Chef of the Week: Dane Watkins, Executive Chef at The Bodmin Jail Hotel in Cornwall

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I am lucky enough to say I started when the hotel first opened in 2020 after a £60 million refurbishment from a derelict Georgian prison.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I always liked watching my nan cook for us in the summer holidays, she would create delicious food for myself and sister, from what it seemed, absolutely nothing. Watching her not cut her hands with knife skills she picked up; we thought it was awesome.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the constant evolution of food. Shortages, seasons, trends, and crisis that keep the day to day completely different keeps me on my toes! But recently, I have really enjoyed conversing with customers after service about the meal they had, looking on it from the public’s ideas and input sometimes can help look past your ego and help a dish with that little something.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, pork and celeriac.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Thermomix, I have an old one at home too!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I think the rise of veganism has brought more of a climate conscious consumer to the greengrocer, meaning people are trying to eat more locally and seasonally, which is great! Macarons seem to be on the come-back after the choux bun war.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen most great chefs do is not look after themselves. Terrible diet and poor work life balance. WLB is essential to have a clear head. I have almost burnt out trying to always be present, which adds a layer of stress at home, meaning you cannot relax in your own safe place, I’ve seen a lot of amazing chefs leave the industry due to this. Luckily my partner has more patience than most and she and helps far more than she should.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn into winter. The best of the last tomatoes goes perfectly into hearty winter warmers Celeriac, swede, and Jerusalem artichokes have such better flavour in the cold months, when eating reminds me of lazy winter meals with my family when I was a kid.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Our scallop dish is great, coriander velouté, shallot bhaji, curry emulsion.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I get the team together and our F&B Manager Charles Peto and tell them my ideas, then cook up a trial and change it as many times until WE are all happy with it.

Who was your greatest influence?
Richard Davies, an amazing chef, but also an incredible manager, I now know what stresses he was under and somehow always pulled our team of misfits together and outperformed day after day.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Elly Wentworth, Dean Westcar and Catherine Lock – 3 chefs I was grateful to work with that are at the top of their game.

What is your favourite cookbook?
The Square V1.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Elly Wentworth and Tim Kendall. They are also hungry for culinary glory in the South West.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Well, after The Chapel at Bodmin Jail… Edies, down here in Cornwall.