Joshua Hunter, head chef of his eponymous restaurant at Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds in Northwood, on the very best training and cooking for celebrities
So, Joshua Hunter, how was it cooking for Tom Cruise? “I was obviously star struck,” he laughs. “It was very different from working in a restaurant. The opportunity at the time just came up, they were looking for a personal chef, Tom Cruise was filming a Mission Impossible, and they needed someone to go and work in a penthouse in Knightsbridge for six months. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Opportunities have come thick and fast in his relatively short career, but for anyone who has tasted Hunter’s food, it’s no surprise that he has wowed all before him. It’s a sweltering day in June when we talk, but luckily for Hunter, he has 60 acres of open countryside around him at his eponymous restaurant at Holland & Holland’s Shooting Grounds. It’s the culmination of hard graft spent in kitchens including La Trompette, Kitchen W8 and Murano, working for some of the finest chefs in the industry right now.
“When you are young, you are absorbing everything you can, and that support is very important for anyone coming into the industry,” he reflects. “Each kitchen was different. Anthony Boyd at La Trompette was an incredible man manager, he was very organised and knew how to get the best out of people. Angela Hartnett [at Murano] is just an amazing chef, with a great philosophy. She is super seasonal and a very lovely woman as well. And then Mark Kempson [at Kitchen W8], he’s the most driven person I have ever met. He’s the type of guy who would work a 16-hour shift and go home and start laying flooring in his house! I saw the drive that he took into each day.”
You can taste elements of all in his work today at Holland & Holland, which was a natural progression for the ambitious Hunter. “After I left Kitchen W8, I was looking for a head chef role and the stars aligned with Holland & Holland,” he says, “I met Nicolas Ollivier, who is the director, and came and did an interview with him. I then came back and cooked for him and he really liked it – I just knew what they were after at Holland & Holland, I knew my ethos would fit quite well. We signed a contract in December 2018.”
One big thing about this gig, though, is the fact that it’s his name above the door. Surely that adds the pressure? “I suppose to an extent,” he considers, “but it’s a real privilege as well. Any head chef is looking to do their best, and for me it’s that feeling that everything that goes out in the restaurant is representing me, so of course there is some pressure to that. It’s exciting for me, it’s great for me as a chef. You could potentially work in a restaurant for years and years and never build much of a profile, so it’s really nice to have that. Also, there’s the added extra of Holland & Holland being a famous British brand as well, and there’s the obvious pun of someone called Hunter with a shooting brand too!”
Looking at the latest menu, you can see a focus on modern British cuisine, with seasonality very much coming to the fore. “I like to call it relaxed fine dining,” he says on his approach to the food at the restaurant. “I like to think of it as food you’d expect to eat in a Michelin star restaurant, and the portions are quite generous. We are doing really good seasonal and the very best British produce, with some nice luxury twists. We are sourcing some incredible produce from all over the UK. We are not overly complicating things – we are not looking to reinvent the wheel.”
As we talk, Hunter is about to unveil some new dishes to the menu and it’s clear that he’s excited about the changes. “We have got some amazing stone bass, which is on the starters,” he begins. “We are serving it as a ceviche, with pickled cucumbers, smoked cod’s roe and a tomato water, so super fresh and really clean. We have got a wood pigeon coming on the main, and we have a turbot with clams coming on too. We also get amazing beef from our butcher’s, so we are doing a big tomahawk steak to share with a lovely red wine sauce and some wild mushrooms. We have also got a pineapple tarte tatin with a rum glaze and lime ice cream, which is a nice dessert to have on. So there’s lots of stuff I am exciting about.”
The excitement is understandable, considering what the hospitality industry has been through since March 2020. “It’s been very challenging,” Hunter says. “Being closed two weeks into December was pretty horrendous. We had the Christmas menu running and everyone was excited to be back after the November lockdown, so that period was extremely difficult for me and lots of other people in the hospitality industry. I am hoping the summer will be exciting going forward. One thing I would say about hospitality, and specifically the people that work in it, is that they have done so well to adapt. Suppliers have started doing at home delivery kits, little cafes setting up markets, and that’s been lovely to see.”
Hunter, too, got in on the act with a produce market that had locals flocking to it, which begs the question if his restaurant is open to all, or just visitors to the Shooting Grounds? “Anybody can come in to eat,” he clarifies. “With the grounds as well, anyone can book a lesson. Some people are under the misconception it’s a member’s club and it’s not at all.” He once cooked for the stars, but there’s no doubting that Joshua Hunter is now a big name himself in the restaurant business.
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