An interview with Michelin starred chef Josh Eggleton
Josh Eggleton is Chef Patron of multi-award winning pub the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna.
He was awarded his first Michelin star in 2011, which made him one of the youngest pub and restaurant proprietors to hold this accolade. This year the pub was also voted second in the Publican Morning Advertiser’s Top 50 UK Gastropubs. While The Pony & Trap triumphs on the food front, Josh is a huge advocate for promoting sustainable food, being part of the creation and operation of a number of businesses in the region designed to promote Field to Fork dining and organic farming methods.
He has appeared on the last two series of BBC Two’s Great British Menu, representing the South West and opened his second restaurant alongside the rest of the Eggleton family this year, Salt & Malt is a tearoom and fish cafe on Chew Valley Lake in Somerset.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Josh and grill him on a number of different topics, from his culinary philosophy to his plans for 2016.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
We focus on contemporary British cooking, very much focused on seasonality and provenance of our ingredients. At The Pony & Trap we have a traditional setting which compliments the design and style of the food.
What ingredients are you enjoying working with?
The Autumn is the best season for ingredients, at the moment our desserts have dark winter berries, we are using pumpkin and root vegetables in the tasting menu dishes and we have a special tasting menu this week based around offal, called Guts on Toast. We have just invented a new dish at the Pony, which is Pheasant, Pearl Barley and Turnip. Lots of warming and homely ingredients, sourced as locally as possible.
Do you grow anything yourself?
Last year we planted an orchard which will have its first real harvest next summer of pears, apples and plums. We also planted a herb garden with lovage and parsley particularly. We also do a lot of foraging for things like Elderflower to make cordial, soles to make gin and hedgerow fruits for desserts. We are now installing fruit cages to grow blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and soft fruit next year.
What is your favourite dish that is currently on the Pony & Trap menu?
On the Tasting Menu at the moment we have a Pumpkin Pie which we only just managed to perfect – we totally missed the season last year by the time we got it perfect. We have also just put a Pony favourite back on the menu, a Pigeon dish with apple, carrot and walnut, all cooked with two different preparations. You can always find a Ploughmans on the menu which is huge with tracklements made by the team. Dessert is also an important element, last year we created a sticky ale pudding with salted caramel sauce and stout ice cream, which is great on a Wintery evening and has become a staple on the menu now.
What is your all-time favourite flavour combination?
That is impossible to say, but I’ve always loved chips with salt and vinegar, unbeatable flavour combination.
Did you start cooking as a child?
My first job in cooking was at a fish and chip shop when I was 16 but before that I always loved cooking at home. My parents always cooked everything from fresh, so I have a lot to owe to them. I used to make Victoria Sponge cakes when I was 11, which I used to sell to my neighbours to make money.
How did you get into the industry?
I always worked for my dad and then worked in a fish and chip shop, then a gastropub before traveling around and doing work experience in some of the leading places in Europe. I wrote a letter to French Laundry which was number one in the world at the time and asked if I could come in and do a stint in the kitchen, they said yes and it taught me so much.
What do you like to cook at home?
I keep it simple at home, and my girlfriend cooks a lot but I always cook for the whole family at Christmas, after Meg makes sausage rolls for Christmas morning! After a shift I just want munchies or last night I took home a little cheese plate.
Who are your biggest foodie heroes?
I love Keith Floyd, he was an inspiration and cooked how you are supposed to. I loved watching him. Jonray and Peter Sánchez -Iglesias grew up alongside us, opening Casamia at the same time we opened our first pub and have been a huge inspiration to us. Plus lots of the chefs in the South West who have shared their kitchens with me after Great British Menu, Emily and Dom are incredible chefs.
The Pony & Trap has retained its Michelin star since 2011, that’s impressive! How has this been achieved?
Michelin is all about consistency, maintaining a standard of food and service year round and that is what we strive for at the Pony. We are always looking at ways to improve the pub, both in the setting and the food and we cook for our customers. The star is a fantastic accolade to have retained and we’re really proud of the team at the pub.
A lot of people think fine dining can only be enjoyed in London, what are the challenges that come with proving people wrong?
Actually I think most of the most of the innovative restaurants in the UK are outside of London. Number one restaurant in the Sunday Times was Sat Baines in Nottingham, then you’ve got L’Enclume, Fat Duck, plus Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth are doing some fantastic things to put Cornwall on the food map. We have combined with a number of chefs to promote South West food over the years – we have an abundance of fresh produce on our doorstep so it makes sense that the restaurants in Bristol and Bath are really standing out from the crowd at the moment. That was part of the reason we created Eat Drink Bristol Fashion, a showcase of the cuisine in the South West. We’re proud that the capital has so many incredible restaurants but the rest of the UK have some of the best in the world too.
Finally, do you have any exciting plans for the Pony & Trap in 2016?
We have just completed a full kitchen renovation, but next year we’ll be planning an extension of the restaurant for 2017 – a lot of care and thought needs to go into what we are going to do.