Chef of the Week: James Checkley – Head Chef at Paschoe House in Devon

Paschoe House

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’ve been at Paschoe since the end of the first lockdown. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still learning so much!

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I think my passion came from watching my mum cook when I was growing up. I went to Exeter college and moved out straight after to work full time at the Arundell Arms Hotel. Head Chef Steve gave me so much to learn and the team there were fantastic.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I just love cooking. I think this question is so hard to answer because there are roughly nine million answers to this one!

Name three ingredients you couldn’t work without.
Hmmm… I’m going with salt, butter and shallots.

What piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
The oven and stoves?! Ha! I’m going to say the trusty knives, You can’t do much without prepping first!

What Food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Another tough one! There are so many trends around. I think it’s important to cook what you know and learn what others do and apply it respectfully. It’s too easy to follow a trend and not understand it. I did once do a Massimo Bottura inspired splat on a plate a few times, clean down was a bloody nightmare!

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
I think all chefs will admit that mistakes (as frustrating as they can be) will always make you learn and be better. Instead of spotting mistakes others make I just focus on learning and teaching my team as much as I can and not running before we can walk!

What is your favourite time of year for food and why?
I love Autumn. It’s the start of game season, apples, squash and pumpkins. I just love it all.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I did a pollock dish with spiced butternut and mussels. I won an award at southwest chef of the year for it.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I just think about flavours I love and that go together. Then I pick the protein, write it and most importantly I always ask my team for their opinion. Sometimes It becomes something totally different but it’s a great way to create.

Who was your greatest influence?
It has to be Gordon Ramsay. I was lucky enough to meet him at 16 and all I wanted to do was cook!

Tell us chefs you admire.
There are just too many to name! I remember the last time I competed in the South West Chef of the Year Paul Ainsworth, Niall Keating and Michael Caines were judges. They were chatting together and I had to walk past. I just wanted to stop and ask 1000 questions. Michael (I still call him chef) was my boss at the time and I was bricking it!

What is your favourite cookbook?
I absolutely love Out of My Tree by Daniel Clifford.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months.
To avoid any kind of controversy I’m going to go with my team of chefs! My team is amazing, Phil and Billy work so hard to push for more with me. I can’t praise them enough!

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Unfortunately Covid-19 has caused such a huge loss for our industry I haven’t had a chance to go to many new places. That being said Edible Art in Cheltenham was opened by my good friend and former pastry chef Damien Wager. I took my Mum up and we both loved it!