10 minutes with: Kamil Oska, The Pig near Bath

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen meet Kamil Oska who is the head chef at The Pig near Bath which holds two AA Restaurant Guide rosettes.

The kitchen garden has become a must have for restaurants, it’s quintessentially British and diners love to see the produce coming straight from the land to the plate. Even city based restaurants are going green fingered, bringing in living walls as they don’t have the space for a full garden.

Garden-LoRes-10I went to meet Kamil Oska who is the head chef at The Pig near Bath. The Pig Group consists of four restaurants all of them championing the kitchen garden. I wanted to find out how important it is to him as a chef to have access to these ingredients.

He is from Warsaw in Poland originally where he would often forage as a child, so working at The Pig he says is ‘like coming home.’

“Since I was three years old my family and especially my grandma have always grown ingredients, she would take me into the countryside foraging and fishing and my uncle showed me butchering,” explained Kamil. I spent all of my summer in the countryside with my grandparents so I really like the ingredients from that season. We were always foraging and drying and pickling the ingredients we collected.”

It’s not a new concept, the kitchen garden has been around for decades but with everything it has come back into fashion, with establishments such as Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, L’enclume and Restaurant Andrew Fairlie all boasting their own produce. 

Although it’s a great selling point for diners, more importantly it enables chefs to work with ingredients right outside the kitchen door. DSC_1342 Taking a tour of The Pig’s garden, Kamil and gardener Ollie Hutson showed me the impressive plantation which included autumn fruiting rhubarb, kale and Chinese artichokes – to name a few.

“You can be so creative – you can really open your brain,” explained Kamil. “I’ve been working in the big cities and the towns and it’s so boring. You just clock in and clock out and you are always doing the same job. Here, for example on a Sunday night, if there is no delivery you come in the garden and you need two dishes and your mind just explodes with ideas.”

Offering me samples such as salad rocket flowers to try, Ollie explained he likes the chefs to treat the garden as much like a supplier as they would anyone else, so they have to put in their orders of what they want that day and it will be delivered once picked.

Kamil said: “Having a garden really helps you as a chef to understand the product. What we grow in the garden helps us to design the menu and it’s fantastic to work with seasonal food. You can’t beat delivering fresh produce straight from the garden onto the plate. 

“This is what people come for, the food is basic and we focus on the flavour. It’s about local, fresh food not crazy garnishes or foams. We want people to feel at home.” image (2)

The restaurant is nestled in rolling countryside and not only boasts a beautiful kitchen garden but it has its own livestock including a deer park. The deer are culled throughout the year and they too end up on the menu.

Kamil admits even with the extensive vegetable plots and animals on the site they cannot produce enough to feed everyone so they have to look for other sources.

“The Pig philosophy is all around the kitchen garden,” he said. “But anything we bring in is within 25 miles and we avoid using large suppliers.

“There is an organic farm about four miles from here, they grow vegetables for me as well. They ask what I would like and then they work with the garden to grow what I need. Our garden can’t provide enough to cater for all of our customers so they supply anything extra.

“Sometimes they come at 11 o’clock at night, they call me and say ‘sorry we can only bring one bunch of beetroot as the torch ran out of battery’ – so you never know how much you are going to get.”

Kitchen gardens were originally designed by large estates to feed the surrounding village so at The Pig they like the gardens to look as rural and working as they can be – they are agricultural not horticultural. _MG_1604_AdobeRGB

Kamil said: “This year I’ve been working with Ollie and we’ve grown a lot of radishes, four or five different types of radishes and they are so fresh and crunchy. They are brilliant in the spring but unfortunately when the summer comes they are no good.

That’s something I enjoy, experimenting with Olllie and finding out what works well in which season. Ollie planted yacón this year and it’s just amazing – but until we grow it we just don’t know if it’s something we can use or not.”

He added: “Here, I really enjoy working with a herb called Lovage. We grow a lot of tomatoes and this herb works perfectly with them. Also it’s perfect with sauces, we make amazing ice cream and dressings with it and we can dry it to use in the winter.”

As well as enjoying the dining experience guests are encouraged to take a tour of the gardens and the smoke house, see what’s in the vegetables patches, meet the pigs and take a look at the herds of deer.

image (4)Kamil explained: “If I’m in the garden I will stop and talk to the customers and show them around but we always have two or three people working in the garden who have more knowledge than myself. They will answer their questions, offer them things to try – as they say chefs are always in the kitchen so I’m not always able to walk around with customers.”

Our final stop was the bar because at The Pig they don’t just experiment in the garden and the kitchen. They also like to infuse their own vodka and they have tried a number of products to see what it tastes like – for the record chives and vodka should never share a bottle!

By Cara Pilkington @canteencara

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th December 2014

10 minutes with: Kamil Oska, The Pig near Bath