Expert insights

Chef focus: Wadworth's king of the kitchen

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Chef, Wadworth

Ferguson develops the food offer for Wadworth's managed sites
Ferguson develops the food offer for Wadworth's managed sites
Scott Ferguson, head development chef at Wadworth, tells the PMA about what makes his kitchens tick


What food concepts/restaurants most inspire you and why?

Giraffe mainly because of its incredibly high levels of service. The staff are friendly, happy and knowledgeable. You can see they love working there and are pleased to see you. The menus are great too, they shout about their ethical values and interesting ingredients and have dishes from across the world. Ethics on food and eating well is something I would like to explore further in our menus and recipe creations.

Also Carluccio’s. The service is slick and laid back and offers quick, simple, fresh food in a foodie environment. The deli gives the restaurants a buzz too. The model reminds me of farm shops which, in a more rural environment, are now big competition to pubs. We need to look at ways of creating this buzz in some of our pubs and on our menus. The sense of field to plate plays a big part in the good farm shops I have visited, which offer real rustic food, brilliantly sourced with a story to tell and imaginatively promoted.

What trend do you think is having the most influence on pub menus?

I am always a little cautious with trends as they can go as quickly as they arrive and a trend that sweeps London may not always translate as well in more traditional rural areas.

Having said that, it is important keep up to date and we aim to do that while sticking to our principles of providing excellent quality, local, seasonal food. One area we have looked at in the market is our gourmet burger and pizza offerings. These give us an opportunity to be more creative and give customers more choice. We now offer a much larger and more interesting array of table sauces and marinades so customers can customise their food. This also works well with a simple rotisserie chicken — we offer customers a choice that includes chipotle and habanero sauces, Tabasco, mustard, relishes, chutneys, chilli and barbecue sauces, ketchups and vinaigrettes. Many are homemade but good-quality branded also works well.

What’s next for Wadworth?

We have seen more demand for Mexican flavours, small plates, plates to share — especially pudding plates, and healthier meal and salad options. One of my mantras is that we provide inspirational vegetarian dishes good enough to entice the
traditional meat eater.

Gluten-free food is still growing in popularity and over the coming months we hope to be working with Coeliac UK to assist us in getting better at offering and preparing for this ever-increasing demand.

What national food events do you recommend pubs should embrace?

My recommendation is to promote and advertise every possible calendar date to increase footfall to your pub, but to offer a simple menu that you are sure you can deliver to a high standard. Your aim on high days and holidays is for volume, so don’t over complicate things, make your offering relevant to your pub or location and plan well in advance — at least two to three months.

Christmas is of course a huge annual opportunity for every pub. We review the previous year at the end of January and plan for the next one by preparing Christmas menu banks, often developing and completing them ready for launch in July.

We make these menu banks relevant to our pub segments, so in our Great Pub Great Food destination pubs we will use seasonal ingredients to do something a bit different, like creating a three bird roast and using more unusual birds such as goose and pheasant.  But in our Community Local and Family Pub Dining segments we might do something simpler like steak and suet pudding or venison pie which is easier to create and quicker to deliver.

Creating your own events based around food can also work well, and can become regular monthly or even weekly events — a meet the butcher steak night, or a lobster and mussel event, local cheese and wine tasting or even cooking with beer and a chat with the brewer session. Good promotion is vital as is involving and incentivising staff. Get your supplier to support it and offer good value for money to encourage people along to the pub on those quieter evenings.

We also support and promote the national pie and sausage weeks every year as they are key products to our business, are good for PR and encourage supplier sponsorship. We create competitions for all our staff and customers to enter with a chance to win prizes and come to the brewery for a cook-off final.

What in your opinion are the biggest crimes against pub food?

For me the worst crime is a poor welcome on arrival. This sets the tone for how the pub is run and what we can expect. Badly briefed, unfriendly staff are not acceptable, and I expect the waiter to know what today’s soup is without having to ask the chef. I’m a sucker for some good up-selling too — enthusiasm and local knowledge goes a long way.

Inconsistent pricing that is not relative to the cost, ingredients or skill level of a dish is annoying too. Why would I pay more for Iceland scampi than a freshly battered fillet of fish or local pork sausages? We must offer real value for money on our food and this doesn’t mean cheap, but quality home cooked, well-presented food at a reasonable price.

One more bugbear — over complex menus describing dishes with too many ingredients and fancy chef drizzles and garnishes. We should ban curly parsley and balsamic glaze!

What is the key to keeping chefs/ kitchen staff motivated?

I believe that the key to motivating chefs is to ensure that they are involved in all aspects of the food development. We encourage them to meet and work with their suppliers and we provide them with back up and support. A big part of this means bringing chefs together with their peers from other pubs on a regular basis — we hold frequent get-togethers in the Wadworth Brewery kitchen where new ideas and recipes are discussed and problems aired.

We need to ensure kitchens are well organised and in good condition and so are good to work in. We offer training opportunities and refresher courses. If they go back with even one new idea it is worth the time and effort, as we need to inspire and motivate whenever possible.

Kitchens are pressurised environments and staff need to have well managed hours and shift patterns. In particular we recommend reducing split shifts to ensure a good balance of home and work life. In my experience a happy chef will create good food. Incentivising where possible is important too, with a quarterly bonus scheme based on personal and business performance.

What is the best thing you have introduced to your company’s food offer in the past year?

The past couple of years have seen a lot of innovation for Wadworth chefs. With the launch of our segmented pub structure, we have introduced a menubank of recipes for the five different segments. These are discussed and developed at quarterly food development meetings with all the chefs, and managed through Caternet, an online system that can be accessed by all. This has helped to give our offering more consistency and raise standards significantly over the last year. The system is also enormously helpful to chefs when it comes to managing allergens, calorie counting and other important issues, and we are trialling using the same system for all our online ordering.

Another recent innovation has been our daily link up with Wing of St Mawes, our trusted fresh fish supplier. Now they tell us what they have caught and we will put these on our specials. This replaces the old system when the chefs would call and request specific fish which may have to be found from different ports or boats. This ensures we sell the freshest fish often within 24 hours of being caught and landed, at a better price. It’s also more sustainable and we plan to communicate more about this to customers.

What kit do you recommend?

We have installed pizza ovens and rotisseries — both great additions to our kitchens — and we have upgraded several of our large food sites to Rational combi-ovens this year to help them manage high volumes.

Also, with the burger concept being popular, in some sites we have installed Roband grills which are very energy efficient and give out little heat into the kitchen. Being a contact grill it can cook 6-8oz burgers in under two minutes and is also great for steaks as it seals them very quickly.

What do customers want in 2015?

I don’t think that what customers want from a pub has changed much over the years. We just need to keep going the extra mile to make sure they return regularly by offering a friendly face, a warm welcome, great service and consistently great food. Quality offerings and good value for money will help to encourage people back in sooner, rather than waiting for a special occasion.

Today’s customers are well educated through TV chefs, so it is essential that we continue to challenge our dish creation, asking ‘is it good enough?’ Our pub dishes need to be different and interesting, not just what they would have cooked at home. We need to ensure that we are cooking what customers want to eat, not just what our chefs want to cook!

What is your idea of a perfect pub menu?

Our menus combine a balance of classic dishes with a couple of curved balls, something unexpected to keep it interesting. Core menus should offer balance and choice while specials give the option of being more adventurous and daring.

Classic dishes should be just that — classic. They can be updated, but essentially the key ingredients need to stay the same and deliver the same flavour combination.

The best classics do not normally incorporate more than five or six ingredients and should be kept simple so they can be delivered to the customer at the highest standard, even at peak times.

We like to offer on average five starters, four salads or sharers, 10 main dishes, four small plates, six sandwiches/wraps/flat breads etc, five puddings, a sharing pudding plate, a local cheese selection and a choice of coffees and teas.

Recommended websites

 ​I like reading food and travel blogs for new ideas and different perspectives. My favourites are Food Sense, Veggie.num.num, Ramsons & Bramble and MsMarmiteLover.

Related topics: Chefs

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