Josh Eggleton, The Pony and Trap, Bristol

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th April 2012

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Josh Eggleton is head chef at The Pony and Trap, one of the best restaurants in Bristol. He got his first job in the industry at 15, working at the local chip shop. He then worked at The Bear and Swan washing up before getting an apprenticeship which lasted three years. He gained experience in Sicily’s il Mulinazzo, New York’s Chanterelle and the three Michelin-starred French Laundry in California. In 2006 Josh became one of the youngest pub and restaurant proprietors in the country by taking over The Pony and Trap. In 2011 the Pony and Trap was awarded a prestigious Michelin Star which it has held ever since. Josh good morning thank you very much for inviting us into the Pony and Trap. Give us a brief synopsis of that six years, where you started and where you are now. Well I've been here six years which is probably the fastest six years of my life, things have changed a lot. So you were 22 when you came? 22 yes, 28 now. We've done a huge amount. When we first started we set out to be a very simple, informal pub with just me in the kitchen, my sister out front. I did have a business partner to start with but he had a full time job as well so he'd come and help out at weekends. Tuesday to Friday it was me and my sister. I did the kitchen, she did front of house, and we both washed up. And what sort of food at that time were you serving? I didn’t do fish and chips but we did do ham, egg and chips just at lunch time, we also did a ploughman’s for lunch, the first two dishes we ever sold were two ploughman’s. We took over on the Monday, March 20th. We opened on the Tuesday and we had no money at all. We did two for lunch - two ham ploughman’s. I was having to try and prep a menu plus we spent the entire Monday night painting the ceiling, cleaning the place and trying to get rid of that horrific smell from the drains,. We also did a stuffed chicken breast wrapped in Black Forest ham with tomato compote, all very kind of 90s I guess now. A pork chop with a stilton sauce, obviously a sirloin steak with, not even home-made chips, bought in chips. How different was that to the food that the Pony and Trap had been doing before you took over? When we arrived the Pony and Trap had been doing food that was, what you would call cook/chill, so big batches of curry, big batches of stew, chilled down, frozen in little tubs. I inherited most of that because I had to buy the stock off them. I was looking at it in the freezer and thinking, ‘Well what am I going to do with that? Six years ago when you were running it with your sister was the vision of quality - and you can’t not mention the fact that you've got the star -was that part of the vision or did that just happen? No that just happened. Never in a million years did I imagine that we’d ever win or earn a Michelin star. I was the most surprised out of everyone. In fact I still am surprised! It is great. Fantastic. But I don't know, I was just pretty shocked. I never said, “I want to win a Michelin star,” What are peoples perceptions now of a pub with a Michelin star? Is it that you’re going to be expensive? Is the expectation now much different than it was? The expectation is a lot higher which is fine because we always aim to be the best we can in a relaxed dining environment. This is I think what a Michelin star pub is... You earn one Michelin star for within your category and people do perceive that it’s going to be expensive which we're not. You can eat three courses here for about £26, you can come in and have lunch, have ham, egg and chips for £6.95. This includes triple cooked chips, home-cooked glazed ham, home-made piccalilli, so it’s the best that we can do. For those that don’t know Josh give us a bit of your background where were you before here? Where did your culinary roots start? Pretty much here actually. Obviously you’re a local lad? Yep, I was born and raised in south Bristol. After I finished school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and the only thing I was pretty good at was cooking. I decided to get a job in a good local restaurant called The Bear and Swan, got a washing up job and from that I took on an apprenticeship there. I worked there for about three years. After that I ended up working in John Lewis of all places. I worked in the bakery doing pastry and we made everything, it was quite something. It was interesting and it was there I learnt how to cater en masse. After a year, I then moved to the Olive Shed in Bristol which was a fish and vegetarian restaurant, very informal, open kitchen, Mediterranean feel, very relaxed. I worked there for two years became head chef after about three months, a young head chef. Did you become head chef by default because the chef left? No the head chef currently at the time we swapped places which was very amicable. We could see it would work better and we went on to become best mates. I was going to leave and in hindsight I should have gone to London. Really I should have said, “Right I'm off, I'm going to London, going to learn,” and sometimes I think I should have done that. Why? I don't know because I could learn more. Because the standard’s better ((laughs)). You're in a Michelin star pub. Yeah I know that but I never imagined that I would be. You’ve done very well, you haven't gone to London do you think there's a necessity for Chefs to go to London? No. But it’s a bit of a Catch 22. I had the opportunity to go to London; after I won the Gordon Ramsey scholarship in 2003 I got offered a lot of jobs with Angela Hartnett at the Connaught, Petrus, Mark Sargeant at Claridges Do you regret not taking that opportunity? No I don’t actually because here I am and I do what I do. I was more hell bent on running my own business, before I decided I wanted to be a chef I always knew I wanted to run my own business, even at the Bear and Swan I was already looking at pubs for sale, I wanted my own business and that's what I did. I left the Olive Shed and then I decided to do a bit of travelling I went to New York for a month, my auntie lives in New York and I worked in Boulez, The Danube and the Bakery underneath it - they both had two stars each. I also worked in Chanterelle (which is closed now) then after a month I went to California and did a stage in the French Laundry for a week. Wow fantastic. How was that experience? Amazing. Brilliant. I discovered the French Laundry just by buying the cook book. I was going to say what did you do just turn up and knock on the door or what did you do send them emails? No some places I did in New York, but the French Laundry I sent them an email and just said, “Look can I come and do a stage?” and you know what they were the only people to reply and say, “Yeah no problem when do you want to come” You've got an almost eclectic cookery background haven't you, lots and lots of different styles, but also there's I guess this sort of determination to get into really good places. Yeah to learn and see what’s going on. I'm quite good at picking up or just watching, I've only got to watch a thing two or three times. We do guest chef evenings here or we work in other people’s kitchens and I just love going in there. I like seeing what’s going on and I remember everything. So in terms of now, today then, how would you if you had to pigeonhole or give your food style a genre how would you sum it up? I'd quite like to focus on artisan products, rather than doing too many garnishes on the plate or too many extra things, we focus on two or three key things, I want to put the focus on making a really good black pudding, churning our own butter and just doing little things like that, but I guess we are modern British. I still think that's amazing though a little place like this churns its own butter. I just think that's fantastic. It’s great - and you know what, it works out cheaper Last question for you then, six very successful years, where do you want to be in the next five years and what does future success look like to you? Is it more accolades? Is it profitability? Is it still being here in five years time? Well that's a big question isn’t it? ((laughs)) You've got lots of things, you've got your outside catering lots of development here? I might extend the restaurant but I'm not going to extend the restaurant and double the covers I want to make bigger tables, make it more comfortable for people. But still retain the character? Yes absolutely. Just create a bit more character to be honest. Also, I'd really love to open a fish and chip shop towards the end of the year. I started my catering career at a fish and chip shop before I worked at the Bear, I loved it, it’s very British and it’s very… Profitable? Profitable. Yeah absolutely nothing wrong with that. I want to take it really to the next level with the fish and chip shop. So we want to be able to say if people come in we’ll have a wet fish counter and you can have what you want. We’ll have a bit of hake, or a bit of cod, or a bit of haddock and say, “Do you want it cooked in dripping or do you want it cooked in oil?” – little things like that. We'd do fish pies to take away in pleasing dishes which they’ll then bring back and we’ll reload them. We started the outside catering and event business two years ago called Food for Thought. That's done really well. We’re also going to start cookery courses here at the Pony and maybe a few in Bristol. I even see myself going to create a small holiday company based around food travel,” and I'll go there, figure it all out, just find some vineyards, find a great cheese producer, find some great restaurants and then we’ll take people and tour them round and just give them whole talks and talk about food all day long. That's a good idea isn’t it? On top of all that, my biggest ever project is in planning and runs from April 25th to May 7th called Eat Drink Bristol Fashion. We’re basically whacking up a big marquee style tipi and putting on a 2 week long pop-up restaurant in the centre of Bristol. It’s mad but it’ll be worth it! We have invited 8 of the best independent restaurants in the city to come down and put on a guest night and at the same time the Pony  & Trap be running a “British Tapas” bar on the side. It’s gonna have a bit of a festival feel to it and is like nothing else that has been done in the city before. Wow. Sounds like you’re a busy man. What keeps you motivated?? I love food,I love cooking food, I love eating food, I love talking about food, I love to talk about the restaurant. So that's pretty much it I love reading cookery books, I don’t really do anything else I'd love to be able to try and find a work……life balance but more weighted in work obviously, but when you've got your health, I think it’s very important that I'm able to maybe travel a little bit more and go to places like Japan or go to Jerusalem and learn about the food culture there, and then bring some of that back here, because that's what it’s all about you bring that back and be able to come out and talk to your customers and say, “You know what I went to Jerusalem about six months ago and this is where I got the inspiration from for this dish,” Our jobs board has current head chef vacancies for you to check out if you want to advance your career in some great kitchens. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th April 2012

Josh Eggleton, The Pony and Trap, Bristol

IN ASSOCIATION WITH