Charlie Stocker, Acorn Scholarship 2012 runner-up and MasterChef: The Professionals 2012 quarter-finalist, is to open his first restaurant early next year.
With 64 seats, the Waiting Room, in Colchester, Essex, will open on 15 January, and serve a menu of small plates, lunch and dessert from 12 noon to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday, as well as fish and chips on Friday night, and roast dinners on Sunday. It will also host a New Year's Eve pop-up event prior to its full-time January opening.
As the restaurant is housed in a formerly-disused council building, the plan is to operate the site for a year or so at first.
Stocker told Caterer and Hotelkeeper that he saw the project as "a stepping stone" to his goal of opening a permanent restaurant in the next couple of years.
The menu will champion local produce, including that sourced from foraging. All ingredients for the roast dinner will come from within a 30-mile radius.
Dishes will include smoked Suffolk pork with dandelion, apple and walnut salad; charred mackerel with compressed cucumber, sea buckthorn gel and sea herbs; and bitter chocolate brownie with eucalyptus ice-cream.
There will also be unusual dishes such as the "Kentucky fried squirrel", which Stocker will serve on wooden boards from the Essex woodland, with blackberry ketchup, coleslaw and nuts. The aim is to create a nostalgic, sharing dish that is "fun and sums up the woodland on a plate".
The dish represents the "interactive, sharing, informal" food style that Stocker confirmed he wants to focus on in future. He said that his time on MasterChef: The Professionals, and the mentoring he had received since being Highly Commended in the Acorn Scholarship 2012 had really boosted his confidence.
He said: "This permanent site will let me do different things. The pop-ups are really good, but it's easier to have a base where you can spend a lot more time prepping the food. With this place I feel like there aren't any boundaries, so I can just go in and do what I want."
Stocker has trained and done stages at many top restaurants, including the Fat Duck, the Ledbury, sketch and former Simon Rogan venture Roganic.