beam roof and its square proportions, in previous generations dozens of domestic staff have served bishops there.
Today’s bishop the Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner enjoys no such domestic support and the historic hall is used by the Prebendal School - the oldest educational establishment in Sussex. Public visits are rare.
But on Saturday, a ground-breaking dinner offered a unique glimpse behind of the facade of one of the city’s most historic buildings.
Organised by Adam Sparshatt - who founded The Personal Chef in 2011 - paying guests were treated to canapés in the Palace’s parlour before moving to the Great Kitchen for a three course banquet.
Dr Warner welcomed guests and gave them an insight into the building’s history. Part of the ticket price was donated to his Bishop’s discretionary fund which helps both clergy and lay people in the diocese.
Adam, whose company specialises in supper parties, private dinners in your own home, and special meals in unique venues, wanted to create dishes that would have some subtle nods to the Middle Ages and the rural nature of Chichester and the South Downs.
So a spiced mead jelly and preserved quince was added to a local game terrine for starters.
And wild mushrooms and shaved truffle accompanied the fillet of beef - perfectly tender, lightly cooked - for mains.
While a panettone bread pudding with crushed raspberry ice, figs and candied almonds completed the line up.
The serving team could not have been more efficient but the venue tested their and the chefs’ skills to the limit. The food was prepared in a tiny modern kitchen down the corridor and keeping the food warm when it reached the tables was a Herculean task.
It was a great opportunity to meet new friends. Our evening was made the more special by chatting to our neighbouring diners Sarah, Mike and Peter.
That sense of bringing people together is part of the vision.
Dr Warner explained that he was keen to open the historic palace more for public events - including fund-raising occasions for good causes.
He has a real passion for ever strengthening the bridges between cathedral and the wider community and it is to be hoped that this first great meal in the great kitchen will be the first major step in this wholly commendable journey.
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