He’s worked with Albert Roux and Marcus Wareing, island-hopped as chef aboard a super yacht, and been entertained by rock royalty on a Caribbean beach… but when it came to settling down and running his own place, James Duckett chose a quiet Peak District inn.
He took over Bradwell’s Samuel Fox Country Inn a couple of years ago and has already put his stamp on it, upgrading the bedrooms, refurbishing the restaurant and introducing his own style of food.
And now James is planning to share his skills with others as he introduces a new series of cookery events, combining a demonstration and class with a three-course meal. Beginning in the new year, courses will include Glorious Comfort Food, Stock and Sauce Making and Cooking With Game.
James’ career began 20 years ago in a provincial inn in Bordeaux. From there he worked under the legendary Albert Roux at Café Roux in Amsterdam, followed by a time at Michel Roux Jnr’s two-star Le Gavroche.
Under Marcus Wareing he opened Gordon Ramsay’s second restaurant, then joined Phil Howard at The Square in London’s Bruton Street.
But the world beckoned and he then set off to explore the Far East, Pacific, North America and Spain, as well as over-wintering aboard a yacht.
During this time he had a taste of the high life: “On one trip I was cooking for a founder member of Pink Floyd... While on a Caribbean beach one evening he got out his guitar and sang while I cooked for him and his family. I wasn’t particularly a Floyd fan, but this was something very special and an experience I’ll never forget,” says James.
Returning home, he graduated in hospitality management and opened his first restaurant – James Duckett at the Old Custom House – near his grandparents’ home in Devon.
Expansion plans turned sour when his backers had funding problems and he cast his net wider... alighting on the Samuel Fox: “I like to think that Barnstaple’s loss became the Peak District’s gain!” he says.
James draws on his classic training for menus, but it’s not all about style: “I confess that, while I love fine dining, I’m also a great lover of comfort food with its many emotional attachments,” he admits. “Fish and chips at the seaside, fried Spam with heel tap potatoes at my grandma’s house, or apple crumble made with fruit from our tree.
“At the Samuel Fox I take great pride in the prsentation of my dishes but the main emphasis is always in making the most of the tastes and flavours of fresh, seasonal produce – and this roast guinea fowl dish captures that style in spades.”
Roast guinea fowl, early autumn vegetables, cider and sage
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 oven-ready guinea fowl – 1.4kg
50 ml pomace oil
50g unsalted butter
salt & pepper
2 large shallots
1 head of garlic
1 stick of celery
20 small shallots
2 head of romanesque
10 Jerusalem artichokes
1 bunch of sage
500ml good dry cider
For stock: peel large shallots leaving roots on, split in half lengthways. Cut off root of celery and wash thoroughly, cut remaining stalk into 2 cm pieces. Peel carrots, split down centre and cut into 2cm pieces. Split garlic head in half. Pick sage leaves from stalks, put to one side for roasting; chop stalks.
For autumn vegetables: wash and remove florets of Romanesque; peel kohlrabi and cut into 2 cm cubes. Peel the small shallots, keeping root on; wash and cut artichokes in half, leaving skin on for a more chewy texture. Mix the vegetables and place in a non-stick roasting tray with the sage leaves. Brush with pomace oil and season with salt and pepper.
Take guinea fowl and rub softened butter over breast and legs. Season and place on top of mixed stock vegetables in a roasting tray. Place in a pre-heated oven at 1800C and cook for approx 60mins until golden brown. Turn and baste the bird every 10 mins.
When cooked (probe breast and ensure it is above 650C) remove tray from oven and rest bird on vegetables to allow juices to mix. Remove fowl to a plate and keep warm. Put tray of juices and vegetables on the hob, pour in cider and bring to a simmer. Strain into a pan, discard vegetables, reduce liquid to a light gravy and place to one side.
Meanwhile, roast autumn vegetables at 1800C for approx 40 mins until golden. Add a small knob of butter to help brown vegetables and enhance flavour. Strain vegetables and place in an earthenware dish.
Chop guinea fowl into chunks of breast, leg, thigh and oyster; place on top of roasted vegetables and warm in oven. Plate up, pour over the heated gravy and serve. Delicious!