February blog: Q&A with Head Chef, Jake

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How did it all start?

I’ve been in the kitchen here at The Saracen’s Head now for many years, starting at 16 as a pot-washer, then I went off travelling, then came back and the current head chef then was my dad, Mark. He needed help in the kitchen so I decided to step in and by the time I was 24 I was keen to become a trained chef so I spoke to Tim (owner of TSH) and did an apprenticeship as a Commis Chef. I completed the course, my dad then retired and I moved up to be Sous Chef, under our previous Head Chef, Sam. I’m now 29 and Head Chef.

What do you love most about your job?

I love all the ingredients I get to work with. We have amazing seasonal ingredients and I source everything as locally as possible and try to create really nice dishes that our customers will enjoy.

What are you working with right now, in terms of ingredients?

At the moment I’ve got really lovely Brancaster mussels on until March, then they’ll start again in October. So it’s a good season for them. From next month I’ll use a lot more leeks, and wild garlic which I’ll use in my soups, sauces, pesto as it adds a real kick to things. We’ve finished with game for the season now, but we will keep on the venison as that’s still in season. The wild venison is totally free range, so you’ll see them all over the place here.

What do you see coming on for next season’s menus?

In March to April we will have lamb on, as a loin or leg, probably.

What’s the most popular dish at the moment?

The fish pie goes down very well from the Winter Warmer menu, there’s cod, salmon, smoked haddock, prawns and peeled prawns which are all sourced from our suppliers in Lowestoft.

What’s changing in the menu now?

We’ve got a few changes on the current Winter Warmer menu; there’s now a nice pork chop, with carrot puree and fried apples with a cider sauce. There’s liver, bacon and onions, a hearty classic – using the beef from down the road at Blickling. The fish pie will stay on and I’ll do a leek and potato soup, with wild garlic.

What or who inspires you?

I do a lot of research and have lots of books! I try to create as much as I can from my own experience of knowing what works and what doesn’t. I’m trying to find my own path, but I’m inspired by lots of different chefs.

When you get a chance to eat out where do you like to go?

I love Benoli’s and Yard in Norwich for great pasta. If I feel like a burger I’ll go to Gonzo’s Tea Room, which serves a great dirty burger! For fine dining I’d go to Benedicts.

What top tip would you give to any young budding chefs?

Get experience in a kitchen as much as you can, get hands on experience and you’ll learn on the job. Always keep learning, and keep researching what the trends are, as they change all the time.

What do you love about working here at The Saracen’s Head?

It’s a great atmosphere here, our customers are all really nice and we’re in a good area. I love having close relationships with our suppliers, and being able to chat to them often about what I want to get it. Everything is so fresh in every week which is lovely. It’s a small, family-like team and Tim and Janie (the owners) have been so supportive to me. I feel I’ve really stepped up to the head chef role and we all seem happy, which is great.