The first time I was made head chef
I was working at a restaurant where we had a very eclectic menu that wasn’t the best, but I didn’t want to rock the boat too much. We had to put on a British menu for British Food Fortnight while the head chef was away — and we won a rosette off it. The head chef came back, was a bit p****d off and left. The manager told me I had to become head chef — there was no asking about it. We revamped the restaurant to do British food and, within two months, we had two rosettes and Michelin accreditation.
Why I joined the pub trade
It was more of an opportunity for what the Grantley Arms could be. Chris Frederick (the new owner) approached me because I’ve always wanted to have my own pub and make my mark on it in a village. It was a great opportunity to become a patron. I want to put my stamp on something.
My cooking style
It’s very accessible. I don’t like to mess about with the product. Source really good produce, cook it to perfection and present it in a very elegant way. I don’t have a signa-ture dish.
Plans for the Grantley Arms
I want to get into the Top 50 Gastropubs listing. If accolades were to come our way like rosettes, Bib Gourmands or stars, that would be fantastic. I’m not saying we’re going to push for those, but we want to cook at that level. We’re going to grow our own vegetables, build some flatbeds, grow micro herbs and, generally, go for more rural cooking rather than buying anything in.
Why I chose a pub
It fits everything. We wanted to take the best from hotels and clubs and restaurants and put it into a pub so local people can come out and have a good time.
Why chefs are leaving restaurants for pubs
Politics, if I’m honest. Dealing with regional directors, CEOs in big companies, it’s not about quality any more. It takes the fun out of it. Here I can build my team, cook really good food and do what I love doing.
I love the Hand & Flowers, the Hardwick, the Sportsman, places like that — because they’ve all got stars, but they’re still pubs. Hopefully, one day, we can be of that calibre. But we have to start humble. We have to get that right. I’m lucky because I’ve got really good suppliers, so I can guarantee the quality of my produce.
Big Green Eggs to cook all the steaks. I can’t live without my Rational ovens and my pastry chef has a Carpigiani ice cream machine. But aside from those examples, I’m not really going too mod con.
Biggest crimes against pub food
I hate anything that involves no passion or no care — like microwaving, or when a chef has everything pre-done and just chucks it on a plate. There’s no love in that. I hate wooden boards and I can’t stand slates unless you’re serving charcuterie or a bit of bread on it.
Dealing with the skills gap
It’s about finding people with passion. It doesn’t matter what sort of background you’ve got, it’s having the passion and the hunger to do something right. We’re not going to cut corners. Somebody who wants to learn will learn and will cook to the standard that we want. It’s when you get somebody that doesn’t give a s**t that things start to go wrong.
Unfortunately I don’t feel colleges are supported enough. The training you get in Europe is full-on, so the chefs know that, by the end of their time, when they go into a professional kitchen, it will be the same. In England, they try their best but the funding is not really there for it. Chefs come out mollycoddled by their tutors. So when they come into a professional environment, they do something they did at college and get hammered for it. A lot give up because they’re more interested in going out with their mates and, unfortunately, to get the money, you have to stick through all the s**t to get there.
My ‘desert island’ pub dish
You can’t beat steak, chips and Béarnaise sauce. You just can’t. And I like a good bit of smoked salmon.
The best thing I’ve eaten recently
I loved the burger from the Coach [at Marlow, Bucks], with minced beef and braised oxtail. It was beautiful.
Who I’d most want to cook for
I’ve always wanted to meet Marco Pierre White, so I’d have to cook for him. I’d cook pig’s trotter a la Koffman, which is one of his favourite dishes. I’d love to see if I could do it justice. At the end of the day, White’s the godfather of British cooking.