Talking food and drink with Kuba Winkowski, Head Chef at The Feathered Nest
Kuba Winkowski showed an interest in cooking from an early age in his native Poland. However, he found the culinary scene was not thriving and decided to pursue a career in finance. Kuba quickly realised this wasn’t the path for him and after working for summer seasons in kitchens in Sydney he decided to move to the UK and train to become a chef.
Whilst at college he undertook stages at Le Gavroche, Rhodes 24, Buckingham Palace and The British Embassy in Paris. In 2007, he started at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux quat’ Saison and was awarded the ‘LMQS Employee of the Year 2008’.
In 2010, he joined The Feathered Nest as Sous Chef before taking over as Head Chef, where he gained 3 AA Rosettes for the property in 2012.
Kuba was recently named Craft Guild’s National Chef of the Year 2019 by a panel of 21 expert judges including Claude Bosi, Clare Smyth and Tom Kerridge. The competition has a well-regarded history with previous winners including Mark Sargeant and Gordon Ramsay.
We sat down with Kuba and discussed everything from his favourite ingredients to his recent success in the National Chef of the Year competition.
Describe the cuisine at The Feathered Nest?
Cuisine is based on classic flavour combinations with a modern touch, led by seasons and suppliers. The majority of products are made in-house including: breads, butter, smoked fish, charcuterie, sausages, black pudding, bacon and chocolates. My ethos is to preserve ancient techniques in the modern cooking.
The menu is seasonal, are there any dishes that remain all year round?
The menu is highly seasonal at The Feathered Nest so it changes accordingly. Some produce is available all year round, so for example my own whisky oak smoked salmon is always on the menu. I am so proud of this product that it has become one of my signature dishes. This is the only dish which is permanently on, but I always try to have some game on the menu like venison for example.
You are based in the Cotswolds, you must have access to an impressive larder. Do you work closely with local suppliers?
Yes, that is true; the Cotswold is full of amazing produce. Working closely with local suppliers is a no brainer for me; it would be a sin not to do it. Over the years Alan Cox has become not only my supplier but a very close friend, part of the family. Alan grows the most amazing vegetables and fruits: asparagus, strawberries, plums, broad beans, runner beans, courgettes and raspberries, all types of kales, swedes and Jerusalem artichokes. All this produce comes straight from the field to my kitchen door, in a matter of an hour or two. That means I have the most aromatic and flavoursome strawberries or raspberries which has never been in the fridge. I am churning my own cultured butter from the thick, yellow cream from the farm 4 miles away from the restaurant.
You have worked under some of the most respected kitchens in the UK, including Le Manoir and Le Gavroche, what did you learn from your time at these restaurants?
Where do I begin… Working in a kitchen like Le Manoir is the best thing you can do for your personal development as young chef. It teaches you all the basics like butchery or fish preparation. The whole business model and structure is designed to give the best possible training. Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones are such inspirational people. Don’t get me wrong it is hard, but boy it is worth it. It is a complete journey from the best produce, which comes from amazing gardens to all the cooking techniques and working in the team. I built a very strong foundation over there, great work ethics, respect to food and people.
How did you find yourself Head Chef at The Feathered Nest?
I moved to The Feathered Nest to become a sous chef for colleague from Le Manoir, who was the head chef. We had been working together for just over a year and he decided to move on. As I wasn’t that experienced, not quite ready to take lead, a replacement chef got hired. Due to family issues he left the company six months later. I am not sure if I was quite ready to become Head Chef in my own right, but I thought I would take the gamble. I convinced Amanda and Tony (the owners of The Feathered Nest) to give me a chance. It was a massive challenge in the beginning to find my style and learn how to manage the team. It has been a wonderful journey.
You are originally from Poland, did you have much knowledge of British cuisine before settling in the UK?
Before coming to the UK I knew about fish and chips. That was it. I didn’t know much about anything as I had never cooked professionally in Poland. I had fresh degree in Financial Management but the big dream to become a chef.
What Polish influences can diners expect to see on the menu at The Feathered Nest?
On the menu at The Feathered Nest diners can expect at least one dish with beetroot and dill. I use fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, buttermilk and quite a lot of cured and smoked meat and fish. In the bar I serve Polish dried sausages ‘Kabanos’ to go with the beer. Bread and butter is a staple in Poland so fresh, warm and crusty bread together with home churned butter is a must!
You were recently named National Chef of the Year, what dishes did you cook and how did you decide on the menu?
In the final of National Chef of the Year I cooked grilled Lobster with Kerala curry and buttermilk, roast grouse with quince, cabbage and celeriac; to finish sticky toffee with lemon curd. The main ingredients for the menu where chosen by the organisers as well as the basket of allowed ingredients. Once I had a list of allowed produce, I had adjusted dishes from my repertoire to fit the brief.
What ingredient couldn’t you cook without?
I couldn’t cook without herbs and spices. I can’t imagine not being able to use garlic.
Describe your perfect weekend?
My perfect weekend is with my wife and 10 year old son. Beautiful, sunny and warm weather is a must. We love to go away to some lovely rural locations ideally in the forest or by the waterside. Bike trip or a long hike followed by a swim. Obviously good food needs to be present ideally cooked in a wood fired oven or over a bbq. To be honest it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we are together and we can switch off from a daily life.
What are the next plans for yourself and The Feathered Nest?
I don’t make plans. I keep pushing myself, progress and learn new things. I love what I do and I want to be the best as I can possibly be. I believe in destiny and that future will take care of itself as long as I work hard.