Joe McCarthy has been creating award-winning dishes at the Wychwood Inn, in the picturesque village of Shipton-under-Wychwood in West Oxfordshire for the past seven years. Regulars return frequently and new diners are always pleasantly surprised by the interesting menu on offer and the exceptional food which is served by Joe and his small team. Seasonality and local ingredients are the main focus of Joe’s dishes, and he loves to take British classics and give them a contemporary twist.
The Wychwood Inn is an historic, family owned and run country pub with a restaurant and five luxuriously appointed ensuite bedrooms. There is a delightful country garden and creative use has been made of the garden space to provide a comfortable al fresco dining space. Both the interior and exterior are very family friendly and diners eating in the garden and pub area are welcome to bring their canine friends along too.
We sat down with Joe to find out more about his foodie background and when he is not cooking at the Wychwood Inn, what he likes to cook in his own kitchen with his wife and young family.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including your where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
I was born in Cheltenham and went to school in Burford, a picturesque Cotswold town just four miles from where I now work. I live nearby to Shipton under Wychwood with my wife and two young daughters.
My career in the catering industry started when I was just 16 years old as my Mum encouraged me to get a job as a kitchen porter working at the prestigious Lords of the Manor Hotel in Lower Slaughter. Watching the food go out on the pass under head chef John Campbell, I was inspired to get into the kitchen myself. Having shown my interest, I was rewarded by the hotel as they put me through an apprenticeship to become a chef. Getting the job at the Wychwood Inn was fantastic as working for a small, family run establishment at the heart of a local community in an area I know, and love is the perfect job for me.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
There is no one chef that has the biggest influence on my style of cookery or the recipes I create. Rather I have taken pearls of wisdom from all the chefs and restaurateurs I have met along the way.
What’s your signature dish?
Although I create a wide range of dishes for the Wychwood Inn, both savoury and sweet, my signature dish has to be a parfait. Variations of this dish feature on our dessert menu throughout the year as it is particularly popular with our diners. Currently we have a blackberry and ginger parfait with a pistachio sponge and honeycomb running. Another favourite is my version of sticky toffee pudding; taking a British classic and giving it a contemporary twist was great fun to create.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu? And do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
My main considerations when crafting my menu are seasonality, choosing produce from local suppliers, wherever possible, and overall cost. It is particularly important to be watching what is affordable, both for us and our diners.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is traditional and simplistic with a twist. I don’t like using too many ingredients as it is easy to mar the star ingredient with too many additional items. Our menu offers both traditional British pub classics, cooked perfectly, and more unusual dishes more often associated with an urban restaurant.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
Without a doubt my favourite time of the year is late spring. All the fresh new season produce is coming to its best with local produce at its finest! Also, the countryside around where I work and live looks so beautiful that my drive to work each day is a joy.
What is your favourite ingredient to create with?
My favourite ingredients change with the months as it all depends on what’s good at that time of year! Recently it has been Jerusalem artichokes and I have created a potato gnocchi with Jerusalem artichoke puree, roasted artichokes, salted artichoke crisps, and celery, dressed with white truffle oil.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
That’s a hard one. I suppose it would be something hands on most likely. Over the past eighteen months I have been renovating an old property for my wife and family and I have had to develop a range of building and plumbing skills. I have however been hugely satisfied with the end results.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
When I get into my own kitchen, it usually involves my two young daughters. Together we will bake anything from cupcakes or make pizzas. It is hugely entertaining watching them but can also get very messy!
When are you happiest and when you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
I love spending time with my family, either in our home or out walking and playing outdoors with my girls. In the winter months, we enjoy going for muddy walks and jumping in puddles and as the weather improves spending time outdoors with my wife and her horse. I also like to spend time in the gym as you need to be physically fit to endure hours spent in a commercial kitchen.
What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
Without a doubt, I would not be without my thermo mixer. Mine has an especially important position within the team and I certainly would not do without it.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
I love experimenting with making pizzas at home. My favourite is a spicy pizza, hands down. You can’t beat it!
Where is your favourite place to dine?
Currently I don’t often get the chance to eat out. However, we recently had an excellent meal at The Carpenters Arms in Fulbook.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
CBD is the most overhyped food trend. Whilst it has health benefits, the product should be left at that instead of incorporating it into dishes.
What do your future plans entail?
My future currently revolves around my young family and whatever is best for them. I also want to go on enhancing the fine reputation we have built at the Wychwood Inn as it is always enjoyable to see our customers returning throughout the year.
How have the lockdown restrictions affected your work?
They have had a massive impact on everyone working in the hospitality industry. Clientele have been scared off which saw a massive decrease in trade through periods. We had to think laterally and start offering a takeaway service to support the local community. Like many pubs and restaurants, we have suffered from staff shortages and product shortages. Menus have had to be reduced and refined to make sure we have the ingredients we require and the capability in the kitchen to continue producing high quality food.
What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?
Using seasonal produce ensures you will always find the best of flavours. Take a tomato for example, in peak season it is sweet, fragrant, deep in colour and grown locally. Out of season, it is pale, bitter and you pay extra for imported produce.
How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking the ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?
Menu planning works alongside what my local producers tell me is excellent, is in season and is affordable. We then take that as a base ingredient and work from that, pairing classic flavours alongside the main ingredient. Produce only stays on the menu as long as it is good and in season.
How would you describe the food you create at The Wychwood Inn to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?
I would describe the food at the Wychwood Inn as traditional, with classics and flavour combinations you would expect to see from a country Inn. However, some of the dishes do get a contemporary twist to keep the menu exciting for our customers.
What’s your favourite flavour combination?
A simple but firm favourite flavour combination has to be garlic and thyme as the two work so well together.
What is the USP of your restaurant?
The USP would be the twists I put on the classic dishes we serve, done in my own way.
To enjoy the food and ambience offered by the Wychwood Inn simply visit thewychwoodinn.com to book your table or stay at the country inn.