Great Pub Chefs - A Vintage Year - Michael Maguire

By Mark Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

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The Trengilly Wartha Inn at Constantine in Cornwall has built a reputation for food - and led to the emergence of a thriving wine merchants, which...

The Trengilly Wartha Inn at Constantine in Cornwall has built a reputation for food - and led to the emergence of a thriving wine merchants, which its owners now aim to grow further. Mark Taylor reports

After a five-hour journey to the Trengilly Wartha Inn, I wasn't really prepared for such a big surprise from head chef and co-proprietor Michael Maguire.

I had made the long trip to this rural Cornish pub to talk to Michael about his career and the success of the Trengilly

Wartha, but I had barely opened my notebook when he revealed he had omitted to mention one thing when we had spoken on

the telephone the previous week.

With four pages of PubChef to fill about Michael and the pub, the words "we're selling up" weren't exactly music to my ears. But during our conversation, it soon became clear that although it may be the end of an era for this Scottish chef, it also marks the start of an exciting new chapter.

Michael and his business partner Nigel Logan have been running the Trengilly Wartha since 1988. A remote pub in an

idyllic spot, it is a honey pot for tourists and, on the Friday I arrived, the place was packed with families.

A self-taught chef, Michael has run the kitchen since it opened, although for 15 years he has been assisted by second chef Nick Tyler.

The pub has built a reputation for its food and 50% of the menu is made up of local fish and seafood dishes. It also has a handful of refurbished rooms and these enjoy an occupancy rate of about 70% all year round.

With an annual turnover of £700,000, all would appear rosy at the Trengilly Wartha, so it came as something of a shock

to be told it has been on the market for the past few months.

The main reason for Michael and Nigel's decision to sell up, it transpires, is the enormous success of their other

business, the wine merchants Wine In Cornwall.

"The wine business has been the 'child of Trengilly' all along," says Michael. "When we bought the pub, we started off quite small, but as the Trengilly's reputation for food grew, we found we didn't need to buy wine from the local shop, we could buy several cases at a time from somewhere else.

"The internal wine list blossomed and we started to sell a list of retail wines, but then we had other restaurants and pubs coming to us for wine. That's how the idea for the wine merchants started."

The wine list at the pub extends to more than 250 bottles, some of which are displayed in attractive wine racks in the

bar. Each bottle has two price tags - one for consumption at the Trengilly Wartha and a cheaper price for taking the wine


"We make it very clear and only one person has ever questioned the dual pricing and that was a Frenchman who couldn't understand why he had to pay £12.50 for a wine that had a retail price of about half that,"says Michael.

Wine In Cornwall now supplies more than 250 pubs, restaurants and hotels, and its fast growth is the reason Michael and Nigel decided to put the pub on the market.

"We've pushed the Trengilly as far as we can, but we can do an awful lot more with the wine business, which is why we need to be more involved," explains Michael.

"Running the pub and cooking here is full on. It's in your face all the time and it's been like that for 17 years. I know I could step back, but it still needs somebody at

the helm - and by that I mean an owner and not just a manager.

"I couldn't afford to bring somebody in to do everything I do. I could put another chef in the kitchen, but I couldn't bring somebody in who's a chef, an office administrator

and who's also still running around at 1am putting the laundry on and all the other things that come from running

a business like this."

Michael first started cooking for friends in the early '80s, often trying out different recipes from magazines or books by Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White.

In the early days at the Trengilly Wartha, the menu consisted of simple steaks, fish, curries, lasagne and filled jacket potatoes, but over the years, it has developed and evolved dramatically.

Despite his impending "retirement", Michael clearly has a passion for his craft nonetheless.

"I still love the fact that we can pick and choose what we're putting on the menu and we're not high-bound by tradition or style," he says. "Just being able to turn things around so quickly keeps me enthused."

Although the Trengilly Wartha has a separate restaurant area, Michael has noticed a massive swing towards informal

dining; on the night I visited, the pub did 10 covers in the restaurant and 86 food covers in the bar.

A commitment to using local produce - and highlighting the fact on the menu - has also proved important for Michael,

who is chairman of the Food In Cornwall Association.

"Anybody can put lemon sole on the board, but if you put 'Newlyn lemon sole', or 'St Ives Bay lemon sole', it makes

a huge difference and people will buy more of it.

"I'd like to think we've left a legacy here of creating a style that people will work with. Whoever takes over the place would be foolish to get rid of the existing staff because they know the business so well.

"Of course, the worst case scenario," says Michael, "is that one of the big companies takes it over and goes for the

easy option of buying in the food. If they did that, I think they would lose a lot of trade very quickly."

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