Lucy Studley discovers a wealth of culinary talent beyond the restaurant kitchen…
As if Cornwall needed another string to its culinary bow. And yet, after a year of upheaval and flux, 2021 will be replete with fresh epicurean experiences in the UK’s rural food capital. As well as new restaurant openings (many postponed from last year), private dining will be a big trend in the months ahead, with some great chefs offering a masterclass in the Duchy’s famous food and drink in the comfort of your own home or holiday let.
Fuelled by culinary enthusiasts keen to reclaim the pleasure of the dining experience, and chefs who have diversified by choice or necessity, this freshly-infused aspect of Cornwall’s food scene is an intriguing prospect. And the great news is you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to dip your toe; with packages starting from £65 per person including wine, a bespoke at-home experience certainly competes with a comparable restaurant meal. Plus, no need to find a parking space or take a taxi – a big factor in favour of staying in during the busy summer months.
Luxury holiday property and concierge services are seeing a surge in requests for private dining experiences. Holidaymakers look forward to spending quality time in their beautiful, handpicked properties – all of which come with luxuriously equipped kitchens. So you can understand the temptation to stay at home and bring in an experienced chef to cook for you, especially when you consider the larder of local produce on the doorstep.
So, here’s a few suggestions to get you started. Think of it as a smorgasbord of talent to work your way through…
This new St Ives based collaboration is a pop-up event and private dining service designed by chef Robert Michael (formerly of Porthgwidden Beach Café in St Ives) and wine expert Nick Sowden (LWC Wine Merchants). Rob brings a love of local ingredients and a creative approach to menu development, while Nick contributes in-depth knowledge of contemporary winemaking and a refreshing take on wine and food matching. The result is a dining experience to rival that of Cornwall’s finest restaurants.
Rob’s style is bold, rustic and inspired by numerous great food cultures from around the world. The pair are happy to design menus in collaboration with each client, providing everything from hearty bowls of food to sophisticated tasting menus. Rob, Nick and their team cook in private homes and holiday lets from Sennen in the West up to the Newquay area. They also have access to a private dining space in St Ives which can be hired exclusively, accommodating up to 24 people.
Signature Dish: Roasted hake fillet with a black pudding & thyme crust, wild mushroom risotto cake, Jerusalem artichoke purée & pickled mushrooms – paired with a Californian Oaked Chardonnay.
Fiona Were is one of the trailblazers of the Cornish food scene and was named amongst the ‘10 female chefs to watch’ by The Independent in 2011. She has been a private chef for many years now, having previously held senior positions in several of Cornwall’s most prestigious hotels and restaurants.
Fiona’s food is inspired by her roots in New Zealand, where a mixture of cultural influences creates a lively melting pot of culinary eclecticism. Although trained in classic French cuisine, it’s Asian food which holds the strongest appeal for Fiona, reflected in the lightness and vibrancy of her dishes. “My focus is on the use of fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients, with the Chef Fiona NZ twist,” she explains. “I often incorporate ingredients I have grown myself or foraged, creating wonderfully interesting flavours.”
Based near Redruth, Fiona will travel across Cornwall depending on the circumstances. She also makes and delivers food parcels, prepared meals and sushi (under the name ‘Fi Sells Sushi’) on alternate Fridays, across different areas of Cornwall.
Signature Dish: Newlyn crab salad with yuzu and wild herbs.
Natasha Osborne is a talented and driven chef, with a knack for creating beautiful as well as flavoursome food. Although based in West Cornwall, Natasha and her team travel as far as Liskeard, providing dining experiences for groups of all shapes and sizes.
“I always wanted to be a chef,” recalls Natasha, whose childhood in St Ives – where her father worked as a fisherman – was a formative influence. “I was surrounded by this bounty of fresh fish so that plays a massive part in my menus now,” she explains. “I go to great lengths to make sure the fish I use is responsibly sourced and sustainable. I also grow vegetables, fruit, herbs and salads in my garden at home and forage in the Cornish hedgerows for exciting additions to my plates.”
Natasha works closely with clients to plan bespoke menus for all occasions, from relaxed outdoor wood-fired dining to 7-course tasting menus paired with the perfect wines.
Signature Dish: Pan-seared scallops served with pea purée, wild garlic, samphire, peas, broad beans, pickled asparagus, crispy pancetta and a lemon and herb dressing.
Ex-professional rugby player Rupert Cooper has become a favourite with local foodies. With seemingly relentless energy, Rupert runs a renowned rural cookery school, Philleigh Way on the Roseland Peninsula. On any given day you’ll find him serving up mouth-watering pop-ups and communal feasts, taking to the stage at food festivals, and even catering weddings; so a game of rugby sounds like a walk in the park after all that!
Rupert acts as a chef for hire whenever he’s available, offering private dining services across Cornwall depending on the circumstances. He loves al fresco and open fire cooking, but he’s also a dab hand at rustic French dishes – something he perfected in his mum’s kitchen when growing up in the French countryside. Having travelled a lot during his rugby career, it’s no surprise that eclectic global influences play out in Rupert’s cooking and he’s full of fresh ideas for every scenario.
Signature Dish: Pan-fried mullet, lentil dhal & sauce vierge or Braised blade of beef, mash, cumin carrots, chard and red wine gravy.
Chef Dave Sargent cooks for private occasions all over the country, but the majority of his work is done against the backdrop of beautiful locations in the South West. He lives on the North Cornish coast at Bude, and personally sources all the ingredients for each of the unique experiences he designs.
Dave enjoys tailoring each menu to the individual preferences of the client – using their favourite ingredients if he can – always with the aim of leaving a lasting impression. “Often people contact me a couple of years after they have been part of a party I have cooked for; they remember the experience and want to repeat it for their own special occasion. That’s the biggest compliment I could have!”
Signature Dish: “I don’t really have a signature dish, I never have done,” explains Dave. “I just enjoy cooking – anything from a 10-course extravaganza to a tasty, intimate 3-course menu.”