meet the chef - september

PICKLE SHACK: INTERVIEW WITH HEAD CHEF JOSH MCDONALD-JOHNSON

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What could be better than a memorable and delicious meal, enjoyed in an unusual location. One served in a 10 mile radius from where most of the food was grown. This is exactly what the Pickle Shack offers their diners – a roving culinary adventure which reconnects you to sustainable and ethically sourced food in a very creative way.

Josh McDonald-Johnson is the talented Michelin star trained chef behind the Pickle Shack, and the person responsible for creating the imaginative edible snapshots of Devon. Honing in on each local community’s food stock, Josh sources 80% of the ingredients from the local farmers and producers, forages for wild ingredients from the surrounding hedgerows and fields, then invites guests to sit down together and enjoy the local bounty.

We caught up with Josh to chat about his inspiration for Pickle Shack, his amazing food, and why supporting the local food community is important to him…

joshmcdonald-johnsonTell us about yourself – what you do, how long you have been a chef…

I’m Josh, co-owner of Pickle Shack and have been a chef for 10 years. I started my career learning the fundamentals of classic French cookery with Michael Caines, coupled with time in a Devon smokehouse, which I like to think gives my cooking a strong backbone of tradition and flavour. Next up, I worked in the restaurants of Daniel Clifford and John Campbell, each with 2 Michelin stars to their name, working with modern preparations such as ‘molecular gastronomy’ and sous vide.

More recently, I traveled throughout South East Asia and North America and worked in kitchens in Australasia. This proved invaluable in inspiring my cooking to a new level and upon returning to Devon, cemented my passion for using the best, responsibly sourced local ingredients.

Tell us about Pickle Shack, what inspired you to start and who works with you?

The idea for ‘Pickle Shack’ came from the Pop-Up restaurant scene in London. We loved the idea of being in a new venue with a new crowd every time we cooked up a feast. This flexibility extends to the ingredients we use. We created our Produce Promise, whereby we source virtually all the ingredients at each event are from within a 10 mile radius of the venue, and quite often within walking distance. Having a new menu, venue and crowd at each event keeps our energetic and innovative team on their toes! The team is currently made up of myself in the kitchen and Jodie who deals with everything outside of the kitchen. We are also very lucky to have an incredibly strong pool of chefs and Front of House team who work with us at the events.

How would you describe the food?

Although our style of food is hugely influenced by the places I have worked and traveled to over the past 10 years, it has taken on its own unique identity. Mixing traditional, local ingredients with a modern way of cooking and combining flavours has given our food a flair and style that you will only get from us.

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You are strong advocates of ethical and sustainable farmers and food producers, can you explain why is that is important to you?

Constantly popping up in new venues around the county has brought many challenges, but the concept of “what is local?” has been a difficult one. We thought about this long and hard and decided that to be truly local, the ingredients had to come from within the same community as they are eaten in, hence our 10 mile radius.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re up to at the moment –what a typical week involves?

We typically run about two sellout Pop-Up restaurants a week in venues around Devon, ranging from stunning wedding venues, breweries, town halls, manor houses and the list goes on. In the lead up to an event we visit farms and producers to find the ingredients we will be cooking with. We generally don’t have a complete menu until the morning of the event and the customers don’t know what they will be eating until they are sat at their table.

What are some of your favourite ingredients in season at the moment?

I would be a fool if I didn’t make use of the amazing wild mushrooms that grow in Autumn, especially as you can pick them up from the woods for free! But I am a big fan of damsons, greengages and sloes, they are so versatile, we use them in Savoury and sweet courses.

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What’s next for Pickle Shack?

We want to continue to expand our network with truly local, independent producers and be at the forefront of a very exciting alternative dining scene in the South West.

RECIPE

Wild Duck with Celeriac Kimchi, Pickled Carrot & Macerated Blackberries

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT PICKLE SHACK & UPCOMING POP-UPS

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PHOTO CREDIT

Photos 1, 3, 4 by Matt Austin
Photo 2 by Jodie Sawatzki (co-founder of Pickle Shack)

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