Chef of The Week: Emily Watkins, Chef Proprietor of The Kingham Plough, Oxfordshire

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Ten years.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I have always enjoyed to eat, and therefore to cook. I have learnt a lot from home and then of course working in different restaurants. I am constantly tinkering with new ideas and reading, too.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Eating the food!



Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Butter, salt and lemon.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Baking parchment.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Simplicity. Clean cooking and flavours, less is more.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Trying to impress. Concentrate on cooking a delicious dish rather than showing off.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
The beginning of a new season. Right now I am loving cooking the first casseroles – whether it be a delicious fish, saffron and coco bean or a rich venison and juniper ragu with pumpkin dumplings. Come the spring I will be longing for the new season freshness, and then bring on the summer with strawberries and delicate salad leaves.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Yesterday it was our version of the wellington, today it is the cured monkfish tail with battered cheek and seaweed tartar, tomorrow… who knows?

How do you come up with new dishes?
I usually start with an idea of a dish, for example the cured monkfish started with the thought of doing a take on fish and chips and mushy peas, it evolved and evolved with a couple of eureka moments in between to the dish we have today.

Who was your greatest influence?
Angela Hartnett.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Angela Hartnett for her stunning, loyal and consistent take on modern Italian cooking. Stephen Harris for his commitment to working with local producers and, of course, his top quality food. Heston Blumenthal for breaking all boundaries and opening our minds to what cooking can be.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Again, it changes all the time. I love the British Larder Book: A Cookbook for All Seasons by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel for seasonal reminders. I love the Roux patisserie book for all the classic dessert basics. I love Thomas Keller’s book for inspiration and photography.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Richard Craven – he used to be my sous chef here at The Kingham Plough, went off to South Africa and returned to open the Chef’s Dozen in Chipping Campden which has incredible cooking. He is now about to open in a pub – The Royal Oak in Whatcote – and I am convinced he will get the recognition he deserves.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
The Royal Oak in Whatcote.