Dave Wall, head chef, The Unruly Pig

The  Staff Canteen

Dave Wall is the head chef of The Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Since it launched in 2015, the gastropub has been the subject of wide acclaim, recognised in Estrella's Top 50, the Michelin and The Good Food Guide. 

Dave, whose formative years were spent working at Bibendum, Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Café and Le Talbooth, was recently named 'Best Pub Restaurant Chef' of the year by the Craft Guild of Chefs.

You didn't actually set out to be a chef. Was there a pivotal moment when you realised that it was your calling?

I don't think it was so much a pivotal moment. I spent a year living in Australia, a year living in Canada and I just needed some beer tokens  so I started in the potwash and dragged in to cover the garnish one day when the chef went off ill.

I didn't think it was something I was going to do as a career - but it grew on me.

Those first kitchens I worked in were hardly the height of culinary affairs but I came across and worked alongside a couple of pretty decent chefs.

I started to actually learn how to actually make things and produce things, that's when I got hooked.

Rising star  Name the chef you think is set for glory Tom Booton%2C previously head chef of Alyn Williams at The Westbury and launching a big new venture this Autumn.

Since then you've worked at some pretty high calibre restaurants - Have you ever considered packing it in?

I think all chefs have a bit of a wobble at some stage. I have to say I never seriously looked into packing it in but there are many times where you're just absolutely exhausted and just question: "cor, can I keep doing this."

What was the thought process that helped you see it through?

I think it's just an internal drive. You've either got it or you haven't. It's funny, as you work in kitchens, you can almost see the ones that are going to buckle and not make it through.

They just don't turn up for work the next day, they disappear. They leave their knives behind - sometimes worth hundreds, thousands of pounds - they just go.

rabbit terrine edited
Rabbit terrine 

I read somewhere that you're not much for endorsing modern cooking techniques and fads. What for you makes up the staple of tools and equipment that you use on a daily basis?

My background is rooted in classical French - who aren't scared of a gadget, but I like the core principles of good workmanship using whole animals, honouring the whole animal and good solid cooking.

I love cast iron pans, foaming butter garlic and thyme, roasting and for me it just imparts so much flavour and whilst there are certain uses for waterbaths and vat packing - when it comes to meat and fish I really do like the traditional methods.

The most useful tools in our kitchen really are a butcher's saw, an oven, a stove and a pan. They're the ones that we rely on the most.

Do you have any tricks and techniques that you would recommend?

Not reinventing the wheel here but wherever possible, cooking on the bone or large pieces of meat that are then carved I think is the ultimate way to create flavour and also if you can cook those bits and pieces earlier so they get a chance to rest.

Where you've got the bone to protect it, it just creates such a better cook on the meat or the fish and creates more succulence.

You're working in a gastropub, which I imagine is quite different to a classical restaurant in terms of the sheer numbers and the expectations that your customers have. Why did you choose to go down that path?

Even though I've worked at some higher-end restaurants, I've never worked in a thirty cover site so the aspect of volume and still trying to deliver quality wasn't a new concept to me. 

What does present a bit of a difficulty is that we have quite a wide offering.

We want to be accessible and informal, somewhere people can come on a Tuesday lunch and not feel like it's something they need to save up for, but then we have to be a chameleon  - we have to morph into not quite fine dining but certainly in terms of what we're trying to do with food.

quail raviolo with beetroot
Quail raviolo with beetroot

The idea of a gastropub is relatively new. Do you think there's more of an appetite for that kind of experience where customers want something in between that refined, good quality but also something that's quite casual?

 It's just the evolution of the pub. I think winding back fifteen years or so when the smoking ban started, the old-age drinking pub, wipe your feet on the way out is dead and buried because there's not a lot of money in selling a pint of beer now.

That's when for me the food pub - the gastropub - really started to take off.

As for the growth of casual dining, you can see how many high-end operators trying to deformalise their restaurants because they recognise that that's where the trend has gone.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th July 2019

Dave Wall, head chef, The Unruly Pig