Meet David Vanderhook, the owner of The Con Club in Altrincham
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 March 2018
David Vanderhook, owner of Altrincham's The Con Club, has a CV which includes cooking for a king, feeding supermodels and serving steak and kidney pud to one of the world's wealthiest men, writes PAUL TAYLOR
As a young chef in the home of fashion designer Valentino, David Vanderhook was given a unexpected cookery lesson by his employer.
‘He came in the kitchen and said: “I’m going to show you how to make risotto”. I said, I know how to make risotto,’ recalls David. ‘He said: “You’re English, David. You don’t know how to make risotto”. He was so devoted to this dish, he just wanted it made exactly how his mum used to make it.’
If you are wondering, the most important ingredient in Valentino’s perfect risotto (apart from rice) was, it seems, love...and no butter. Which may account for why the fashion designer is still going strong at 85.
‘I was with him for three years. I went all over the world with Valentino: New York, Paris, the UK, on his boat and his house in Capri,’ says David. ‘I met all the models - Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer..’
And what’s it like cooking for a supermodel? ‘They weren’t fussy, I’ll tell you that,’ says David. ‘But Valentino always wanted me to cook healthily anyway.’
The renowned fashion designer was not the only illustrious client for David’s culinary talents. He was private chef first to King Hussein of Jordan, then the fabulously wealthy Aga Khan and then the billionaire financier Sir Evelyn de Rothschild.
After that, he pioneered private dining for well-heeled City clients in his loft apartment in then-unfashionable Shoreditch.
Today, he, his wife Jo and their three teenage children call Bowdon home, and are kept busy with the success of The Con Club in Altrincham, the third of David’s enterprises in the north west, the others being Lime Bar in Salford Quays and the George Charles bar and restaurant in West Didsbury.
As a chef turned restaurant owner, David tends not to stand over his chefs issuing instructions in quite the same way that Valentino did with that risotto. ‘I guide them. We do have a lot of input, but I want them to come up with a menu that’s going to satisfy me and Jo. She’s harsher than I am when it comes to menus.’
The Con Club - a characterful space which wears its 130-year-old origins as Altrincham Working Men’s Conservative Club with pride - opened in late 2016, serving a broad menu: meats from the charcoal grill to sushi and sashimi. Their own microbrewery - tended by experts from Dunham Massey Brewing Company - produces 600 pints a week for sale over the Con Club bar.
It is a part of the resurgence of Altrincham town centre. Standing on Greenwood Street, The Con Club is an artisan bread roll’s throw away from the foodie emporium Altrincham Market and Market House - for which David does not conceal his admiration - the much-lauded Sugo Pasta Kitchen and bakery-cum-restaurant Blanchflower.
‘It’s become a place you come if you want decent food,’ says David.
The son of an oil executive, David got into catering via a job in a Hampshire gastropub as a teenager. At 19, he was cooking aboard the QE2, and was then tipped off about a vacancy in King Hussein of Jordan’s small army of chefs. It was here that David broadened his knowledge working alongside French and Turkish chefs.
‘The king was quite cheeky. He’d come in for a bit of banter. There’s a story that goes around that he would get a taxi in Amman in Jordan, put on a headscarf and take people around, asking them how life was for them. They didn’t have a clue; they thought he was a cabbie.’
David heard that the Aga Khan - a wealthy prince said to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad - needed a new chef. Part of his interview involved David been flown to Paris to organise a Jockey Club dinner for 200 people.
‘I was the youngest in the kitchen, coming to be their head chef.’
Life with the Aga Khan meant cooking for him at his estate in Chantilly, or on holiday in Sardinia, Geneva or Gstaad.
The Aga Khan’s favourite dish was crayfish, flambéed in brandy with butter and herbs. But David adds; ‘He liked all the Turkish things we used to do, classic French, and steak and kidney pudding now and then.’
It was Doris Brynner, ex-wife of the movie star Yul Brynner, who recommended David for his next job, in Rome, with Valentino. After three years, it was on to London as chef to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, cooking for VIPs including Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis.
David and Jo invested in a large loft apartment in Shoreditch, which was styled, beautifully, into a private dining room for well-heeled City types. It was the set for fashion shoots and Nigella Lawson used it to launch a crockery range.
David and a business partner opened a bar, Lime, in London.
‘We planned to put a Lime in every city and thought we’d be multi-millionaires in a few years...job done,’ he says. A Lime was opened in Manchester, and another in Salford Quays. But they sold the London Lime in the wake of a shooting incident in 2002. David gravitated towards Manchester because that was where his remaining businesses were. After several years commuting north to tend those businesses, he and the family moved here permanently. Jo had spent some of her childhood in Knutsford before her father’s work in software took the family to Iran, and she has childhood memories of coming to Altrincham market.
How does David find Cheshire? ‘I love the area,’ says the Surrey-born restaurateur. ‘Everyone says that up north, it’s nicer and the people are friendlier...and they really are.’