Joshua Hunter – Holland and Holland

Josh, Thank you so much for being our first chef interview for our new Eat Wild blog. We are trying to show the versatility and greatness of feathered game so it is great to hear from you…

Please could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became the chef you are today?

I started cooking professionally when I was 19. I had begun a politics degree at university and really couldn’t see myself using anything I was learning in my career. I was hungry to get into something that was creative and practical. Having always been into food, the idea to become a chef just sort of came to me.

I trained for a year and then started working in restaurants. I was lucky to gain some great experience at some fantastic restaurants.

Can you remember what the first game dish you ever cooked was?

At La Trompette in Chiswick, I started on the hot starters section and I remember a Partridge dish that was on the menu. It was with a parsnip purée and some pearl barley. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge is when cooking game?

It’s a bit of a cliché but I would say not overcooking it. Game is often very lean, and people just associate it with being dry because it has been cooked badly.

What is your favourite game bird to cook and how do you like to cook it?

For me grouse is my favourite. It’s always so exciting when the glorious twelfth comes along. I love pairing it with something tart and sweet, like pickled plums or elderberries. The leg meat is great braised and served with crispy bacon, and the crown should be roasted pink with plenty of butter.

And the worst?

That’s a difficult one, I actually couldn’t say- I think they can all be amazing if cooked well. 

Which chefs inspire and influence you? (don’t have to be game related)

I worked at 3 different Michelin starred restaurant and was very fortunate that each of them had fantastic head chefs.

  • Anthony Boyd (La Trompette) was a master of man management- he had chefs who wanted to work with him for years and was also fantastic at being able to teach and bring on young chefs.
  • Angela Hartnett (Murano) Whenever Angela was in the kitchen, she had this incredible gravitas. She’s just someone you can’t help but look up to.
  • Mark Kempson (Kitchen W8) Just the most incredibly gifted chef with an unbelievable drive and work ethic.

Top 3 tips for cooking game?

Make sure that you understand it:

  • It’s important that you know what you are trying to achieve depending on what you are cooking. For example, if you are cooking Venison then what cut are you using? The shank and the lower part of the haunch will be great for stewing, but parts of the haunch will be delicious with the sinew removed and roasted pink. There can be a tendency for people to just shove game in a stew.

Try brining it: 

  • Loads of game will benefit from being brined. This helps to tenderise it and also stops it from drying out. There is loads of information about brining techniques available online.

Explore the different ways of using it: 

  • Game is incredibly adaptable and while it fits classically into British, French and Italian dishes, pheasant and venison can be great in curries, whilst things like partridge can be great in Asian cooking. There are plenty of people promoting the versatility of game: Leon Challis-Davies comes out with some great recipes- I went to a tasting menu evening where he has done 8 courses of all game birds and each one was really unique and delicious. Rachel Carrie has some lovely and interesting ways of using game that are perfect for cooking at home.

How do you encourage people to eat game in your restaurant?

Working at Holland & Holland has meant having a great reason to always have plenty of game on the menu because of the heritage of the brand. Lots of our shooting clients already eat game, whilst many of the clientele who have just come for a meal at the grounds are trying game for the first time. I always try and encourage the waiting staff to promote the game dishes to the customers. It is probably my favourite feedback when a someone says something like “I’ve never tried grouse before, but it was fantastic!”.

Any advice for young budding chefs?

Get stuck in and do some hard yards in some good restaurants. Work for someone because you believe in the food they are cooking. If you make some sacrifices and tough it out, then the experience you gain will really show through in your progression later on.