Josh Overington, chef patron, Le Cochon Aveugle

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 16th May 2016

Josh Overington is chef patron of French restaurant Le Cochon Aveugle in York. 

The 28 year-old took on the restaurant with his partner Vicky, which was previously managed by Michael O’Hare of Leeds’ The Man Behind The Curtain, in February 2014 and they have since taken the French-style bistro on to the fine dining stage but still with a casual feel. Josh has worked at the Pipe and Glass and the Waterside Inn before moving to Paris to train at Le Cordon Bleu. The restaurant recently received a gleaming review from the Guardian’s Marina O'Loughlin saying ‘Overington has come up with something a bit special’ so The Staff Canteen headed north to find out more.

We chatted to Josh about his love of French cuisine, why he doesn’t think the best ingredients are always local, opening a second venture and why he considers Michelin stars to be dated.

Slow-cooked duck breast, steamed aubergine, tear-drop peppers and tasty paste

Slow-cooked duck breast, steamed 

aubergine, tear-drop peppers and 

tasty paste

You worked for Michael O’Hare before taking on Le Cochon Aveugle yourself, but what experience did you have in the
industry before that?

Basically I went to college and f****d that all up, I stupidly thought it was the best idea to move to Australia with no qualifications, so the only job when I got there was washing pots. I worked my way up to then working in the kitchen, I was over there for a year and a half and then I came back and got a job at the Pipe and Glass. I was there for seven months and then I went to the Waterside Inn.

I found it incredibly difficult that’s the honest truth about it. I had no idea what a three Michelin star level really was. I was given advice from Alain Roux which was to basically go and train, I had no formal training at that point so I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris after that. And that’s when I first went to Paris.

Is that when you first developed a love for French dishes?

The Roux’s had a huge influence on what I see as actual French food and living in Paris influenced me massively. I was there for two years, I worked at Ledoyen which had three stars and I did that purely to see how much I had changed.

From there I went to Canada and worked at a high end place called Nota Bene and I realised I really hated what fine dining represented in the modern application of the word. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. 

A few years later I went back to Paris and ate at Le Comptoir, it changed how I thought about restaurants. It was doing fine dining but in a bistro setting. It shocked me with what could be done without the restraints of a Michelin star, without the want of that – I knew then that was what I wanted to do and I wanted to do it in York, which is where I am from.

Baked hens egg custard with Sauternes
Baked hens egg custard with Sauternes

You went to work with Michael O’Hare at The Blind Swine in York, what was that like?

Michael was doing something completely mad! I really wanted to go and work there because I knew if it worked there it could work for me. The Blind Swine was an entity on its own, it wasn’t casual, it wasn’t fine dining it was just The Blind Swine.

Michael opened Le Cochon, I became head chef there and it was completely different. It was Michael’s vison of what a bistro was. When The Blind Swine was closing, Le Cochon would have closed too but the landlord asked me if I wanted to stay and take it on, so I did.

So did you stick with Michael’s menu or did you completely change it once you took over?

I changed it to the six course menu we have now, it was simpler then than it is now but it was in essence the same. Initially the main course would just be a piece of protein and a vegetable, the dessert would have been a tart and ice cream. It was nice but it was more bistro and classical, so a bouillabaisse fish course things like that.

But that’s what I set out to do, I didn’t have ambitions to have the restaurant as we have it now. It was simple, it was affordable and that is one of the reasons it was a success – it was only £30 and you were having extremely high quality food.

5 Top ingredients

Espelette pepper

We never use black pepper as a seasoning at the restaurant, but espelette pepper gives that subtle warmth that you sometimes need. We often season our mayonnaise with it and serve with radishes.

Pigs Head

During the early days of opening the restaurant we needed to find a protein with a good margin.

We slow-cook them overnight to make a brawn, which is then breadcrumbed and deep-fried.

Beaufort Cheese

This is my favourite cheese in the world – the French call it the Prince of Gruyere! We often make a savoury crumble out it to top a game stew.

Sherry Vinegar

Another essential seasoning that we use at the restaurant. It makes a huge difference when deglazing a pan with steaks, lamb and other red meats.

Mussels

I have been eating mussels since I was a child. They are versatile, cheap and delicious – a perfect ingredient!

Signature dishes

Sauternes egg and Shetland mussels!

We are where we are now because we are ambitious and want to keep challenging ourselves but also we want to keep impressing our customers and giving them what they want.

We have a lot of regulars, they don’t want to eat the same thing so I was changing my menu all the time. I change my menu completely every two weeks, I know some people keep the same menu but I see that as a bit of a cop out.

The menu completely relies on the seasons, we are not trying to shock anybody, what ever our suppliers have that’s what we use.

What is on the menu this month?

We have dishes we always come back to seasonally. The main course in May is duck, which we coat in honey with teardrop peppers and a miso glazed aubergine.

We also have nasturtium flowers on; we do a nasturtium ice cream with whatever squash is in season. There is a tonka bean panna cotta, with wild strawberries and wild strawberry sorbet.

When I say we cook seasonally, I have an opinion on seasons in the UK – I’m not going to use Yorkshire strawberries if the ones in France are better for example. It’s ridiculous, I’ll use Wye Valley asparagus because it’s delicious and I don’t want to wait for Yorkshire asparagus to come into season.

Your opinion on using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients is very different to others in the industry, how do you think that will be received?

I just think its complete nonsense. It doesn’t matter where the ingredients are from if they are delicious then they are delicious. Sustainability is different, you should support that but peas for example aren’t endangered, if they are delicious from Holland then why not get them from there? If you are going to source everything local then do it like Tommy Banks does it – go the complete whole hog and dedicate your restaurant to that ethos. But I don’t have a restaurant in the middle of Yorkshire, it’s in a city and I get what is available to me. I use what is best for the customer.

On ingredients, do you have any in particular you like to work with?

That’s a really hard question. We use nasturtium a lot but we use it as a flavour, I hate f***ing chefs putting herbs on a dish when there is no need for it. Right now we have a nasturtium risotto so it has them in it, they wouldn’t be on the dish if they had nothing to do with it.

We really like game here, we use a lot of hare, venison, grouse – and that is always local because it is good.  

You use charcuterie from the family farm, is that right?

My uncle started it as a hobby, he started with three pigs and now he has 50! It just seems obvious for me to use it, we won’t have pig on the menu every week but I wanted to support him. So, we’ll do homemade saucisson and we’ve got a whole leg, cured, hung up in the cupboard and it will be ready in twelve months. It’s a wonderful product, home reared, I know it will be perfect every time, and it has a very high fat content so it makes for delicious charcuterie.

Are you inspired solely by French cuisine?

" Poached Williams pear, with Yorkshire honey ice-cream and a nougatine crust

Poached Williams pear, with Yorkshire honey

ice cream and a nougatine crust

I go to Paris every year because there are no restaurants in Yorkshire and not many in the UK, which are like us. There are lots in Paris and we go to compare ourselves. But really the food inspiration comes a lot from my childhood and family. I’m half Italian so there are Italian influences in the dishes, we use cherry blossom because I used to eat them as a kid in the garden, we barbeque lamb because that’s how I had it at home. I take these ideas and then think how I can elevate them to the maximum and that’s usually where a dish will come from.

There are techniques in my cooking which come from chefs I’ve worked under but I don’t think there are recipe influences. So, before working with Michael I had never used sous vide before and now we use it a lot, nearly all of our protein is.

It takes a while to find your own style and get your own confidence. 

And how do you feel about accolades? Are you aiming for a Michelin star?

I’ve positioned myself sort of as an anti-Michelin in the way we do things. I don’t know what I would do if we did get one, I’m not saying I would give it back if we won it because I wouldn’t because it’s a publicity thing really. In my opinion this restaurant is as good as any Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK right now. But we do things, on purpose, to try and stop that fine-dining feeling. We don’t have table cloths, I wear a t-shirt and skinny jeans to work, the service is very casual, we serve the snacks at the start of the meal all at once. Also, how would we cope if we won one? It’s a constant worry, the kitchen team can’t get any bigger, I can’t make the kitchen any bigger so something would have to give.

We just run our restaurant as if we have one, stars are a weird thing I think they are a dated thing too. Obviously it’s a huge achievement and you can’t ever take that away but all the awards aside we are here to make money and serve good food.

le cochonYou are opening a wine bar this month, Cave du Cochon, what made you want to do that?

It made sense for me to do a bar, I didn’t want to do another restaurant because there is no point competing with myself. There will be food available but it will be stuff I like eating on my days off so, charcuterie, pickled herrings – food you want to eat with wine. It’s going to be very much French, but more rustic and it’ll be half familiar, half with our own twist on it, a bit like Le Cochon. We will have English products on as well because the wine won’t just be from France, they will be from across the world.

Myself and my partner Vicky, love doing this, we love having a restaurant and being a part of the hospitality industry and bringing it up in York.

The wine list at Le Cochon is extremely unusual; we have really unique wines, and this is something to pursue, so when the opportunity came up to open the bar, we grabbed it with both hands.

The menu will be quite big - there will be different homemade charcuterie, selection of cheeses, loads of oysters because I like eating oysters with wine, a few desserts, you could have a full meal there or just have nibbles, there are no rules to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 16th May 2016

Josh Overington, chef patron, Le Cochon Aveugle

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