Notebooks and pheasant plucking – apprentice chef, Rhys Hanford shares the inside story
The Wild Rabbit is a short drive outside of Chipping Norton and connected with the Daylesford organic farm. It’s a relaxed, rustic, but chic kind of place, with a wealth of good board games to occupy children. Head Chef, Nathan Eades, used to work at a Michelin-star restaurant in Birmingham and has a passion for sourcing high quality, artisan ingredients locally. I spoke to one of his apprentice chefs, Rhys Hanford, who is showing a similar passion for local produce.
RH: I’ve always wanted to. Growing up in Hereford, I was surrounded by the local produce and my cousin is a chef in Wales. He used to talk to me about what it was like.
SD: Which chef do you most admire and why?
RH: Aside from my current chef here, Nathan Eades, I’d say Gordon Ramsay. You see a lot of him and I think it’s impressive how far he’s come from where he started. It goes to show that if you put the effort in from an early age, you can get pretty much anywhere you want.
“I never thought I’d be able to work in a place like this. I didn’t believe in myself when I was younger.”
SD: What does being an apprentice chef involve?
RH: A bit of everything. You have to be ready to self-teach to some extent and learn to get trusted to do certain jobs. Even if you don’t like the jobs you are given, you have to learn to do them to your best ability.
SD: How much choice do you get over where you work as an apprentice?
RH: You get a lot of choice. This is a cool place to work because you get to see lots of things you wouldn’t necessarily see elsewhere, like plucking pheasants, for example. I never thought I’d be able to work in a place like this. I didn’t believe in myself when I was younger.
SD: If you could set up your own restaurant, what would it be like?
RH: If I were the king of my own restaurant, it would be similar to The Wild Rabbit where the team gets on well with each other. I’d like to have my best friend involved like I do here. He’s also an apprentice chef. We’d probably make modern British food to a good standard. I like a lot Simon Rogan’s style of cooking. It’s modern British, but jazzed up a little with some really interesting tastes and textures.
SD: What advice would you give other young people considering becoming a chef?
RH: It’s not like what everyone says. You don’t get shouted out unless you’ve done something wrong. It’s a very rewarding job and you meet some real characters! It also teaches you useful life skills like how to cook for yourself and how to budget. I would say, just keep your head down, enjoy yourself and always have a notebook!
“It’s a very rewarding job and you meet some real characters!”
SD: Do you have a notebook yourself?
RH: Yes (touching his breast pocket), I have two. One for noting down recipes from the chef which I later transfer to a folder, and the other which I keep at home for ideas.
SD: Do you have a favourite meal you like cooking?
RH: Sunday lunch! The best bit is carrot and swede mash.
SD: What have you learnt from working at The Wild Rabbit?
RH: Well, aside from skills like plucking pheasants. I’ve learnt time management and how to run a service, which is extremely useful. I’ve progressed much further than I thought I would here. I think it’s because I get shown how to do something one way and then get left to do it myself, without being told that what I’m doing is wrong.
SD: Have you applied to any chef competitions before? Which ones?
RH: No, but it’s something I want to look into. I think you learn a lot from cooking in different environments and competitions provide a high pressure, intense environment that I think would be good for me. I did one with my school at Hotel Olympia, where the judges were wandering around with clipboards. It was quite stressful, but I think that’s good practice.
“I think you learn a lot from cooking in different environments and competitions provide a high pressure, intense environment.”
SD: If you were to make a meal that featured local produce, what would it feature and why?
RH: It depends on the season. If we were to choose now (February), I would probably take some of the vegetables from the Daylesford organic farm just down the road. They have artichokes and leeks right now. I would probably do something rustic like braised onions with a chicken stock glaze.
SD: Do you think that using local produce requires chefs to be more creative?