Chef to Watch: Sean Garrett, The Pig & Butcher

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Chef to Watch: Sean Garrett, The Pig and Butcher, Islington, London

The nose-to-tail approach to cooking meat is something that is bandied around by chefs, restaurants and PRs who want to express that they are in keeping with the times. It says, we are a sustainable business, we don't like waste, we serve beef cheek ragu. 

But the truth is, cooking innards, articulations and body parts that have spent most of an animal's life thickly coated in dung isn't easy: it takes a lot of skill to make pig's head taste nice. 

Chef Sean Garrett is no stranger to this. He spent his childhood feasting on the fruits of his father's labour, a proud butcher in the coastal town of Tweed Heads, Australia. After some years of training under some of Australia's great chefs - including the celebrated Justin North, Matt Moran and Ben Turner - he found one of the UK's best-known chefs with a love for hunting, foraging and all things British produce, Brett Graham, and travelled across the world to make him his mentor.

He worked his way up the ranks at The Ledbury until he was a sous-chef, moved to Portland to work with Zach Elliott-Crenn, then it was off to Michelin-starred pub The Harwood Arms, where, as a sous-chef, the Queen of the British gastropub, Sally Abé, became his guide. 

Now, Sean is the head chef at The Pig & Butcher, a 19th century Islington pub where meat is butchered, aged, smoked and served under one roof.

Expect great British game and rare breeds galore, and although some dishes - like the scotch egg - rarely come off the menu, everything else can change from one day to the next. Did someone say apt?


Butchery, husbandry, nose-to-tail

So here we are, in 2022, hopefully at the tail end of the pandemic, and Sean can finally start planning for the future. What lies ahead for the Graham/Abé protegé?

"Basically, to use the best quality meat I can put my hands on," putting to practice the whole animal butchery techniques he has spent the past decade learning, and working with the great British game he couldn't have dreamt of back in Australia. 

Aside from perfecting all things butchery and curing, Sean wants to double down on the husbandry aspect of the business.

"It makes it a little bit more interesting, not opening up mass-produced, vacpac bags of sloppy fillet steaks," he said. 

With his rare-breed suppliers, "you can get half a pig one week and then you can't get another half for another three weeks. Same thing with lamb, getting all these different types of lambs, you can get one one week and then you've got to change the menu after two days."

And before I had the chance to mention the ever so hackneyed n-t-t, he added, "the important thing for me is just utilising everything."

"I know everyone bangs on about nose to tail - but are they using the head, the kidneys, the livers, the tongue, pig's ears?"  

"It's like, you preach that you're nose to tail, but you're not really."

For him, whole animal butchery is more of a lifestyle than a job, so it has been engrained in his training.

"I'm very lucky that I've worked with a lot of great chefs over the years who've got all different types of techniques for using everything up - and would yell and scream at you if they walked past the bin and saw watercress stalks in the bin - you'd get bollocked for it." 

"It's definitely rubbed off. Someone's spent their time growing it, caring for it, harvesting it, packing it for half of it to go in the bin, so you've got to think of ways to utilise everything." 

The Pig & Butcher's famed Scotch Egg

It is too soon for Sean to focus too much of his attention on accolades. "We just need to get through the year," he said. "This is my first head chef job, I'm still learning every single day. It's not just about being a chef anymore, cooking the sauce section or running the pastry section, it's a much bigger thing now." 

"I've got to be able to teach the guys and be able to encourage them, get them excited about an ingredient that's only around for six weeks in the year or showing them how to cook it or serve it properly."

"You talk to any new head chef and it's a real learning curve. It's really hard letting go of being that chef that just cooks the sauce section and can do it with their eyes closed." 

But surely now that he's come all this way from Australia, he wants a Michelin star of his own, right? "Yeah, sure, it's great if you get one, but for me there's a lot more in between that that I'd like to progress on before I feel comfortable going yeah, 'we've got a star' or 'we're in the Top 10 of the 50 Best Gastropubs.' It almost feels like it's cheating. You've got to start right at the bottom and you'll appreciate it afterwards." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 4th February 2022

Chef to Watch: Sean Garrett, The Pig & Butcher