Richard Craven

The chef patron at the Michelin-starred Royal Oak in Whatcote, Richard Craven, reveals why a strawberry trifle holds a special place in his life, while smoked kippers have the opposite effect

Tell us about your cooking

My cooking is totally inspired by my surroundings, I like to call it proper country food. We work really closely with our community of local farmers and estate owners and the menu is written around the best that each season has to offer – be that wild fallow shot a mile from the front door and skinned by my apprentice, or squirrel to help a local estate manage their woodland, world-class farmed meat supplied by our neighbours at Paddock Farm, who rear grass fed Herefords or Tamworth pigs that respectively graze and rout near the pub.

How did you become a chef?

I went to school in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds and started working in kitchens as a kitchen porter because it was warmer and better paid than my paper round! I really enjoyed the environment and went full-time after school in what was supposed to be a gap year before university. After initially ‘falling’ into the industry I came to the realisation that it had become a career that I would pursue. I spent time in South Africa which was a great source of inspiration to me – the restaurant at Le Quartier Francais had a distinctive style using local, sometimes unusual ingredients with a strong focus on the indigenous game. It made sense to highlight all the amazing produce available in the Cotswolds when we returned to England.

What do you eat at home?

Simple, seasonal dishes. My wife Solanche always says that when we first met l was working in an Italian restaurant and that it made me an attractive proposition… so I don’t stray too far from those early dishes!

Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?

I know and have eaten with a lot of the Birmingham chefs, so that’s a really tough one. I love eating at Carters, and obviously Aktar Islam has just become Birmingham’s first two Michelin-starred chef. My old sous chef John Bluck is head chef at Grace and Savour and very talented. And I’m really looking forward to eating with Ash and Erin at Riverine Rabbit in Stirchley soon. The best chef in the world is incredibly tough and personal. I think it depends on your mood, there are restaurants that can be inspiring and luxurious and those that are for family. Food can be so powerful and evocative, and for me, the best chef was my grandmother, or Pauline as she would have preferred to be known.

Share a cooking tip

Make a big batch of homemade wild garlic pesto and Aglio e Olio (garlic, chilli and parsley) and keep it in Kilner jars in the fridge under a little olive oil, the olive oil seals it and it will keep for months and is perfect fast food with dried pasta.

What was your favourite food as a kid?

Dad’s self-proclaimed ‘poor man’s risotto’, which wasn’t a risotto as you know it now. It had long-grain rice cooked with the chicken carcass from the weekend roast and any vegetables we had to hand.

Food heaven and food hell?

Heaven is my grandmother’s strawberry trifle. Hell would be smoked kippers, not great early in the mornings when I worked breakfast shifts in hotels.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?

I’ll eat almost anything, the strangest would definitely be reindeer penis at Restaurant Frantzen. It had been cured and grated as a seasoning, rather than a dish with texture thankfully.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?

When I was at school we had a careers test which suggested a gamekeeper or working in conservation, both of which I would have definitely enjoyed. As a youngster living in the countryside, the outdoors was always attractive to me, helping my dad with odd jobs or beating for an informal shoot on the farm that we lived on the edge of.

Give us a nice easy recipe for our readers to make at home that makes use of those lingering items in the store cupboard.

We always seem to have a jar of lentils in the cupboard and lots of dried spices. Boil the lentils for 10 to 15 minutes until soft with a little bite, heat butter and oil sweat off an onion, garlic and chillies (or use chilli powder) add cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and garam masala. Add a tin of tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for a few minutes before adding the lentils and combining together and season with salt. If you have fresh coriander it’s even better.

The Royal Oak, Whatcote, Shipston-on-Stour, CV36 5EF. Tel: 01295 688100,