Chef's Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Joe Hunt of Sparks

Joe Hunt has built up an impressive pedigree over the last few years, working in local restaurants, an Italian culinary school and the nationally acclaimed River Cottage in Devon. Now he is sharing his expertise with the next generation of chefs.

Friday, 19th February 2016, 08:38 am
Updated Friday, 19th February 2016, 09:02 am
Joe Hunt

The 30-year-old has been appointed Production Chef at Sheffield College’s Sparks restaurant, which offers high quality cuisine to the public while also training catering and hospitality students.

“Food is a massive part of my life,” says Joe. “I’ve early memories of sitting around a huge table with 20 family and friends all laughing and eating. That sense of social ritual is so important to me.

Braised beef short rib bourguignon - as served at Sparks restaurant, Sheffield College

"The kids at primary school wanted to be footballers or astronauts but I just wanted to be a chef.”

Sheffield College has a national reputation for catering, regularly hosting prestigious events including Skills for Chefs, which attracts the leading experts.

Sparks, based at the City campus in Granville Road, is a 60-seater training restaurant open five lunchtimes and three evenings a week. Meals are created by catering students under the supervision of experienced staff.

Joe says: “The Sheffield College catering team has a great reputation in the industry. Sparks is also well thought of and provides students with a great opportunity to sharpen their skills in a realistic working environment. Diners enjoy high quality food that is also value for money."

Production Chef Joe Hunt at work

Typical meals include his signature braised beef short rib bourguignon: “This is one dish that can be adapted to suit the seasons. It's easy to make and takes no time to prepare,” he says.

“The secret is a long, slow cook, preferably the day before, so the flavours have time to develop and to reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce. I like to serve it with creamy mash and simple greens dressed with olive oil.”

Joe originally trained at High Peak College and then set up his own brasserie at the age of 19, running it for three years.

Highlights of his subsequent career included his year as sous chef at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage. And last year he cooked a private lunch for musician Gary Barlow: “He was really interested in the produce, seasonality and how to cook it,” says Joe.

Joe Hunt and Shelley Kirk in Sparks restaurant at Sheffield College

But his primary motivation is training young chefs. “One of the best things about teaching is seeing the students achieve a skill they really want to learn and their satisfaction when they do so."

Sparks restaurant regularly runs themed food evenings, and has a video link screen so diners can watch their food being prepared.

For more information see: Sheffield College, Sparks-Restaurant

Recipe by Joe Hunt - Braised Beef Bourguignon

Braised beef short rib bourguignon - as served at Sparks restaurant, Sheffield College


4 beef short rib portions or a 1.2kg piece Jacobs Ladder

2 onions, quartered

1 carrot, cut on angle into 4

4 cloves garlic in their skins

1 bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, bay, peppercorns, parsley stalk wrapped in muslin or leek and tied)

Production Chef Joe Hunt at work

200ml brown stock, chicken or beef

750ml good Burgundy wine

1 tblsp tomato purée

Salt and pepper to season

A little unsalted butter to stir into finished sauce


Season and brown the beef portions in a large, dry frying pan, fat side down first to render the fat then turn over and brown the sides.

Place the browned beef into a suitable dish that can go in the oven.

Brown the vegetables in the same pan as the beef, stir in the tomato puree once the vegetables are brown and then place the vegetables in the tray with the beef.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine and reduce by 1/3. Add the reduced wine and hot stock to the beef and vegetables and cover with a lid or foil.

Braise in a low oven approx. 120c until the beef is tender.

When the beef is cooked leave it to cool in the braising liquid and refrigerate over night. Remove the fat from the top of the beef

Reheat the beef about an hour before you want to eat. When the beef is hot, remove it from the dish and cover, keep the beef warm whilst you finish the sauce.

Strain the cooking liquid into a clean pan, reduce rapidly until the sauce thickens naturally, whisk in the cold butter to enrich the sauce and mellow the wine flavour, check for seasoning.

Place the beef on a hot plate and pour over the reduced sauce. This dish is traditionally served with fried bacon lardons, glazed baby onions or shallots and fried button mushrooms


Fry 100g bacon lardons in a little oil. Add 8 peeled shallots and a little water, cook until tender. Fry 20 button mushrooms. Use to garnish beef, then serve.

Joe Hunt and Shelley Kirk in Sparks restaurant at Sheffield College