What’s Cooking? Will Devlin, The Curlew
It's been quite a year for Will Devlin, from being named a Chef to Watch for 2020 by the Good Food Guide to opening The Curlew in Bodiam. We caught up with him to talk all things foodie, local and zero-waste.
Your first job (in a kitchen)?
I was a pot washer at a pub in Matfield called The Star.
It was definitely opening my first restaurant, The Small Holding just over the Sussex border in Kilndown, Kent. My daughter was born a few days after we first opened so it was a busy time and a lot of late nights!
Sum up your cooking style/ food philosophy?
We grow almost all of our own produce on a one-acre farm at The Small Holding, which also supplies The Curlew. We have Berkshire pigs, chickens, ducks, beehives on site and sheep in a nearby field. Growing and rearing our own food gives us a unique perspective on nature and the seasons. It also means we don’t waste a single scrap – when you work so hard on something, you can’t bear to throw anything away. We preserve and ferment a lot of the seasonal gluts into chutneys, pickles and kombuchas.
Most memorable moment at work?
Our first national review for The Curlew was by Grace Dent in the Guardian. She said dining with us was ‘almost as lovely as this job gets’ and that the cheese board of Kent and Sussex cheeses such as Burwash Rose and Sussex Blue, was one of the best in the country. It came out just after we’d reopened after lockdown and it was a massive boost for the team.
Ever cooked for anyone famous?
I’ve cooked for Pierre Koffman, a legend in the hospitality world. He dined at The Small Holding for lunch and it was surreal to have such an industry great in my restaurant, eating my food.
Your biggest mistake at work?
I don’t make mistakes, even if it’s wrong it’s right! Seriously though, mistakes happen all the time, but it’s how you learn from it and then do better in the future.
You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner?
Something simple and quick with no preparation like pesto pasta.
What would you cook to impress a date?
My wife loves my fish pie which is full of fish and a litre of double cream…
Dan Barber, the American chef, author and owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. He is passionate about small scale farmers and producers, as am I. We’re really excited to be trialling some vegetables, snow peas and squash, from Dan’s organic seed company, Row 7, which is all about producing the best flavoured vegetables.
11 Madison Park, named after the eponymous restaurant in New York, is aspirational for any chef as it marries current culinary techniques with classic French cooking. Doug McMaster’s book Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint is essential reading for anyone interested in sustainability and the zero-waste food movement.
Favourite type of cuisine?
Asian food, I love dumplings and noodles.
Favourite local café? Restaurant? Hotel?
Eggs to Apples near to The Curlew is a brilliant farm shop and cafe
Your three favourite local markets and suppliers?
We work with Tom Cunningham at The Pure Meat Company, all his animals are slow reared and completely free-range. Three Legs Brewery and Dermot Sugrue are other local favourites for Sussex beer and sparkling wine.
Favourite things to eat when you’re on holiday?
My wife is Cypriot and we visit her family in Cyprus a lot. I really love şeftali which are Cypriot sausages and usually made with fatty pork mince and wrapped in caul fat, which melts when they’re cooked leaving the meat charred and crispy. They’re barbecued and served with lots of other mezze dishes. A plate of şeftali and plenty of cold beer and I’m happy!
What mistake do inexperienced cooks tend to make?
A lot of inexperienced chefs tend to stay in their comfort zone and cook the same things with the same ingredients. Confidence to try new techniques, ingredients and styles of cuisine comes with experience.
Favourite ingredient and why?
It completely depends on the season. In May it might be peas and strawberries but in October it’s going to be wild mushrooms, game and squash.
Most over-rated dish/ ingredient?
The dish you’re most proud of creating?
It’s impossible to say as we’re always creating and developing dishes, nothing ever stays the same, but I do really love cooking with our own pork. It’s sentimental but we raise the piglets on the farm, take them to the local abattoir up the road and then bring the carcasses back to hang and break down. We make use of every part of the animal and also make our own charcuterie, such as fennel seed salami. It’s important to me to witness that full closed loop.
Tell us your best ever cooking tip?
Buy the best quality produce you can afford and don’t muck it up.
Three dishes every home cook should master?
I think family style dishes such as fish pie, roast chicken and lasagne would be great ones to master. Lots of basic techniques are covered and the chances are, everyone’s happy.
Loads of us are really bored of our own cooking right now – any advice?
Book a table at The Curlew and let us feed you! During lockdown, order takeaway from The Curlew To Go including our full menu on Fridays and Saturdays, and Sunday lunch all pre-prepped for you to finish off in the oven. You can also order favourites from our wine list, to go with your food.