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!
16-18 Radford Street,
Stone, ST15 8DA
Tel. 01785 818925
Photo Credit: Matthew Owen Photography