Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

Category: Chef Interviews

Staffordshire chefs join forces for charity dinner

Docket No.33, in Whitchurch, Shropshire, will be hosting a charity dinner on Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th December to raise proceeds for Hospitality Action. Chef Patron of Docket No.33 and…

Docket No.33, in Whitchurch, Shropshire, will be hosting a charity dinner on Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th December to raise proceeds for Hospitality Action.

Chef Patron of Docket No.33 and Great British Menu central region champion, Stuart Collins is joining forces with Staffordshire Chef, Matt Davies to host a charity dinner at Docket No.33 in aid of Hospitality Action.

The charity supports those who work or have worked in the hospitality industry and helps with range of challenges from physical illness or mental health issues to financial difficulty, family problems and addiction.

The duo previously worked together at The Moat House, in Acton Trussell where Matt was Executive Chef. Known as Staffordshire’s ‘Godfather’ chef, Matt worked at some of the UK’s best restaurants before suffering a life-threatening and career ending injury and more recently a mental-health battle.

Following his accident, the much-loved Michelin-listed chef turned his attention to supporting talented young chefs and now holds the prestigious post of Vice President of the British Culinary Federation.

The Hospitality Action Dinner at Docket No.33 will take place for two nights only, with the restaurant donating £15 per guest to the charity. The night will feature a charity auction, plus special guests from the hospitality who will be sharing their inspirational stories.

Stuart Collins, commented: “I am so happy to be supporting Hospitality Action and Matt for this special event. Matt is truly a phenomenal chef and dear friend and I’m really looking forward to joining forces with him for this unique dinner.”

Matt Davies, commented: “I know just how tough it can be to navigate a career in hospitality after a life changing incident. I’m a proud ambassador of Hospitality Action, which offers vital assistance to those in the industry. I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen with Stuart for what is set to be a really special night.”

The Hospitality Action Dinner with Matt is now sold out on both nights, but you can still support the charity by donating via the website:

To keep up to date with the latest news from Docket, keep an eye on its social channels or sign up to the newsletter and find out more at:

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A steak lover’s paradise

A time-honoured menu staple of restaurants and pubs across the land, steak comes in many guises despite – or perhaps because – the methods of cooking it are so straightforward….

A time-honoured menu staple of restaurants and pubs across the land, steak comes in many guises despite – or perhaps because – the methods of cooking it are so straightforward.

Unless you’ve done your research, it can be tricky to know which cuts to buy and what to pair them with when you want to cook beef steak at home. Luckily, we’ve tapped into the knowledge of chef and restaurant owner Rich James from Smoke & Rye, so that you can buy and prepare three of the most flavoursome cuts with confidence.

First of all, how do you recognise a good steak when you’re out shopping? Rich’s first tip is to get to know your local butcher.

“Your butcher should be able to recommend you a good steak. He or she should know their stuff about where the animal has come from, how it’s been bred, how long it’s been fed grain, how it’s been looked after. From the lines of the beasts themselves to how they’ve been treated in the abattoir, provenance is really important. And marbling is key – you don’t want it to be plain and boring.”

Thicker steaks are easier to work with as well. Fine-grained fillet tends to be finished in the oven because of its shape, allowing the heat to be distributed evenly.

“It will take a bit more time, but you get more opportunity to cook it how you like it. We don’t deal with anything below 10oz here, apart from fillet because it’s a smaller cut. For sirloins and ribeyes you need to have a thick cut because you need to be able to caramelise the edge, but keep the right cooking temperature in the middle. If it’s too thin, you won’t be able to get it rare or medium; it will be at least medium-rare by the time it’s on the plate.”

Starting with Rich’s personal favourite, the t-bone is a cut from the sirloin but includes a section of tenderloin, also known as fillet.

“You’ve got two very different cuts of meat on there, really,” Rich explains. “One has a lot of marbling – sirloin is a lot more fatty than fillet, which is a lot leaner – but it gives you the chance to have texture and flavour in the same piece of meat. It’s the best of both worlds.”

It makes the cooking process a bit of a challenge, because it can stay a little rare around the bone. Fillet tends to be better cooked rare or medium-rare.

“You’ve got to be careful that the fillet isn’t overcooked, but it’s not a big deal – it’s all in the resting. Caramelise it, let it rest, have a feel, and if it’s underdone bang it back on the grill for a few minutes. The other thing about the t-bone is that you want to over-season the fillet. There’s less flavour in it so you want to add more seasoning to that side than the sirloin side.

“It’s my favourite cut because you also get that bit of marrow from the bone, which is really good for you. I would cook off some bone marrow and run it through clarified butter, just to add some richness. You don’t want to add creamy, heavy, thick sauces, because you’ll lose the flavour of the meat.”

Ribeye steak is, as the name suggests, from the rib section of the beast. Some people are a bit put off by that fact that the ribeye still has the bone in, but it’s a purposeful decision in Rich’s kitchen because it adds so much to the dish.

“The marrow is where all that fantastic umami flavour is,” he says. “Again, caramelisation is key. It’s a bit thicker so there’s a bit more fat in it. To render that down you need a nice hot grill or pan, ideally. Don’t use butter to begin with because it will just burn. You need to be able to get in there with a bit of oil, caramelise it on both sides, rest it in butter and then finish it off in a pan with butter if you like at the end.”

With the ribeye, Rich recommends serving alongside a fresh, acidic garnish that will cut through the fattiness of the steak.

“It’s a big, bold steak – it’s not going to take well to the addition of heavy, fatty cream or anything like that, but the light, spicy, herby and vinegary flavour of the chimichurri works really well.”

The fillet is the leanest and most tender cut, making it great for raw preparations like tartare and carpaccio. As it’s the least fatty, it’s worth paying for the best raised and aged steak you can afford to get the best flavour. Rich prefers his fillet served medium-rare.

“I would pan-fry it to start with in some foaming butter to get it rare, add some blue cheese on the top, put it in the oven for about 5 minutes to get it almost to medium-rare, and then let it rest. Then I’d deglaze the pan with some brandy and some bone marrow gravy to get a really heavy, rich, flavoursome sauce.

“You want those rich flavours with fillet because it’s so lean. You still have flavour in fillet, but nowhere near the same level as in the other two cuts we’ve talked about. You’ve got to add, add, add when it comes to fillet, so plenty of butter, plenty of seasoning and plenty of other umami flavours to make it rich. The texture of it is amazing, though. I serve a little crouton at the bottom to soak up all the juices, a bit like an old Tournedos Rossini.”

Smoke & Rye’s menu is inspired by Rich’s travels and experiences with American food. So how do British steaks compare to those you’ll find over in the States?

“They use a lot of Kobe beef, which we don’t have so much access to here,” he says. “They get a lot of Japanese breeds imported. The Americans are well known for their steaks, but they work with their beasts in a slightly different way to us – they feed them and look after them differently, and of course they’ve got the climate so the animals are much bigger. American steaks and American wagyu are some of the best steaks in the world, and some of the most expensive.”

Another point of difference is the (voluntary) USDA beef grading system, which is based on the maturity of the meat and level of marbling, so that customers can be assured of the quality of the meat they’re buying.

“The system is really useful because it provides a clear, organised way of grading meat,” adds Rich. “At the top end is prime, followed by choice and select. Here, there’s no reliable way to tell whether a product is prime or select – it’s hit and miss, especially in supermarkets. It would be good if we could introduce that kind of system.”

Now that we’re moving towards the colder months of the year, Smoke & Rye’s style of food and cooking is really coming into its own. When it comes to the steaks on the menu, there’ll be a move towards heavier, creamy sauces and red wine or barbecue gravies, often incorporating the delicious juices from the smoker.

“We don’t tend to make things overcomplicated for no reason. Our customers come for amazing quality ingredients and simple but decent cooking. Whether you’re grilling or panfrying your steak, it’s always a high temperature and resting properly that are key. You want that Maillard reaction going on to get as much caramelisation on the steak as possible – it adds texture and it adds flavour.”

Smoke & Rye
19 Stafford Street, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 8QW

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Chef Matt Davies back in the kitchen

Wednesday night saw Chef Matt Davies return to the kitchen (those of you that don’t know his story pick you can find out all about it in the Spring issue)….

Wednesday night saw Chef Matt Davies return to the kitchen (those of you that don’t know his story pick you can find out all about it in the Spring issue).

The venue was The Boat Inn for a special charity dinner, in support of Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and Hospitality Action. With a menu featuring some of Chef Matt’s favourite dishes including fish ravioli and crab bisque, pork, apple and leek and texture of chocolate it didn’t disappoint to wow the guest.

Both the kitchen and front of house had familiar faces for Matt, with staff he has trained since they first entered the industry and now are talented chef’s in their own right.

The night which was a sell out was a resounding success, raising over a thousand pounds for each of the two chosen charities.


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Chris Cohen: A man on a mission

Feast with Friends is the Stoke-on-Trent based chef teaching young and old to pay attention to eating well. Cooking has always been a passion of Chris Cohen, the chef behind…

Feast with Friends is the Stoke-on-Trent based chef teaching young and old to pay attention to eating well.

Cooking has always been a passion of Chris Cohen, the chef behind Feast with Friends. Now in his 40s, Chris worked weekends in his mum’s catering business as a teen and wanted to pursue a career in the kitchen on leaving school.

“Funnily enough, my mum put me off that,” he tells Sauce. “She wanted me to be creative in more obvious ways. I guess what she didn’t know then was that food would become such a creative discipline as it is now, and so visual.”

His own experience in the education system has influenced the path of Chris’ development as a chef and as an educator – with a degree in architectural design.

“I really struggled at school and I love the fact that I educate now,” he says. “I treasure that beyond anything. Sharing what you know is important. I worked across Staffordshire and down in London running kitchens. Then I realised I wanted more from my education. I got my degree and did a teaching qualification, taught in schools and colleges and really enjoyed it.”

Chris Cohen, Feast with Friends

Photo © Stephanie Murton Photography

Over the last year Chris has found a way to unite his love of cooking with a desire to teach, under the Feast with Friends banner. He works both as a private chef, creating dining experiences for people in their own homes, as well as teaching classes and workshops for people of all ages in schools, colleges and workplaces across the county.

In the future, Chris has a longstanding ambition to set up a means of educating and training aspiring young chefs in the Stoke-on-Trent area. He sees this as creating a pipeline for the expansion of the independent dining sector in the city, as well as providing opportunities for its young people.

“I’ve worked with and played a part in the training of a few people who have gone on to do amazing things. You see what they’ve done and how they’ve travelled. It would be great if people travelled then came back to Stoke to set up their own restaurants. What can we do to move that forward? That’s something I’m passionate about.”

In the meantime, much of Chris’ day to day work centres around the Well Fed Initiative. Aimed at educating people of all ages about nutrition and eating well, the initiative provides tailored courses for everyone from small children to university students, with the option of curriculum-focused content.

“I’ve done a lot of work in primary schools, which is immensely challenging purely because most primary schools don’t have a space dedicated to cooking,” Chris relates. “It is a case of doing things in different ways to get kids cooking and thinking about healthy eating differently. Not making them feel like they’re being talked down to is part of that.”

Chris developed the principles of his specialised food workshops based on health service guidelines, to the extent that he has permission to use the NHS logo on the Well Fed Initiative.

“I’ve taken some of the guidance – which is something I did in my teaching anyway – and used it to come up with my own ways to get people eating more healthily,” he explains. “I work on a five F system, which talks about factors like feast and find, based on food psychology and exploring food.”

Part of the joy of food is the idea that it is an exploration of different tastes, textures and aromas – an idea that Chris believes should not be reserved for fine dining restaurants. Indeed, he’s trying to instil this way of thinking into even the youngest children through his classes, seminars and parties.

“What’s obvious with a lot of children is that, even by quite a young age, their relationship with food is already difficult,” Chris notes. “It’s very natural for children not to want to eat very green vegetables, for example, because of the strong chlorophyll flavour, but by cooking them in different ways and getting them to eat them in different ways you can overcome that.”

Doing things differently in this context will often include trying out mindfulness, which Chris introduces using the ‘raisin test’.

“We take any ingredient, usually fruit or veg, and they put it in their hand and look at it,” Chris explains. “It’s getting to know it, looking at the way the light shines on it, giving it a sniff, pulling it apart so you can really smell it, and putting it on your tongue but not eating it straight away. Then we’ll talk about how that’s where digestion starts.

“What amazed me the first time I did it was how it intensifies the flavour of what you’re eating. It’s so powerful. And alongside that, if you try it with food that’s heavily processed in a negative way, the flavour of that food is always absolutely dreadful because you’ve explored it properly. If you slow down the way you’re eating, you get to enjoy your food – and learn which food you enjoy.”

It’s all too easy to be distracted by screens these days, or just the rush of work and family life, but actively paying attention – not only to what we put into our body but how our body reacts to it – can help in more ways than one. Chris is fascinated by ongoing research into the gut microbiome and digestive health, and particularly its influence on good mental and overall health.

“I think personalised health is about listening to your body,” he says. “Sometimes we wait for something to be wrong, whether it’s a skin condition or IBS or a heart problem. It’s about getting people to think, ‘If I get my digestive health right, the rest can follow’.”

You can find Chris’ recipe for cured mackerel with carrot purée, pickled carrots and wasabi avocado in Sauce Spring 2019.

Feast with Friends

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Milford’s hidden gem

With fantastic views over Milford Common and Cannock Chase, just a few hundred yards from the River Sow and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, The Viceroy is something of a…

With fantastic views over Milford Common and Cannock Chase, just a few hundred yards from the River Sow and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, The Viceroy is something of a hidden gem.

It’s in this village just outside Stafford that chef-director Ain Ullah and his brother Rushan, who heads up front of house operations, are advocating a fresh approach to Indian gastronomy. Their aim is to deliver culinary experiences of the highest quality to truly reflect the region’s rich natural larder, challenging perceptions around Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine in the heart of Staffordshire.

“Since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a chef,” says Ain. “I worked my way up. I started washing the pots and pans in the kitchen, working with my uncle who actually taught me a lot. In the early 2000s I had a breakthrough and started cooking for a restaurant in Derby.”

After this, Ain moved down to London and started cooking with celebrity chef Atul Kochhar at Benares in Mayfair. With this experience under his belt, he went on to establish his own restaurant in Derby, where he found the freedom to start experimenting with different flavours and making his own spice blends. The Viceroy was added to his portfolio back in 2014.

“Most Bangladeshi and Indian curry houses have a big pot of gravy and when you order a dish they’ll use that same gravy in every dish, adding just a few different spices,” Ain states. “So every dish has a similar taste. We grind our own spices here in the kitchen. You can taste all my curries and every one will be different, which is very important to us. Each starter is complemented by a different sauce, rather than just giving one sauce for all starters as most Indian curry houses do. That’s why our menu is quite limited; the way we want to cook it is the way we think is the best way to do it.”

It’s for this reason that you won’t catch Ain adding spinach to your korma, for example, or serving up bright red tikka masala. Educating customers about traditional and contemporary Indian cuisine and how it differs from typical curry house dishes here in the UK is part of the mission.

“I think Indian restaurants provide more Anglo-Indian dishes because of where we are,” Ain conjectures. “Indian food can have really strong flavours and spices, and I think a lot of chefs tone it down for the European palate. What we’re doing now with our menu, the ingredients we’re using are English-French given a twist with Indian spices. So it goes together.”

There’s a real focus at The Viceroy on using local suppliers to source local produce wherever possible. And rather than keeping stock in the freezer, the restaurant gets daily deliveries of fresh ingredients. Another key element in The Viceroy’s unique offering is the attention to detail when it comes to customer service.

“We’ve trained our waiters to be able to advise customers based on their likes and dislikes,” says Rushan. “Some people have a very strong idea of what they want and what tastes they like. Although our dishes are different to others’ we have flavours that will appeal to every different customer.

“Whether they like mild or spicy or medium hot we have dishes that will suit, but they are flavoured a different way to the norm. For example, we don’t have chicken korma on the menu, but we do have a dish called White Chicken Curry which is a traditional Indian dish.”

The drinks menu has not been neglected either. While gin – paired with complementary mixers – and beer are on offer, wine is the drink of choice to go alongside your meal. Although you may not find familiar names from the retail racks in their cellar, the knowledgeable front of house team can always make a recommendation from the extensive list.

“When customers order wine before their food the staff ask what dishes they will be eating – whether it’s seafood, lamb or chicken – because we have different wines to complement them,” Rushan tells us. “My staff, once we have the menu from the chef, go through tasting sessions so we can pair the dishes with the wine. Some of our lamb dishes, for example, go really well with a full-bodied red.”

If you’re visiting Shugborough or the Chase this autumn and winter, you could do much worse than stop by The Viceroy to sample their delicious fusion of English ingredients and Indian spices. The brothers are not short on recommendations from the menu.

“I was really excited when the chef was drafting the menu about the kekda avocado starter,” confesses Rushan. “It’s soft shell crab with avocado panna cotta. They go together so well, with just a drizzle of passionfruit chutney. In years I wouldn’t have thought of having that in an Indian restaurant. I’m not a very big fan of seafood, but again when the chef was thinking of putting halibut on the menu with a coriander and mint chutney I tried it and really enjoyed it.”

The addition of saffron to the rice, which is not common practice due to the expense, produces a special flavour to complement the various dishes, but often the rice will be tailored to complement a specific main. For example, the halibut is best accompanied by a lemon chilli rice, because lemon goes so well with fish.

“At the moment my favourite dish is our Goan lobster, with fresh coconut, red chilli, coriander and black peppercorns,” Ain reveals. “We’re running out of it because it’s selling so well. And I love cooking the Kali Mirch, a chicken dish in a spicy sauce with dried chilli. It’s one of my favourites to eat because it’s on the spicier side and it’s contemporary.”

Plans for the immediate future include an extension with 16 VIP seats, along the lines of a chef’s table experience. There will be an exclusive tasting menu and a butler service available in this private dining space. Customer satisfaction is always the number one priority, and the long term goal is to be the best Indian restaurant in Staffordshire.

“We’re hoping to win some awards along the way, but our main goal is to satisfy all of our regular and new customers by  making sure our staff are happy and our food is the best.”

If you would like to sample Ain’s dishes for yourself, Viceroy is open 5:30pm until 11:00pm, seven days a week.

Viceroy Indian Restaurant
8 Brocton Road, Milford, ST17 0UH

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Louisa Ellis starts a new chapter

At the age of just 22, Louisa Ellis impressed the nation when she reached the finals of MasterChef UK in 2017. Sauce caught up with Louisa for the Autumn/Winter 2018…

At the age of just 22, Louisa Ellis impressed the nation when she reached the finals of MasterChef UK in 2017. Sauce caught up with Louisa for the Autumn/Winter 2018 edition of the magazine. 

The eldest of four siblings, Louisa’s passion for food was sparked by cooking for her parents, brothers and sister when she was younger.

“When my mum and dad were working full-time I would help out. I really enjoyed catering at school, so I took it home and experimented with it. My mum and dad didn’t like it when I started putting chilli in the spaghetti bolognese!”

While studying for her Catering NVQ Levels 1 and 2 at college, Louisa landed a job at a hotel in Luton, where she grew up. To start with it was front of house work, but a full time opportunity came up in the kitchen when Louisa left college, so she stayed until the hotel went into administration and all of the staff were made redundant.

“It was probably good that it forced me to move on,” she muses. “I went to the two rosette restaurant at The Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. We did banqueting and weddings, so it was great experience with big numbers. Having banqueting, brasserie and restaurant experience is valuable, because sometimes if you go straight into Michelin level you know that style of cooking and nothing else.”

When the head chef Louisa was working with moved to another, more ambitious, two rosette hotel restaurant in Sutton Coldfield he offered her a job on his team. It was at this stage Louisa decided her heart was set on working in a Michelin starred restaurant where she could apply her attention to detail while not having to worry about room service orders.

“From there I went on to do a year at Adam’s Restaurant in Birmingham. I’d been there for a meal and really, really enjoyed it. His food blew me away. I wanted to be able to cook that food, so I applied for a job there.

“It was hard work but it was so worth it. It felt like two years because the hours were a big step up from what I was doing before. That was definitely a shock to the system at first. The routine and discipline are a very high standard but after a few months you get used to it and it becomes natural. After moving around the sections a bit I decided meats and sauces were my passion.”

However, the long hours left Louisa with little spare time to push herself and pursue other avenues such as entering into competitions. After another move, to The Wilderness in Birmingham, she found a bit more flexibility and a better balance.

“It was nice to have time to relax but also to do things that could be productive for my career,” she explains. “When I started working there I decided to apply for MasterChef. I was hoping I would get a callback but didn’t really expect it. I got interviewed and it all went so quickly. Before I knew it I was in the skills test!”

Although none of it was easy, this was probably the most nerve-racking part of the whole competition. Louisa recalls walking into the huge room where the judges were standing surrounded by the TV production crew.

“You’ve never met any of these people before and you’re looking at the ingredients thinking ‘What are they going to ask me to do?’,” she relates. “You just forget everything – it all goes out of your head. It gets a bit easier after that when you realise the judges are just people and they’re there to see your skills as a chef. They’re there to support you, not be nasty or intimidating.”

To find out more about the private dining experiences Louisa offers, take a look at her website or follow her on social media.

To read our interview with Louisa in full, pick up your copy of Sauce from one of our stockists.

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New era for The Viceroy

Wednesday 25 July saw the launch of a new menu at The Viceroy Restaurant in Milford, on the edge of Cannock Chase, and Sauce were lucky enough to be invited…

Wednesday 25 July saw the launch of a new menu at The Viceroy Restaurant in Milford, on the edge of Cannock Chase, and Sauce were lucky enough to be invited along.

At this fine dining Indian restaurant near Stafford chef-director Ain Ullah creates imaginative dishes using the finest local produce, with reference to a rich Indian and Bangladeshi culinary heritage.

A six-course taster menu allowed guests to savour the flavours of a number of dishes from the new selection, all cooked to order using seasonal, locally sourced fresh ingredients. Proceeds from the night were generously donated to Katharine House Hospice.

House of Townend, the Yorkshire-based family-owned wine merchants, have hand selected the finest wines from across the world to complement each dish on The Viceroy’s new menu, and there’s also a comprehensive gin menu for pre-dinner drinks.

The launch of the new menu is the first step in an exciting new era for The Viceroy, where the team is hoping to be awarded an AA Rosette and to feature in the 2019 Michelin Guide.

In order to meet the exacting standards of the AA, the management have invested in a new state of the art Unox Oven and new crockery and cutlery, the like of which is found in Michelin starred restaurants across the world, from Schott Zwiesel wine glasses to Fortessa tableware.

There are also plans afoot to build a 20-cover private dining room to the rear of the restaurant. This room, featuring a wall of handpicked wines from around the globe, will allow guests to book a taster menu dinner attended by their own personal butler. As well, The Viceroy plans to hold exclusive cookery demonstrations with chef-director Ullah.

The Viceroy Restaurant
8 Brocton Rd, Milford, Stafford ST17 0UH

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Chef Interview – Jake Lowndes

Jake Lowndes, 29, is head chef at Little Seeds in Stone, which he co-owns with restaurant manager and partner Sophie Hardman. The pair launched their bar and kitchen on Radford…

Jake Lowndes, 29, is head chef at Little Seeds in Stone, which he co-owns with restaurant manager and partner Sophie Hardman.

The pair launched their bar and kitchen on Radford Street in June 2016 and have gone from strength to strength since, building a reputation for fresh, local food at reasonable prices.

Sauce sat down with Jake to find out about the ethos (and the garden) behind Little Seeds, as well as their plans for the future. His favourite food might surprise you, too.

When and why did you decide to become a chef?

I suppose it was my grandma. I used to go to her house and she would make me really nice food, or we would make it together. I didn’t decide there and then to become a chef, but I thought, “I really like food, what can I do with it?”

My first job was at La Dolce Vita in Stone. I started as an apprentice and did my NVQ Levels 2 and 3 on the job. They put me in for Staffordshire Young Chef of the Year in 2008. I ended up coming third. Before then, I didn’t really know much about the world of high-end cookery, so it opened my eyes. I was there for two years and worked my way up to sous chef.

I left to do a ski season in France, which was fun, then came back to David’s Brasserie at Trentham for five years. In the last two years I was finishing my degree in Business at MMU. I left and went to Macclesfield, to a three rosette restaurant then called The Lord Clyde, under Ernst Van Zyl. I learned a lot from him about techniques and flavours. From there, it was Little Seeds.

Who has inspired and influenced you most in your cooking?

I’d say it was a combination of all the people I’ve worked for, to be honest. I’ve taken the best of everything I’ve learned and put it all together. Ernst taught me a lot of new techniques, because he’s quite a modern chef. He likes the Scandinavian style so he taught me a lot of pickling, salt-baking – those old techniques that are coming back. From other chefs I’ve learned management style, organisation and how to run a kitchen.

Where has been your favourite place to work so far?

I’d say David’s Brasserie. It was a nice place to work and everyone there was really nice. The now-owner, then-manager, John is a good guy. He was flexible with me, because I was working full-time while I was at uni. But everywhere I’ve worked has been pretty good.

Tell us about your food philosophy.

As seasonal as possible, to sum it up. We change the menu with the season, and we use local suppliers. We try to get the highest quality local product we can, because it all starts with the product. From the eggs we get down the road for our brunch menu, to the quality of the meat from our local catering butcher, it is really important. Our philosophy is high-quality local ingredients, as seasonal as possible, and mainly British, where we can.

Tell us about your restaurant, Little Seeds.

We’ve evolved organically since we opened. We opened with a more casual style and a narrower offering. Now we’ve evolved to reflect what our customers want at different times of the day and the week. So we’ve got a full brunch menu at the weekend, which people really love. We have a daytime brunch/lunch menu for Wednesday to Saturday. Our new weekday evening menus are more focused and balanced, to allow us to provide high-end, special occasion dishes as well as casual favourites like the buttermilk chicken and burgers.

Every week we write the Sunday lunch menu on Saturday night. You can come all week for the combinations on the menu, but Sunday lunch changes everything up. There’s always a roast on there – usually beef – but suppliers are tricky on a Sunday, so it allows us to offer the best of what we have. Trying out different combinations helps us to make new dishes too.

What would you want your last meal to be?

I’d really like to go to the Fat Duck. That’s my number one. I always go on about that.

If you had to live on one food forever, what would it be?

Just trifle. Trifle’s my favourite thing in the world. A Bird’s trifle, I’ll eat that.

What’s your favourite seasonal ingredient in spring/summer?

I love it when the Staffordshire strawberries come out, because we try to create something new with them every year. Last year it was a strawberry and elderflower jelly – because elderflower is in season at the same time – a strawberry meringue and strawberry sorbet. We get our strawberries from Canalside Farm in Great Haywood – you can pick your own and they’re really good. The wild garlic as well. When the wild garlic comes out everybody gets excited because it’s the start of spring.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Probably something fermented. At Carters of Moseley I had raw kohlrabi injected with cabbage juice. That was pretty weird. The main course was lamb with grass.

Do you get the chance to eat out often? Where’s your go-to place?

We like the Sticky Walnut in Chester. We go there whenever we can because it’s really casual and relaxed but with high quality food – the same thing we’re trying to do at Little Seeds.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Maybe a roast dinner. We eat that most weeks.

What is your focus for the next year?

To continually evolve Little Seeds in the direction we’re going now. Every service is a lot more refined and focused. Now we need to keep pushing forward and bringing the standard of food up. Last year we started making a sourdough; this year we’re making focaccia as well. We keep evolving the desserts, too.

Since the back end of last year we’re getting busier and busier, and that’s the main thing. I could do stupidly good things that people don’t want to eat and nobody will come – then it’s not fun anymore. Hopefully we’ll keep evolving with our customers, the menu and the team so everyone’s going in the same direction.

We want to double the size of our kitchen garden. Last year we started with some raised beds where we mainly grew herbs. This year I want to build a caterpillar tunnel so we can grow more. We grew lemon verbena and apple marigold that you can’t get from local suppliers. I want to do more of that but with different ingredients, like radishes and tomatoes.

We’re also planning a couple of fun theme nights – maybe a French and a Spanish night. Little Seeds is British and that is great, but sometimes you want to mix it up a bit.

What are your longer term goals?

We want to get this one right and running smoothly first, with the customer base at a level that’s sustainable – knowing it’s going to be busy week on week. Then who knows what we could do? Opportunities could come up. We’ve got concepts. We think Stone needs a great hotel. So many people come here for weddings, events and business; there are lots of decent bars and restaurants in the town but limited places to stay.

We also want to start working with schools to encourage people to be chefs and come into our industry. We would like to do an open evening for Year 11 students and their parents to give them a taster of what we do. It’s not like Ramsay where we shout at you. It can be a rewarding career if you can get over the unsociable hours. Our weekends are Monday and Tuesday instead of Saturday and Sunday. The most annoying thing is all the restaurants we want to visit are closed!

Little Seeds
16-18 Radford Street,
Stone, ST15 8DA
Tel. 01785 818925

Photo Credit: Matthew Owen Photography

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