Christmas is Coming!

There’s a lot of buzz around the kitchen at the moment concerning the Taste of London food festival…

Throughout the year I like to head off to a handful of food festivals and restaurants in order to get the measure of the current restaurant scene and pinch a few ideas for my menus.

The food industry is not one where you can afford to take a breather, there’s always a back current of competition brewing that keeps you striving to do better each day. In order for your restaurant to succeed, as well as your own career, you need to be constantly learning and seeking out new skills.

Within my own pub, regardless of being in charge of a full kitchen team, I’m required to constantly be on top of my own game. I need to prove every day that I’m the head chef for a reason, that my standard is higher than everyone else’s and there is a reason why I’m in charge of my own kitchen. This doesn’t come in the form of grandstanding or putting others down, but simply in the upholding of the standards that our pub lives and works by. By keeping these standards as high as possible, we’re in the best position to compete with other restaurants and pubs, who might seek to muscle in on our would-be customers.

The best way to stay on top of our collective games as chefs is to constantly spur each other on through friendly competition and to seek out new food experiences to expand our horizons as cooks and food lovers. Food festivals are perfect places to find inspiration for menus and to give young chefs a chance to see the very best of the best in action – they also serve beer there which is a bonus!

With the Christmas season fast approaching, I can already feel tensions in the kitchen start to rise.

The festive period is far and away the busiest for us here at the pub and as much as we all love the business, it can often take a bit of a toll on us as a team. The busier the pub gets, the bigger the workload is for each and every one of us.

As Head Chef I have to ensure that we have enough staff on to cope with the deluge of checks. The chefs beneath me have to adapt to work at a faster pace and make sure that their sous chefs are up to scratch on their own skills. The same applies to the bar tenders, waiting staff, the cleaners and even the pot washers (who have taken professional oven cleaning courses to get ready for the inevitable mess that Christmas always brings).

The extra custom we receive over the Christmas season is vital for the business and everyone’s aware that the good will that we pick up through our hard work in November and December will serve to aid the business we get in the following year.

That’s why each and every member of staff will be heading to the Taste of London Winter food festival this November; the festival takes place between the 16th-19th, which means that we can send teams of staff away on each day, allowing everyone to take a breather and enjoy a fun day out.

We might be in a state of constant competition, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t let our hair down from time to time.

Menus Changing with the Seasons

It’s always sad saying good bye to the Summer menu.

Chefs, like myself and the team at the pub, are necessarily attuned to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

As all the food that we prepare at our place in Somerset is locally sourced it’s really important that I always keep half an eye on today and half an eye on next month. Our changing seasons here in England are one of the best things about working in food, but it also creates a real challenge when it comes to devising and executing an interesting gastro-pub menu that can make the most of as much local produce as possible.

When it comes to the food that I create and prepare on a daily basis in the pub, the first priority I always have is instilling the unique culture of our Somerset location into everything that we do.

Where many other small pub restaurants often crumble under the pressure of the latest food trends, I’ve always felt that maintaining a strong local identity is key.

Although a budding young chef might feel like serving traditional Japanese sushi in his local Fish shop is a great way of getting his patrons excited about World food, there’s a reason why they’re going to their chippy every Friday night – and it’s not to try out Jake’s new take on sashimi.

Whenever I pull my team together to get some new ideas on the next season’s menu I always start by reminding them about what values our pub is defined by and ask them about how we can best exhibit them by using the local produce we have at our disposal.

The way I like to put it to them is by describing a hypothetical customer.

This customer is visiting from outside of Somerset and they’ve come to see the very best that our area has to offer – which means a quintessential meal which will serve as a warm welcome to our region. That means finding locally sourced produce that you can’t get anywhere else and preparing it with time-tested, traditional methods.

What this doesn’t mean is looking over the shoulder of whatever restaurant’s currently stirring up the scene in London and attempting to copy them. And this certainly doesn’t mean desperately trying to slap a new kind of gourmet burger on the menu that somehow references whichever celebrity has been causing headlines in the tabloids this month.

As a gastro-pub it’s always tempting to fill out the Winter menu with what are considered ‘pub classics‘. Any English punter can imagine this kind of menu with their eyes closed: Steaks, Shepherd’s Pie, Lamb Shank. These basic twists on ‘meat and two veg’ might well be a good way to plainly exhibit the quality of your ingredients but they’re so rote that you could safely order them in any part of the country.

It took several tasting meetings and a few visits to some local producers to get a good concept together for our new menu, but I’m happy with what we’ve ended up with: a selection that is packed with creative twists on traditional classics, with the very best Somerset ingredients at the centre of the stage where they belong.

Weekend Visit to North Wales

When I heard the good news about Sosban & The Old Butchers attaining their very first Michelin Star, my first thought was: Why haven’t I eaten there before?

Menai Bridge - Visit North Wales

The tiny restaurant has been on my radar for a while now, after they received a respectable three Rosettes from the AA a few years back.

Tucked away in the centre of the sleepy town of Menai Bridge on the Isle of Anglesey, this is surely one of the more obscure, idyllic places for the Michelin Man to visit. The food prepared for the ‘surprise’ 7-course menu is all locally sourced, but you might have to wait a while before you can taste it.

Sosban only open their doors for three evening services a week and there are only 16 covers in the whole place, that means less than 2500 people a year get the opportunity to eat there and now that the much revered Michelin inspector has paid his visit, their book is filling up fast!

Thankfully, I managed to get ahead of the rush and secure a table for myself and a colleague. This means a trip out of Somerset and into North Wales, a land famed for its beautiful landscapes, diverse culture and delicious produce.

My sous chef, Rod, is a young man with a bright future. He came to me as a lad of 14, over 6 years ago, in need of some pocket money. Back then, all he thought about was Rock and Roll music. His plan was to save up enough money for a flashy looking guitar so that, by the time he left school, he was ready to head to London, to try his luck as a musician. But things didn’t quite work out that way for him.

After spending a year as a pot washer, there were more sheepish looking teenagers asking for work. He’d shown promise fulfilling the role as a kitchen porter, so we took him on in that capacity and added a few more hours. Spurred on by the promotion and the increased heft of his pay packet, Rod began to throw himself head first into the work and soon found himself with a set of chef whites on. A few years later, he’d long forgotten about moving to London, moved out of his parents house and was living independently in a flat of his own.

Today, Rod’s my right hand man. He has a team of his own and has been able to put himself through a string of courses that have increased his skill level, far beyond what he thought he was capable of. So, whenever I get the opportunity to visit a Food Festival or a well-rated restaurant, he’s the first person I think of inviting along. This time around, because of the distance from our little village, we had to think of a few more things to do whilst in North Wales, to make more of the trip.

I was perhaps a little too trusting and gave Rod the company card and set him to work booking some activities for us to do. So now I’m not just looking forward to a Michelin-starred meal, but also a trip down the longest zip line in Europe and a visit to cheese factory in Caerphilly.

It looks like the boy did good!

Three Upcoming Food Festivals North Of The Border

The name of this site might well be ‘Somerset: Cider and Cheese Fest’…

…but that doesn’t mean I’m completely blind to what’s going on in the rest of the country.

Just north of the Somerset border lies Bristol; a city, unitary authority area and county unto itself. In addition to being home to nearly half a million people, the city also plays host to dozens of massive cultural events that bring thousands of visitors in each year. Although you may well be intrigued by the likes of the ‘Bristol Improv Marathon‘ or ‘Love Saves The Day 2017‘, I know its really the food-based events you’re interested in. In the next few months, three major foodie events will be taking part in the city.

With Bristol only being a short drive from my base here in Somerset, you can bet that I’ll be attending at least one day of each and every one of these beauties:

Bristol Beer Festival – 23rd-25th March 2017

CAMRA are renowned organisers of legendary beer festivals – why? Well, it helps that they’re the largest Real Ale society in the entire world, operating in the country that invented the stuff. Dozens of breweries operate within the South West, for many the spiritual home for all things cider and ale related, so it would only make sense that Bristol’s Beer Festival would be the one to go to. More than 130 different varieties of real ales, as well as ciders and perries, will be present and correct in addition to a good selection of local food stalls. I’ll be taking my sous chef on a ‘business trip’ that will probably end rather messily…

[Note: Since writing this article, tickets have sold out for this event. Those wanting to go will have to wait another year!]

Foodies Festival – 12th-14th May 2017

The aptly named Foodies Festival is a lovely, big middle-class staple of the Bristol festival scene and each year the lineup gets even bigger. This year the festival will be bringing a Great British Bake Off Winner, as well as numerous Michelin star chefs and award winning chocolatiers. There are hundreds of products to try at the artisan food market as well as live music, activities for kids and international street food stalls. Chefs appearing this year include: Bake Off Winner Candice Brown and master chocolate maker Giona Sciolti and local boy Dean Edwards. There’ll be demonstrations galore as well as a chance to taste Michelin Starred food.

Bristol VegFest  – 20th-21st May 2017

Finally, I hear you cry, a food festival for Vegans! Joking aside, this event has become a veritable staple in the British Vegan’s calendar and also one of the cheapest (advance tickets will only set you back £6 for the day or a tenner for the whole weekend). The event is a truly national one, going on tour to both Brighton and London at other points in the year. Now in its 15th year, the festival is investing even more in the entertainment side of things, with London legends Dub Pistols joining DJ Danny Rampling and ZionRuts. During the day there are a tonne of food stalls to check out as well as a healthy selection of beers and ales – just don’t expect to find any meat there!

Trip Up North To Liverpool

In my line of work, I’m often forced to leave the safe haven of Somerset, in order to explore the world of food and drink that the country has to offer.

I’m fortunate that my employer at the pub has a passion for food that rivals even mine.

He understands the importance of constantly expanding your horizons, by doing so we can learn to challenge ourselves creatively so that we can produce the most innovative food with the biggest flavours possible.

The latest was an Indian-inspired trip up North to Liverpool with a dual purpose.

The first priority was to pick up our new chef from the airport. Flying in from Spain, Javier was to be our first new hire in a long time. As the pub has slowly grown, we’ve noticed an increase in interest in our food offerings. Now, with us paying closer to attention to the inventiveness of our creations, we’ve decided to bring in another pair of hands to broaden the range of our work. We’d been waiting a few months for his papers to get squared off, but with all that bureaucracy behind us we could crack on and get him on board.

Its traditional for new members of staff, no matter how minor or senior, to be treated to a small business trip when they are first hired. I share the belief with our owner that people work best together when they’ve had some form of bonding experience. So I took the car up the M5 and M6 to meet Javier off the plane and take him for a brief culinary tour of Liverpool – a town with plenty to offer the food and drink enthusiast.

After dropping the car at some convenient airport parking in Liverpool, I met the man himself and we toasted his arrival in a Crypt, of all places. With the advent of Food and Drink festivals, there is never a shortage of events to find in major cities. Sponsored by Fever Tree Tonics, the Absolutely Fabulous Gin Festival is held in Croxteth County Hall just outside the city centre.

£10 gets you in the door, but we had to fork out £20 for a pre-paid card that will bought us four Gin & Tonics each, complete with Fever Tree Tonic and impressive garnish. Although £30 might sound like a steep price to pay for four drinks, the grand venue made for a fitting setting and the measures were generous enough for us to forget the costs after a couple of drinks.

With a blend of gins swimming inside us, we headed into the city to continue along a rough theme of drinks and food made popular through the proliferation of Indian culture. There are two branches of the street food restaurant Mowgli in Liverpool. The first takes no bookings and is crammed into a tiny, narrow space; the second build is a much larger restaurant that takes bookings and has been doing a roaring trade for the few months that its been open. We ordered a handful of curries and spent a couple of hour losing ourselves in chef chat, letting the gloriously fresh food soak up the gin from a few hours ago.

Thankfully, our boss had been good enough to book us a couple of rooms in a nearby hotel, so I didn’t have to face the intimidating drive back that night on a full stomach.

An Alternative Mother’s Day

I love my Mum.

She’s a humble lady, who was brave and ballsy enough to raise me and my two sisters by herself, whilst my Dad was working away from home as an off-shore driller.

Throughout our childhoods we would always try and lavish her with attention on her Birthday, but when it came to Mother’s Day, we’d always seem to forget. Its one of those non-religious days that just managed to slip through the cracks each year, being a little too close to Easter for us to think of anything else but chocolate.

Of course, when we broke into adulthood, we started kicking things into gear a bit. By this point though, the family had essentially gone their separate ways. I’d left for University and my two older siblings had long since flown the coop to pursue careers in London. We left my Mum in Bristol, waiting for my Dad to retire and making a new life for herself in the mean time.

This year my Mum turned 60, quite the achievement, considering what we put her through as teenagers!

Although we’d celebrated her birthday with a big family party back in February, when it came to Mother’s Day this year, I thought it would be nice if we could make this one an extra special one and bring our immediate family together for another get together. We’ve always been big eaters and dinner times were always cherished, especially when we were fortunate enough to have the whole family round the table.

With this in mind, I booked us a table for Mother’s Day at The Pony & Trap, Josh Eggleton’s Michelin Star winning gastro-pub. Just a half an hour drive away from Bristol, it made for a perfect go-between for us all, plus it gave me an excuse to snag a few ideas from one of the most talked about Pubs in the country.

With a rotating menu, that changes dependent on what vegetables are growing in local farms, Eggleton ensure a ‘Field to Fork’ ethos that has secured the Pub as a local favourite and national icon  for pub excellence. When we arrived for an early dinner at 6, it was clear that we’d made a wise decision booking ahead. The interior of the small restaurant was packed out, with the jovial sounds of celebration seeping out of the traditional oak frontage.

The food on the menu that day offered a quintessential slice of Eggleton’s style.

To start, I ordered Lamb Faggots, something that I had been considering adding to the menu at our place. They came with a delicately flavoured Dill Yoghurt, a sweet Burnt Pickled Onion and a wonderfully crunchy Granola. As soon as I cut into the lamb, I knew that attempting to copy this standard of cooking would be a pointless task. Pink in the middle and well seasoned it was delightful.

There were no disappointments with the mains either. Whilst my Father opted for a Pork Chop, that came with Braised Neck, I couldn’t resist the Stuffed Saddle of Rabbit.

There’s something so satisfying about a well cooked pub meal.

Whereas most people are usually satisfied with the usual classics – I’m glad we opted for something extra special for my Mum.

Broken Oven = Another Dinner Out!

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks at the pub recently.

Finally the cold weather is dissipating, giving way to warmer days and this has lead to our weekends and lunch times becoming much busier.

All it takes is a couple of sunny days and you’ll find the Great British public are more than eager to take a pint with their lunch. With the return of Spring, of course, comes a fond farewell to the Winter-specific items on our menu and cask list. So we say ‘goodbye’ to our award-winning pies and ‘hello’ to our vegan-inspired Buddha Bowls, which will hopefully make a splash throughout Spring and well into Summer. Anyway that’s enough about work…

As much as I love to cook at home for myself, this week there was small snag in the road to delicious home cooked meals.

Off for three days, I was particularly excited to do some experimenting with a whole hare that I’d recently procured from the local butchers. With the animal prepped and ready to go I went to turn the oven on and…nothing. After a few minutes of frantic sweary investigation, I found the problem: the heating filament was completely blown.

With the oven not heating up, it looked like I was going to have to order my food in for the next few days, that is, until I was invited last minute to dinner with an old chef pal. Although I was still a little livid from the oven breaking in the first place, I soon cheered up when he picked me up and told me where we were heading.

The Willow Tree is one of the best kept secrets in Somerset, nay, the entirety of the South West.

Opening in 2002, head chef Darren Sherlock established his eatery in a 17th century listed building in the bustling town of Taunton. After spending a large portion of his career under the tutelage of the Roux Brothers, the chef now runs the business along with his wife Rita and a handful of staff. Despite the popularity of the restaurant, Darren insists on manning the kitchen by himself, meaning that every single cover that comes out of the kitchen is hand-made by the chef himself.

The menu at the Willow Tree changes every couple of months or so, meaning that returning customers are often rewarded with brand new meals to enjoy and the prices, considering the local pedigree of the food and the man making it, are very reasonable indeed. Open for four dinner services a week, the mid-week set price is a very reasonable £27.95 for three courses and the weekend prices are just a touch pricier at £32.95. In short, The Willow Tree offers fantastic value.

Taunton is a strange old town.

Gorgeous old houses mix uneasily with ugly 90s retail centres, as such the town feels like it lacks a certain amount of cultural heritage. Thankfully, as soon as you take a seat in the tiny dining room of Darren’s restaurant you’ll forget about the odd town outside.

On the Willow Tree’s website there is a banner proclaiming it as ‘One of the top ten romantic places to eat in the UK’, despite not being there on romantic business, I nonetheless felt the vibe. There couldn’t have been many more than 20 covers in the entire place – explaining how Darren can deal with running the kitchen by himself – which led to a quieter more informal dining experience, as if the chef had decided to invite a bunch of strangers to a dinner party and split them all off into pairs.

Of course, the result is a pitch perfect dining experience with Rita providing excellent hospitality, whilst her husband slaved away in the kitchen preparing great tasting, simple food that was all served immaculately. 

2017’s Hottest Food Trends I’m Psyched To Cook

The food industry is a fast moving one.

Adopting a new style or trend could be the difference between gaining or losing a new customer.

Although there are a million and one fads that pop up throughout the course of a year, ignoring them could be a bad choice. They range from the most trivial (we’re looking at you ‘Chips in Buckets’) to the truly inventive, which could well be a step too far for your usual clientele.

Last year was a dramatic one in the Food business. Still recovering from the Great Gourmet Burger Uprising of 2010, new restaurants have been forced to open with different approaches. Although modern spins on Soul food is still doing well, in a world of ever increasing homogenisation, it really does pay to be a little different.

These are the new Food Trends that I’m itching to incorporate into my food at the pub:

Asian Spins On Classics

Jaden from makes a great looking Asian Pork Burger.

The people of Britain have come along way in the last 30 years. When I was a kid, my parents idea of ‘Asian Food’ was a pre-made Black Bean Sauce from Sharwoods, limp noodles and a bag of prawn crackers – no wonder they didn’t think much of it!

Thanks to the internet and globalisation, we’ve become much more comfortable with concepts that are somewhat alien to us. Not only are we embracing fermented foods such as kimchi and miso, we’re now looking for ways that we can incorporate these techniques into our own British Classics.

Artisanal Butchery & Meat

There might well be more Vegans living amongst us than ever before, (not to mention the success of the Veganuary campaign) but that doesn’t mean that Britain doesn’t still love eating animals.

Meat is still very much a part of the British diet, however now there’s more of a focus on traditional butchering methods and truly grass-fed animals. Meat-eaters are happy to eat chicken, beef and pork when they know that the animal has been treated with respect from the farm all the way to the plate. The proof, as always, is in the taste!

Devious Compound Butters

Rachel Howden over at has a tonne of great ideas.

Although there are probably a few seasoned chefs who will be rolling their eyes at this ‘new’ idea – it doesn’t mean that its not becoming one of the fastest growing trends in restaurants today and one that I’d like to get in on.

Whereas some restaurants are going the whole hog and culturing their butter in-house, others are taking the easier option and simply combining herbs with their current stock to create fresh, fragrant alternatives to the usual plain stuff.

Citrus and Tarragon. Garlic and Rosemary. Smoked Paprika and Jalapeno. These are tried and tested flavour combinations moulded into a winning product.

Reigning plant-based Goddess, Angela Liddon, nails the Buddha Bowl here.

Wholesome Buddha Bowls

Regardless of how us Meat Lovers try and deny it, vegetarian and plant-based meals are getting more and more popular each year.

Rather than work against the grain, I’m looking to embrace more of these cooking Vegan cooking styles – chief of them being the Buddha Bowl.

Featuring healthy grains, wholesome roots and colourful super-foods, these easy to prepare dishes are a chef’s dream. Cheap to source, quick to prep and drop-dead gorgeous.

With an ever increasing interest in alternative foods, I’m hoping to design a couple of Buddha Bowls for our Summer menu, a fresh alternative to the usual pub lunch.

Turmeric In Everything

There’s always one core ingredient that both the industry (and consumers) become infatuated with over the course of a year. A few years ago it was kale, then quinoa had its time.

Now it looks like the next component to take a turn in the spotlight will be an old favourite that we’re all familiar with, just not in this form. Powdered Turmeric has been used for hundreds of years in Asian cooking to add colour and warmth to curries.

Chefs everywhere from Brooklyn to London are now embracing the ingredient in its purest form: the root. Punchier in flavour than its powdered cousin, this root has crept its way into juice bars around the world and now its finding its way into the restaurants.