Charlotte Vincent: ‘Rural pubs are having to reinvent the wheel’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Covering new ground: Vincent offers insight into the food sector's shifting landscape
Covering new ground: Vincent offers insight into the food sector's shifting landscape

Related tags Chef Great british pub awards Charlotte Vincent Food Gastropub

The Morning Advertiser caught up with Charlotte Vincent on shifting food trends in the pub sector after she took home the title of Best Chef at The Great British Pub Awards 2023.

Vincent, who was at the Candlelight Inn when she won the award, said the challenge of creating a new dish from unknown ingredients at the final 'cookoff' stage was “good fun”.

She conjured up a lamb rump with a fricassee of butter beans and wild mushrooms with a lamb jus that wowed the judges at the event​ in Manchester's Victoria Warehouse on 19 September.

She believes it was the rich lamb sauce that won her the award​ as it had so much flavour in it. “That set it apart because it really brought the dish together”, she said.

At the moment, the 2023 Great British Menu​ contestant has been enjoying cooking fish, including steaming, curing and serving food with seaweed. “I’m learning a whole new way of cooking with these techniques from Japan,” she said. “I’m enjoying experimenting with cost-saving ideas and incorporating lovely nature in my dishes too.”

With produce harder to get hold of and the cost-of-living crisis squeezing budgets, it’s up to chefs to create unique dishes for guests that won't break the bank, Vincent added. “It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “It’s a hard job now”.

Natural selection

But the key is to explore new ways of doing things, she said. The chef has been swapping out fish and meat for cheaper cuts. For instance, she's discovered a fish called a stone bass, which is not very well known but with its dense, white fish provides a lovely alternative to line court sea bass.

She is also a keen forager, living in a beautiful area with a nearby forest. “Mushrooms, apples and berries, and anything like that, has always been accessible to me.”

Her top foraging​ tip for chefs is not to second guess mushrooms. “Take your good camera, take a picture and then scan in on Google and it will let you know if it’s okay or not,” she advised.

“Be curious,” she added, “can you use it? Can you cook for it? There’s lots out there”. She takes inspiration from Victorian cookbooks, an era where there were no supermarkets so chefs would just pick what they wanted from the natural surroundings.

She forecasts more chefs may take up foraging in the future. In terms of other food trends,​ she’s noticed dashi stock rise into public consciousness, and has seen other Asian influences grow in popularity.

Food trends

More and more restaurants are also favouring small plate eating. “Rather than having one main course, you as a chef can be really creative, and offer small plates of something interesting people probably wouldn’t buy,” said Vincent. It also helped keep costs down.

This is an interesting move for the pub industry known for its hearty ‘pub grub’ and huge portion sizes. “I don’t think people want to eat like that anymore,” added the chef. “People don't want to feel stuffed when they eat food anymore, they want to be health conscious. They want to be full, but they don't want to be stuffed.”

Pubs aren’t surviving the pandemic, said Vincent. “Unless we do something drastic, pub culture is going to slide away from us”. She thinks there needs to be a few ground-breaking pubs leading the way to save the industry, but no one was putting their head above the pulpit and directing how to move forward.

“People always want a pint in the inner city pubs, that’s always going to be okay, but it’s us little rural pubs that are having to reinvent the wheel. And I don’t know who will be the first person to say, ‘this is how the wheel’s going to go from now’, it’s almost impossible to predict. You can’t really predict how trends are going to start, they’ll just start.”

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