As the son of an Army chef, Graham Mitchell encountered two obvious career options, but there was only ever one life for him…
“I slept through two Army interviews because I’d been working late in the kitchen the night before,” he admits.
That single-minded determination has seen him through a range of experiences up and down the country, but now Graham is back home as head chef of the award-winning Chequers Inn at Froggatt.
“I’d always heard about the Chequers when I was working around here and when the opportunity came up, it seemed a good challenge,” says Graham, who trained at Castle College.
His first job was at the newly-launched Walnut Club in Hathersage, under respected chef Nick Wilson. He eventually succeeded Nick as head chef, then rejoined his mentor at a series of high profile restaurants nationwide. He gained Michelin starred experience at the Yorke Arms near Harrogate before returning home to get married, then heard that the Chequers job was up for grabs.
It has proved a happy union. The inn has been awarded an AA rosette for its cooking each year since 2004 – and has just been chosen to appear on the front cover of next year’s Michelin Eating Out in Pubs guide.
“I love it. There’s quite a lot of work to do here but we can push it forward in so many ways,” says Graham.
Dating back to the 16th century, the Chequers is a traditional Peak District freehouse that prides itself on good food, good beer and good service.
We can testify that’s the case, having called in fairly regularly over the years. It’s comfortable and attractive, a pot pourri of polished wood and hanging baskets; in fact a restaurant in all but name.
It certainly charges restaurant prices, but (my latest hobby horse) diners don’t get complimentary bread.
There’s a good choice of wines, with ten by the glass; beers include three from local breweries.
We start with carrot and coriander soup, perked up with chilli slices and halved cherry tomatoes.
Crayfish cocktail comes in a shot glass, alongside a wonderful seatrout tartar garnished with caviar, prawn tempura, mini squid rings and salad. This is accomplished cooking, nicely presented but not OTT.
Main course pork tenderloin lives up to its name, with rich, spicy confit shoulder, a slice of ham roulâde, a hint of piccalilli and wafer thin pavé potatoes.
My rump of lamb is pink and juicy, just as it should be, with rosti potato, spring greens, shaved asparagus, ginger wine reduction and aubergine relish, slightly sweet with a hint of fivespice. The only sour note is a handful of anchovies, billed as ‘salted’ (which would have worked well) but actually pickled (which didn’t).
We share a dessert of subtle rhubarb semi-freddo, on a brandysnap base with creamy lemon curd, warm, buttery shortbread and a garnish of crisp dried apple slices – good, sharp flavours that go beautifully together.
With a cafétière of coffee, our bill is £42.60 excluding drinks and service.
* Chequers Inn, Froggatt, Hope Valley (01433) 630231 The Chequers Inn