Dominic Chapman is chef patron of the restaurant and pub, The Beehive in White Waltham.
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As Dominic’s family have owned the acclaimed Castle Hotel in Taunton for more than 65 years, it’s safe to say his passion for food was instilled in the chef at a very young age.
Starting his culinary journey in London with Rowley Leigh, Dominic then worked for Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin starred, The Fat Duck in Bray. Dominic spent four years honing his skills under the guidance of the experimental chef. His subsequent years before the Beehive were spent at The Fat Duck’s sister restaurant, The Hind’s Head followed by a head chef position at Michael Parkinson’s pub and restaurant Royal Oak Paley Street, where he won a Michelin star.
Wanting to set out on his own, Dominic took over the pub and restaurant, The Beehive in 2014 which has since achieved two rosettes from the AA Restaurant Guide, a cooking score of 5 in the Good Food Guide and is ranked number 7 in thetop 50 gastro pubs in the UK.
The Staff Canteen caught up with Dominic to find out what is was like working alongside Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, what he has learned from regular travels overseas, why he has a love of sea urchins and what TripAdvisor has to offer.
Early on in your career you worked with Heston Blumenthal, what was he like to work with?
Heston is an amazing man. Totally driven but with a warmth and great sense of humour. Heston is great fun and deserves all the success he has achieved. I will never forget my days at The Fat Duck.
How did he influence your cooking/food style?
I have many influences in my style of food, he simply taught me the importance of recipes, the constant questioning of what you are doing and drive for standards. I would say The Fat Duck gave me an eye for detail and focus to constantly improve.
You once said your cooking style sat somewhere between Rowley’s simple, gutsy, comforting food and Heston’s meticulous finesse. How has your food style evolved over the years?
I think I have my own style of cooking. I cook the food I am happy eating. My menus are led by the constant change of season and ingredients on offer. I love fish, game and have many cooking rituals throughout the year. crab apple season, sea kale season, pheasant eggs, gull eggs, grouse, woodcock, rainbow trout, cobnuts, monks beard and so much more. Simplicity is very important to me. Great ingredients cooked and presented carefully is my focus. I love my job and feel happiest in the kitchen actually cooking sauce. Life would be so easy if all I had to do was cook.
You use a lot of classic/traditional ingredients, what’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve used?
Sea urchins. When fresh they are incredibly delicious.
What do you make of chefs creating more avant garde/left field dishes that seem to be popular right now?
The bar is being raised all the time. There are some extremely talented young chefs out there and some of them cook intelligent brilliant food. Others are trying too hard and get it very wrong. Fashions can be risky in the restaurant business. Young chefs need to learn their craft and be confident in good food and cooking. As the great Alistair Little would say, ‘keep it simple’.
Do you have a favourite dish on the menu or one that has featured since taking over the Beehive?
We do many game dishes and I love cooking all of those. If I had to name one it would have to be braised rabbit, tagliatelle, swiss chard and mustard sauce.
Where do you find the inspiration for your dishes?
Reading, eating out, walking in the country side or simply working with beautiful produce. The inspiration flows and all of a sudden, a delicious dish is born.
How do you make yourself stand out against other gastropubs such as the Star at Harome and The Coach?
We do what we do. I don’t think I have to stand out from the rest. We have a busy restaurant, I love my business and the people I work with. If my business is performing well and we are a happy ship then that is how we stand out. This is no sprint, we have built our business slowly and continue to grow. My priority is The Beehive and I think it is important to not worry about the direction or awards other restaurants may win.
Off the menu
Wild fallow deer, bacon and mushroom pie
Pot roast pheasant, red cabbage and chestnuts
Treacle tart, milk ice cream
Rib of beef (Marinated in herbs then roast in the oven medium rare served with béarnaise)
Rabbit legs (Salted and slowly cooked in duck fat)
Turbot (Pan fried in foaming butter and lemon)
Sprats or anchovies (Deep fried whole with paprika)
Linguine or pappardelle (Ragout of hare or venison)
Scotch egg, grilled octopus, snails with gorgonzola, rabbit lasagne, peppered haunch of venison, rabbit and bacon pie, rhubarb trifle, baked alaska
Every year you spend two weeks cooking in India, how did this come about and what has it taught you as a chef?
India is an amazing country and I can’t wait to return. I met Lord Karan Bilimoria on a dive boat in Greece. We began talking beer, restaurants and Michelin stars. I said I would love to sell Cobra in my pub. I returned to the UK and met Samson Sohail and some of the Cobra team. We began doing business and I got an invitation to cook in Kolkata. This was my first trip to India. I have also cooked in Delhi and Hyderabad. I thoroughly enjoyed these trips and very much hope to get another opportunity to visit India again. As a chef, it taught me how lucky we are in the UK. Our ingredients being world class. Ingredients in India are terrible. The spices are incredible and they need to be.
As a chef, how important is travel?
Very. Travel opens your eyes to the bigger world and how different food is everywhere. It sparks passion and helps to give your food an identity. There is so much to learn as a chef and travel is a very important part of any chef’s progression.
Last year was your third appearance on Great British Menu, can we expect to see you again this year?
No, three times on Great British Menu is enough for now.
How has appearing on the show helped your career and what have you taken from the experience?
Great British Menu was great fun and I enjoyed every minute of the show. As chefs, we are very busy people and it takes up a lot of time and energy. The show was brilliant for me and it certainly creates interest in the business. TV is good but it is important to remember that it is TV and not the real world.
You got a 2016 certificate of excellence from Tripadvisor, do you pay much attention to online review sites?
TripAdvisor is very important and quickly becoming the most relevant restaurant guide there is. Everyone can access TripAdvisor and so many people look to this site for information. I don’t necessarily read every review or pay attention to every review. I certainly use TripAdvisor and think it is pretty useful.
What’s next for the future? Are you aiming for a Michelin star this year or are accolades not necessarily your main focus?
We love all accolades and they are certainly a focus. A Michelin star is the dream and something we are all working towards. The business and team come first and if we can achieve the cream on top we will all be very proud. The Beehive is a great business and we like to invest back into the business. We have many plans and set ourselves goals to achieve these targets. Private dining, bedrooms and restaurant makeover are all in the mix.