Daniel Smith, executive chef of theWildebeest Arms in Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk, is leaving to set up his own pub group, Avian Inns. He tells Neil Gerrard why he's taking the leap on his own and what attracted him to the Swan Inn in Ingham, Norfolk
Caterer What prompted you to leave the Wildebeest Arms?
Daniel Smith I worked there for 10 years, and prior to that I worked at Morston Hall under Galton Blackiston and at Le Gavroche. But I've always wanted to be my own boss and I decided that now was the time to make that leap. I've left the Wilebeest on good terms. I've been doing for them what I am going to be doing for myself anyway.
Caterer Why did you choose the Swan Inn in Ingham, Norfolk?
DS Purely because it is a location that has not traditionally been covered by good food - I certainly wouldn't call it a desert, which it has been called by other people before, but I thought it could be well represented by what I produce. I'm a local person who lives just 15 miles down the road so I felt it was a good location. And it is tied to Woodforde's Brewery, which is a local Norfolk brewery, so we will have five local real ales on tap. I like the aesthetic of the pub and the feel. It has been trading as a foody pub, although different food to the sort that I'll be offering.
Caterer You had a Bib Gourmand for six years at the Wildebeest. Are you hoping for the same at the Swan?
DS I've already spoken to Michelin, yes. I've got a tight schedule to try and pull that in by next year but that is the aim. But I am targeting that sort of marketplace - value for money, not too expensive but offering innovative food. Obviously I'd love to go for a star but that might be a bit ambitious to start with.
Caterer How many pubs do you eventually want to have in the Avian Inns estate?
DS I'm aiming for up to four units. And I would like to replicate the same theory behind them all and have a uniform product that I feel I can produce well in more than one location. From a financial point of view I would love to own freehold but at the moment leaseholds are the only option. As a chef for 20 years I don't have the finances to puchase freeholds outright! But we haven't borrowed money from the bank - I have financed this with my business partner Gregory Adjemian.
Caterer The pub market has been difficult recently. Is this a good time to get into it?
DS I think it is a good time at the moment purely on the basis that we've been in a recession. And I hope - and let's keep our fingers crossed - that we are going to be pulling out of it very shortly. The stance of my business is to offer a top-quality standard of food but at a mid-range price point. If we can exceed customers' expectations of what they get for their money, then it can definitely succeed.