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Acorns 2018: James Durrant, senior head chef, the Bear & Ragged Staff, Peach Pub Company

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Acorns 2018: James Durrant, senior head chef, the Bear & Ragged Staff, Peach Pub Company

Senior head chef, the Bear & Ragged Staff, Cumnor, Oxfordshire (Peach Pub Company)

Nominator James Durrant

Proudest moment “Managing the opening of the Bear & Ragged Staff, Cumnor.”

Biggest inspiration “Gary Witchalls, head chef at the Mole Inn, Oxford. He taught me how to have a business head when running a kitchen.”

Ambition “Ultimately, the dream is to own and run a pub.”

James Durrant was made head chef at just 25 – an impressive leap from where he started as a waiter aged 17 at the Angel, Long Crendon. Here, his interest in food convinced the chef-patron to take him on as commis and send him to Oxford & Cherwell Valley College, where he achieved NVQ 2 and 3.

To broaden his skills, he moved to Gary Witchalls’ two-AA-rosette Mole Inn, Toot Baldon. Next stop was a junior sous chef role at the Thatch in Thame, a Peach pub, where within three years he took control of the brigade. He was already adept at developing others, training his kitchen porter to become a sous chef and promoting four others. His brigade had the best retention rate at Peach between 2015-16.

His business head proved reliable too. Durrant tapped into the affluent “grey pound” market, with fresh, high-quality dishes that achieved weekly food sales of £16,200, grew overall food sales 15% and in 2016 added £75,000 gross profit.

Moving on to the head chef role of the Fishes, in North Hinksey, Oxford, Durrant’s nine-strong team delivered £18,200 average weekly food sales and served 1,000-3,000 covers a week. Faced with competition from the Westgate Centre’s 25 restaurants, he added £8,000 incremental weekly food sales over six months through a new outdoor kitchen and garden menu. He also set up half-day practical skills training sessions for students and a week’s placement.

In March, he was promoted to senior head chef at the Bear & Ragged Staff, Cumnor, and is on track to become an Ultimate Peach Chef this summer and gain a partnership.

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