An Interview with Russell Hunt, Head Chef, The White Horse Inn, Compton Bassett
The White Horse Inn is a friendly, traditional pub nestled in beautiful countryside in central Wiltshire, offering tasty homemade food, an extensive range of drinks and welcoming overnight accommodation. Relax in their award-winning restaurant with a long lunch, delicious evening meal, or simply enjoy some real ale, local ciders and gins on offer in their cosy bar (dogs very welcome in the bar too).
On a wet and windy day Emma and Rob from Heritage headed over to the White Horse to meet with their Head Chef Russell Hunt and chat all things foodie.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
I fell into the trade when I was 18. To be honest I was a bit of a naughty teenager and my mum happened to know a Head Chef so I was given the opportunity to go and work in the kitchen. 23 years on and I’m still working in the industry as a chef and loving it.
What would you have done if you hadn’t gone down the route of training as a chef?
I really love being a chef, it’s my true passion. However, I was also interested in becoming a mechanic (I didn’t last very long in college for that though). The other things which really interest me are amateur boxing and history, so maybe something in one of those areas.
Which chefs do you admire?
Daniel Clifford is a big food hero of mine, he is best known for his work at the two Michelin star restaurant Midsummer House. I also really admire Jason Atherton, his flagship restaurant Pollen Street gained a Michelin star in 2011 in its opening year.
What is your favourite cuisine to cook?
I would say contemporary British European and I love cooking pork dishes (Russell rolls up his sleeves to reveal a large tattoo of a pig butcher chart showing the different cuts). I’m classically French trained but also took a pay cut ten years ago to take time out to learn more modern techniques, as well as methods such as pickling and fermentation – fermentation is a trend that adds rich and complex flavours and can add excitement to a menu. It involves the oxidation of carbohydrates to generate a range of products.
What are your go to wines?
A Chateauneuf du Pape red wine from the Southern Rhone Valley or alternatively a nice shiraz.
What are some interesting industry trends right now?
Fermentation and Asian cuisine are really popular right now. We are also starting to see more restaurants using cheaper produce in a more creative way. Veganism is obviously on trend right now as well.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
Veganism. Listening to a podcast recently it was saying that it has been one of the fastest growing trends year on year, however 60% have turned back to meat eating. Rather than serving up processed vegan products I offer things such as pumpkin gnocchi, dishes with delicious Heritage beetroots, leeks etc.
How involved are you with menu development and the overall design and do your personal preferences influence the menu?
I’m in charge of menu development, and yes, my preferences do influence the choices made. I am passionate about using local produce as much as possible – the starting point is to look at what local suppliers have on offer to produce a seasonal menu. We have an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce in the South West from veg, cheese and meat so we should be using it.
What’s your signature dish?
I don’t really have a signature dish as such but I do love cooking with pork, it’s such a versatile meat and I love to use more than one cut – a glazed cheek is amazing. I also love to cook pan fried scallops with pickled rhubarb and endive when in season.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients you look forward to working with?
In the summer I love to cook a lot with fish as it is a lighter, fresher dish to eat and in the autumn I love cooking pigeon, in particular a tea smoked pigeon with wild mushroom ketchup, truffle and dandelion.
When are you happiest at work?
When I’m creating a new dish or teaching somebody in the kitchen. Also getting positive feedback from customers for the food they’ve eaten, we are here to make sure that people enjoy themselves and the food they are eating after all.
Are there any ingredients which have fallen out of fashion for you?
Definitely fillet steak, I think its overrated, expensive and bland for the price. I would much rather have a braised beef short rib.
What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
A good cook’s knife. I also really like using a Sous vide, pacojet and a thermomix. However a chef needs to know how to do the basics and be able to cook fish in a pan before moving on to using these gadgets.
If you could cook for and dine with anyone (dead or alive) who would that be?
Because I love history I would say Julius Caesar. I would cook him a really nice egg yolk ravioli pasta with pig cheek.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
My wife does most of the cooking at home – she’s a fantastic cook and her roast dinners are amazing, she cooks the best roast potatoes – part boiling first and then she adds rosemary, garlic and thyme and gives them a good shake. Finally she adds some finely grated parmesan and places the potatoes in a roasting pan with some meat fat, as well as some truffle oil, before popping them in the oven to roast.
You’re having friends over for dinner, what’s on the table?
If it’s a hot day homemade buttermilk chicken and corn ribs or something like a cote de boeuf with dauphinoise potatoes and homemade bread.
What’s your favourite comfort food and takeaway?
A good pie for comfort food and a Chinese takeaway.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can we find you?
Either with my kids or at boxing training.
Why should people come to visit The White Horse Inn?
We offer great value for money with well cooked, seasonal ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere. Come in for beer and a pie/nibbles or for a delicious sit down meal. We will be making some really nice homemade sausage rolls which can be enjoyed at the bar. We are also going to be doing a lot more of our own butchery, homemade relishes with contemporary dishes and some really jazzed up desserts.
We have lots of great plans moving forward, for example Fish Friday once a month and potentially some supper clubs in our private dining room (pictured right) with set menus and wine pairings. You can also hire the private function room for events and meetings. In addition to these ideas we are also looking at potentially opening a cookery school.
The White Horse Inn is open on Monday and Tuesday lunchtimes (when a lot of other pubs and restaurants are not open). It offers a great set lunch menu for £17.50 for 2 courses on Monday to Friday lunchtimes as well as an Al a Carte menu from Wednesday to Saturday and Sunday lunch.
How about making a weekend of it and stay in their accommodation with their dinner, bed & breakfast package. Perfect for that romantic getaway or an excuse to escape to the peace & quiet of the Wiltshire countryside for a night.
Mon – Sat 12:00 – 22:00
Sun 12:00 – 18:00
Mon – Sat Lunch 12:00 – 14:30
Wed – Sat Dinner 18:00 – 21:00
Sun 12:00 – 16:00
Call on 01249 813118 to make a booking
Find out more and view more sample menus here www.whitehorse-comptonbassett.co.uk