Dominic Chapman is the award-winning head chef of The Royal Oak, the pub owned by chat show veteran Sir Michael Parkinson and his son Nick in Paley Street, Berkshire.
Despite growing up within a family steeped in hospitality – his father is Kit Chapman, owner of The Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset, and champion of British cooking – it was not until he was travelling around the world in his early 20s, taking odd jobs in kitchens to earn some cash, that he decided to pursue a career as a chef.
Born in 1973, Chapman attended Taunton School. As a child was more interested in sports than cooking, but his father did help him develop a good palate by taking him on gastronomic tours of Europe as a teenager. To this day, he believes that eating out is a vital necessity to become a good chef.
Chapman’s first serious chef job came in 1996 when at the age of 24 he joined The Chiswick in London. Here, under head chef Mark Broadbent, the foundations of his career were laid. The next five years were then spent working as chef de partie at Kensington Place, also in London, for Rowley Leigh, the man Chapman credits for building the bricks and mortar of his skills. “Rowley taught me so much – the importance of good ingredients, proper preparation, choosing simplicity over fussiness, limiting a dish to three main ingredients, and careful cooking,” he says.
A brief three-month spell working at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Square in London’s West End convinced Chapman that fine-dining was not for him. He has always been more interested in cooking the kind of food that people want to eat every day. Working at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, as chef de partie from 2000 to 2002 confirmed this view, although he was inspired by his employer’s attention to detail.
After returning to Kensington Place for two years as sous chef, Chapman achieved his first head chef position when Blumnenthal appointed him to run the kitchen at his pub in Bray, The Hinds Head, in May 2004. Over the next two and a half years he firmly established the venue as one of the top pubs in the country for top notch British cooking.
Chapman and his then partner, and now his wife, Helena, decided to look for a pub of their own, but the plans fell through. Through Helena, who was working part-time at The Royal Oak, he discovered that Nick Parkinson was looking for someone to sort out the kitchen and improve on what had previously been a limited and inconsistent menu.
Chapman joined The Royal Oak as head chef in January 2007, since when the turnover of the business has doubled with critics and customers alike flocking to the country pub to enjoy a menu packed full of seasonal dishes using carefully sourced ingredients from prime suppliers. A clever combination of dishes that offer comfort with full and hearty flavours, as well as a lightness of touch, ensures a steady stream of bookings.
Awards have come thick and fast since Chapman’s arrival at The Royal Oak. The Pub was crowned AA Restaurant of the Year, England, 2008-09, and Chapman was named by The Good Food Guide as Best Pub Chef 2009 and as Best Young Chef 2009 in the Tatler Restaurant Awards.
Chapman has appeared in Market Kitchen on UKTV and on BBC2’s Keep it in the Family, which looks at the possibility of him and his brother, Nick, taking over the running of The Castle from his parents.
Chapman lives with his wife Helena and young son, Daniel.
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