What’s cooking? David Watts, Crown Inn Upton
The Michelin Bib Gourmand chef-patron tells all about life at Le Manoir, a love of vintage cookbooks and a brand new charcuterie business
What was your first job in a kitchen?
My first job was kitchen porter then commis chef in a small brasserie in Salisbury. I did it part time while studying A’ Levels and at catering college but wasn’t the kind of food I wanted to cook and I had aspirations to do more. The turning point came aged 21 when my mum booked me on a cooking course at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The whole experience blew me away and inspired me to write to Raymond Blanc and ask for a job.
That must have been a pretty good letter!
I did a successful trial at Le Manoir and at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London and was offered both jobs. As I was about to become a dad, I partly opted for Le Manoir to avoid getting stuck in a London-centric career path – and to be closer to my family. I was there six years, working my way up from commis chef to senior sous chef.
What is Raymond Blanc like to work with?
He’s fantastic. Very humble and very appreciative of all his staff and his guests. We’re still in touch now and I really value our conversations. Le Manoir was a big part of my career and something I’m very proud of.
Have you ever cooked for anyone famous?
There were so many famous faces walked through the door at Le Manoir over the years I can’t remember them all but I remember Victoria and David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton being there.
Sum up your cooking style/food philosophy?
I cook with the seasons, choose the best ingredients and do everything I can to elevate them. There’s a Japanese influence too, in the delicate touch and respect for ingredients. As well as fresh ingredients from local suppliers, I’d say fish sauce is one of my store cupboard staples as it lends a fantastic underlying umami taste to dishes.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
I love vintage cookbooks and have a big collection. My favourite is from 1853 – Mrs Rundell’s Modern Domestic Cookery. I love looking at the ideas from back then and adapting them – one of my favourites from this book is the pie crust for hand-roast pies.
You’re tired, starving and impatient – what do you cook for dinner?
Cheddar cheese on toast – with lots of Worcestershire sauce.
The Beehive Restaurant in White Waltham, Berkshire. It’s run by a great friend of mine who’s an outstanding cook. His dishes are consistently excellent, great seasonal menu.
What would you cook for date night?
Depends on the season – in summer it would probably be poached fish in a light, Japanese-inspired broth. In winter I’d probably go for comfort food like a hearty stew or maybe a lasagne.
Top tips for home cooks?
Learn how to make sauces, especially basic ones like béchamel. Try to master the basics before you move on to more complicated dishes. If you’re bored of making the same things want to mix things up, fish en papillote is a great, simple dish to make or homemade pies – there are so many different fillings you can pick.
Favourite kitchen gadget?
A timer! Very important.
Any new projects on the horizon?
I recently took over Parsonage Farm, close to The Crown Inn, Upton. We’ve just officially launched [as Parsonage Farm Charcuterie]. We’re not farming our own pigs but we are buying animals raised to high-welfare standards, including pigs from local smallholdings. It’s a really exciting project.