We chat with Nick Deverell-Smith, chef/owner of The Churchill Arms in the Cotswolds and contestant of the current Great British Menu TV series to find out more about the influences behind his cooking and what keeps him inspired in the kitchen.
What inspired you to become a chef?
First and foremost, my passion for food. I’ve always wanted to be a chef really. When I was a boy I always saw my gran and mum cooking in the kitchen and I used to help them out at home – that’s where I got the bug! The more I looked into it cooking the more it excited me.
Tell us more about your culinary background…
I left school at 15 and went to Birmingham College of Food. In my second year I won junior Chef of the Year which really boosted my confidence and I was offered a place at Simpsons in Birmingham which was a huge step for me. From there I went to Mallory court and then was offered a place on the Gordon Ramsay scholarship which opened a lot of doors.
I went on to work in kitchens around London, most notably with Marco Pierre White and Eric Chavot who still remains a great friend to this day. Finally I went on to become the Head Chef at Soho House where I learnt loads about managing big kitchens, lots of staff and numbers before opening my own pub – The Churchill Arms in The Cotswolds.
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
Getting the keys to my own business (The Churchill Arms in Paxford) and being my own boss has been really special for me. I spent a lot of time working hard in tough kitchens which is not easy but it’s brought me to where I am today.
What’s the strangest dish you’ve ever tried?
I went on a lads holidays to Thailand once and ate some kind of jungle grub – it looked like a giant maggot!
If you weren’t a chef, which career would you like to pursue?
I would definitely have to do something creative. A friend of mine is a top photographer and he always tells lots of interesting stories so perhaps I would enjoy doing something along those lines.
Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs?
My biggest tip is to not get ahead of yourself. Get into a good solid kitchen and learn as much as you can – don’t promote yourself too quickly. It’s important to learn as many skills as possible during your training so that there aren’t any holes in your knowledge. Above all – love what you do!
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Hearty, local, moreish.
What provides you with inspiration for new recipes?
Seasons always inspire me as there is an abundance of different product to use in various dishes. I’m also very lucky to live in the cotswolds as the colours of the countryside give me massive inspiration. It’s amazing to see the different plants and animals at different times of the year.
When I see pheasants on the side of the road I know that it’s that time of year and I start to think about the different types of dishes I can create… the same when lambs are in the fields etc.
Do you have any role models?
My older brother is my biggest role model. He was paralysed at a young age and he had to deal with battles on a daily basis. It made me realise that nothing is that hard and that you should never give up. If you work hard enough then you will get there in the end.
What food takes you back to childhood?
My mum used to do a roast chicken every Wednesday – fresh from the aga complete with roasties, bread sauce, buttered cabbage. That for me is the feeling of home … and always followed by a rice pudding!
What are your favourite summer ingredients?
Asparagus, strawberries and lobster.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at The Churchill Arms?
Hard to choose! My personal favourite has to be the calves liver, confit bacon and cider onions.