Great pub chefs - The Good Life

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Yew tree inn Michelin guide Inn Paul

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Bob Beatty
Swapping the fast lane for a more meaningful existence in the country became an easy decision for pub chef Paul Hackett. It just took a motorbike...

Swapping the fast lane for a more meaningful existence in the country became an easy decision for pub chef Paul Hackett. It just took a motorbike accident that almost claimed his arm. Jo Bruce met him.

If it isn't local, then Paul Hackett really doesn't want to know. In fact, if you stand on top of May Hill in Gloucestershire on a clear day and slowly turn full circle, you'll find yourself taking in much of the Yew Tree Inn's grocery basket. The remote pub is located in Clifford's Mesne, a village near Newent, amid the countryside,west of Gloucester - the perfect site for Paul and his wife, Anna. The couple passionately believe in locally sourcing as much produce as they possibly can for what they describe as restaurant-quality food. Indeed, much of the produce for their menu comes from the Hacketts' own back yard.

The couple, who bought the pub for £249,000 four years ago, keep two sheep, geese, and chickens and grow as many herbs, fruits and vegetables as they can on the land directly behind the pub. As Paul says on his menu: "Our own pet geese are proud to shell out, as it were, for our wondrous lemon tart."​ Paul also regularly features rabbits, pheasants and deer, which have been shot locally. You could say that the couple live in a manner similar to that of the television series The Good Life, as Paul says running the inn is not just a job, but also a lifestyle. "This is a home as much as a business. It is a way of life. Cooking is a hobby, which now enables me to enjoy my life. We are controlling our own destiny,"​ Paul explains. The decision to move to a remote pub in the countryside was prompted by a motorcycle accident. Paul, who was riding his 1,000cc "super bike", collided with a bus in February, 1999. He was rushed to hospital with a severed right arm.

While being treated in hospital, a surgeon decided to try and stitch his arm back on. Some 14 hours later Paul came round to find himself still in one piece - and it was then he took the accident as a strong message to rethink how he wanted to spend the rest of his days. The decision he came to was buying the Yew Tree Inn, where its food offerings previously went straight from the freezer into the microwave. That was four years ago and the pub now attracts customers from miles around. It is now also recommended in the Good Food Guide, Good Pub Guide and Michelin guides.

And, since taking the inn on, Paul certainly hasn't had to dumb-down the Michelin-star restaurant skills he learned in the big smoke. He says: "People's attitudes towards the food and drink routinely served at the local hostelry have changed over the last few years. "The dishes I cook now are very similar to those I prepared when I worked in Michelin three-star restaurants in London."​ The Yew Tree may be partly self-sufficient, but being located in the depths of the countryside means that Paul can't source everything he needs locally. So, his much-favoured fish, is delivered each morning from the Channel Fisheries in Brixham, Devon. Fish is certainly a speciality of the Yew Tree Inn and Paul says that on a Saturday night, fish can account for around 50% of sales.

His fish dishes range from classical fish and chips with beer/cider batter (£8.95) to straw-smoked haddock, poached egg with spinach herb and butter sauce (£8.75). Paul is looking to employ a chef this year to help develop the business and is planning to offer a special patio menu in the summer. This will allow customers to enjoy fantastic food while taking in the spectacular views of the surrounding Black Mountains, the Malverns, and the Brecons.

The Hacketts have taken sensible steps to grow the business and are proud of what they do. Paul explains: "It is a bit of reverse psychology, but in the end you get to the same place as when you chase money."​ Paul and Anna say they were always positive that the business would be successful. "When we first opened we didn't see anyone for four days. But we always felt people would come, it was just a question of time."​ The Hacketts have never advertised to promote the inn and they believe its popularity has come from word of mouth. Paul says he would certainly recommend leaving the long hours and stress of the city to other like-minded chefs.

But what is his advice to those chefs who might not view this as a career path? "I would like to encourage more and more chefs, who have my background, to do what I have done,"​ he answers. "In terms of food development there is far more going on in pubs now than in restaurants. "Lots of people can do this.The problem is that people look at all the luxuries that go with the job. "When it comes to the bones of it people don't have the courage to give it up [city life]."​ Paul points out that the country lifestyle allows him to see his wife and daughter "so much more"​. He adds: "We are only here for a certain amount of time, so we might as well make the most of it."

The inn is shut for three weeks every January, so the family can have a holiday, and also every Monday. Paul says his cooking is classical, but is also influenced by spells of living in the Far East, Australia and Italy. The Yew Tree menu generally consists of six starters and six main courses and the Hacketts charge a set price of £21.95 for two or £27 for three courses, or you can also have a taster menu of five courses for £32. Paul says that they obviously make a higher gross profit on something such as pork, compared to fillet steak, but overall what is subsidised on one dish will be made up on others. "We put a supplement on some dishes, which is a bit manipulative, but it forces people to really choose what they want."

Paul also makes all the inn's bread, ice cream and salad dressings. He says: "We don't buy anything pre-prepared or frozen."​ Wine is another of Paul's passions and the pub offers 230 types on its list. It also has its own wine cellar, which holds about £50,000 worth of stock. He admits that he is a big Claret fan and says one of his favourite wines at the moment is a South African Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Le Bonheur. "It's a great producer,"​ he adds. "Their standards are so different to most other vineyards as they only use the first pressing. They wouldn't dream of using secondpressed juice. I've been there and can vouch for it. Very impressive."

When asked what gets him out of bed in the morning to go to work, Paul's answer seems to sum up just how content he is with life at a country inn. "It's either the sun coming in the window or the noise made by my cockerel, Hamish."

Chef's CV

Name:​ Paul HackettAge:​ 44 Experience:​ Paul started his culinary career at the Roux brothers' Waterside Inn at Bray. He also worked at three of the four British restaurants which have three Michelin stars; ran kitchens in the Far East and the Caribbean; launched a 450-seat fish restaurant in Sydney; and was executive chef at Auberge du Lac, Hertfordshire. He bought the Yew Tree Inn with his wife, Anna, who was head buyer at the Four Seasons Hotel in London. Ambition: "I wanted to take the quality of a high-class restaurant into the country and serve people wonderful food at reasonable prices."And another thing:​ Paul's arm was severed in a motorcycle accident. But, luckily, a surgeon decided to sew it back on. He was back at work in two weeks.

The Yew Tree Inn - fact file

Menu philosophy:"To use the best and freshest produce that I can find - and source it all locally whenever possible."Style:​ Modern British Facilities:​ The pub's main room can serve 46 covers, with 36 in the restaurant and 36 more on the patio area in the summer. Bed and breakfast is £70 for a double room Number of wines on list:​ 230, including 15 whites and 15 reds by the glass. Average spend per head:​ &po

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