Sunday, 15 May 2016

Get To Know The Chef - James Duckett.

Who? James Duckett, Samuel Fox Country Inn, Hope Valley.

1) When did you first realise that you had an interest in cooking?

"I come from a family where food is more than just a means to survival and eating together around the table every day is an important social occasion. So, I guess this was a good start. However, I never planned to be a chef or had any real interest in cooking as a youngster. On leaving school I enrolled in a BTEC ‘hotel, catering and institutional management’ course at my local FE college, without any particular passion but influenced a little by a distant relative who worked front of house in an hotel. The college also ran professional chef courses and I became increasingly interested in work in the college kitchens and found I had an aptitude for cooking. Despite this, I continued with my BTEC course and actually pursued the business management aspects of hospitality further gaining first an HND and then a BA at Nottingham Trent University."

2) When did you first start working in a professional kitchen?

"Throughout my time in further and higher education my interest in cooking became even more intense and I would spend every ‘work based period’ and holiday working in the best kitchens I could find, initially in a local hotel and then in France, in Arcachon and then Bordeaux. It was my boss in Bordeaux, an old friend of Albert Roux who recommended me to Albert and led to me, upon graduation, moving to Amsterdam to work in one of his restaurants."

3) What's your favourite dish to cook?

"I like working with cheaper cuts of meat to create something just a bit special. Meat from the neck, belly, tail or even feet can yield some of the most flavoursome of dishes. Some of my favourites are neck and breast of lamb, pork belly, oxtail, pig’s feet and, of course beef shin and cheek. A favourite dish of mine, and one that is well received by customers, which looks as good as it tastes is braised beef cheeks in red wine with ox-tongue croquettes, violet potatoes & roasted root vegetables in pancetta parcels; a winter dish to bring a smile to anyone’s face."

4) Are there any particular ingredients that you like to use and why?

"This is a tough one; as the seasons unfold and the fields yield new produce, so my favourites change. However, one all year round favourite is Shipton Mill’s organic white flour. In various proportions it finds its way into all my breads. I used to use exclusively French flour for my breads until I experimented with Shipton Mill’s products, milled in Gloucestershire. It’s a quality, stone milled flour that’s a pleasure to work with and which gives consistent results, time after time."

5) What's your perfect comfort meal?

"As a chef, I’m big on comfort meals, most are one pot wonders born of a blend of what’s available after service or what may otherwise go to waste. However, given a
free reign there’d be nothing better than a gutsy meat stew, something like a daube of beef or coq au vin with some buttery mash and maybe some crusty bread to mop up some of rich sauces. Better not forget the glass or so of Rioja or Ribera del Duero either."

6) What's the best piece of advice that you've been given by a fellow chef?

"Don’t walk before you can run; the same advice that I would offer to young chefs today. Learn the basics first and develop yours skills. If you love cooking and you have an aptitude for it, try to learn from the best. Don’t be tempted to end your training/apprenticeship at the earliest opportunity to earn a little more money. What’s another two years when you’re barely 20? Picking up new ideas and honing your skills will stand you in good stead; it’ll open up opportunities and enable you to make an informed decision on how you wish your career as a chef to develop."

7) What do you consider to be the most important piece of equipment to have in the kitchen?

"A good set of well sharpened knives is, of course, every chefs’ essential in the kitchen and I’m no exception, with the classic chef’s knife in constant use during prep for cutting and chopping. You can pay the earth for knives but a Victorinox 10” chef’s knife at about £28 will serve you well However, to add to the knives I couldn’t live without a couple of speed peelers; simple, cheap items available from any cook shop for a couple of pounds. I have a coarse peeler for use in peeling potatoes and root vegetable. It allows me to peel cleanly, quickly and with minimal waste. The other is a fine peeler which I use preparing more delicate vegetables, such as asparagus, for removing lemon zest without any of the pith, or for shaving chocolate to garnish puddings."

8) If you hadn't become a chef, what would you like to have been doing as a career?

That’s another tough one. As a youngster I was pretty good at golf, but working as a chef even as a student left me no time for such pursuits. I would have loved to have played golf professionally but now I’d settle for a couple of rounds a year. However, I’m sure that even if my time in the kitchen had not nipped my golfing career in the bud I doubt I’d have had quite the talent to make it as a golf pro. Given the hours I work now, mainly antisocial at that, and the relatively modest rewards, I think I could be tempted by something less demanding of time. I’ve hear there are people who work just 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday with five weeks or more paid holiday. That’s tempting at times."

Big thanks to James for taking the time to answer these questions! Here's some of his work:


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