A career in cooking - ringing the changes

Duncan Jones, the head chef of the Bell at Ramsbury, talks about his inspiration and gives the recipe for one of his signature dishes

Carole Elgueta


Carole Elgueta

Interview with the Duncan Jones, the head chef of the Bell at Ramsbury, and a recipe for Confit leg, cassoulet of tomato & chorizo with celeriac purée

f you didn’t manage to catch the food demonstrations by head chef Duncan Jones at the Marlborough Food and Drink Festival in the spring, we thought we’d give everyone another chance to see what’s cooking in Duncan’s kitchen and try out one of his signature dishes, Confit duck leg, cassoulet of tomato and chorizo and celeriac purée.

Before putting on my pinny, however, I asked Duncan, who is the masterchef behind the food at the award-winning Bell at Ramsbury restaurant, why he liked this particular dish, about his background as a chef, and what inspires him.

CE How long have you worked at The Bell?

DJ It was four years in April – I have been here since the refit. CE What do you like most about working at The Bell? DJ We have an amazing kitchen and I have full control over the menu so we can experiment with new dishes all the time.

CE Where did you work before?

DJ I’ve had a varied career. Before being a chef I worked as a quantity surveyor in London for four years, but the office life wasn’t for me. I started cooking in a small local café where I grew up and then that took me to ski resorts to do the season, then on to private yachts and houses in Europe and the US. When I needed to settle down I took a job at The Yew Tree in Highclere which, at the time, was Marco Pierre White’s flagship pub and was where I learned how to run a busy kitchen with multiple chefs. From there I started my own catering business, doing high-end dinner parties and events. Then the opportunity at The Bell came along and it was one that I grabbed with both hands.

CE Where and how did you train to become a chef?

DJ After the local café where I was helping a friend’s family, I decided to get a qualification from the local college.

From there I have just eaten at lots of restaurants and read lots of books, from cookery to more advanced scientific ones about what happens to the elements in food when cooking them. It has allowed me to expand my knowledge and really understand why we do certain things in the kitchen and what benefits they have.

CE How would you describe your style of cooking?

DJ Modern European. I have the classical knowledge from college but like to use a more modern approach when redesigning classic dishes, trying to make them lighter and allowing fresher flavours to shine through.

CE Who has been your greatest inspiration as a chef?

DJ I don’t think I could say one person, having not worked a lot in restaurants under head chefs. I have always been inspired by people’s cookbooks and autobiographies, so the range is too large to be specific.

CE What do you like most about the cassoulet?

DJ Great flavours and easy to make at home with a little bit of effort. Also the duck keeps for ages when confit so I always have some in my fridge.

CE What dish would you choose to take with you on a desert island?

DJ Again a difficult question. I am always looking for the next taste or dish, so I don’t really have a favourite. If pushed maybe I’d say the dish we’ve just put on the menu, Earl Grey tea and gin cured sea trout, which has lovely fresh flavours... and it has gin in it. What more could you ask for?

CE What words of advice would you give to an aspiring chef today?

DJ Listen, take advice on board and don’t try to run when you should be crawling. Embrace the early years in the kitchen when all you have to worry about is getting your mise en place ready for service.

But the best advice is to always work in a clean and tidy way. Take that with you, apply it to everything you do and you can go a long way.

Confit duck leg, cassoulet of tomato & chorizo with celeriac purée

For the duck legs

4 duck legs
2 cloves garlic
Sprig thyme
Rock salt
Jar duck fat

Rub duck legs with garlic, thyme and salt. Soften duck fat and place all in a pan so that the duck legs are submerged. Cover and cook at 150°C for four to six hours or until duck legs are soft and the thigh bone easily pulls out. Remove thigh bones and skin from knuckle of legs, reserving for sauce. Press lightly between two sheets of clingfilm, so skin side is nice and flat. Chill. (This can be done the day before serving.)

For the duck sauce
1 shallot, sliced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced
Reserved duck bones
300ml Madeira
250ml veal jus (500ml good beef stock as substitute)

Sauté off vegetables until softened. Add bones and any trim and fry until golden. Deglaze pan with Madeira and reduce by half. Add veal jus and reduce to glossy and rich consistency, remove from heat and pass through a sieve. Reserve.

For the cassoulet base (baked beans)
100g smoked bacon lardons
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
500g dried haricots blancs
2 tbsp tomato purée
Half pint veal stock (or beef)
1 pint water
200g tomato ketchup

Fry the bacon until golden, then add thyme and bay leaf, fry until fragrant. Add beans and tomato purée, fry for 1 min until all coated. Add stock and water to pan, bring to boil, simmer until beans cooked and sauce thickened. When cooked, add tomato ketchup, adjust seasoning.

To finish the cassoulet
300g chorizo sausage
Tin mixed beans
250g cooked green beans
Chopped parsley and oregano

Break chorizo and fry until golden and it has released its lovely golden oil. Add mixed beans and heat gently until warmed through. When ready to serve, finish cassoulet by adding green beans and herbs and warming through. For the celeriac purée 400g celeriac, peeled and diced to 1cm cube 200ml milk 300ml double cream salt pepper water To make the purée, take a thick-bottomed pan, cover base with a thin level of water and bring to the boil. Put in all the other ingredients and season lightly now. Bring to the boil and turn to a simmer till celeriac is soft like mashed potato. Pass celeriac through a sieve, reserving cooking liquor. Blend in a food processor adding as much liquor as needed to give you a smooth purée. Season, pass through a fine sieve and reserve. (This can also be done the day before)

To finish and serve the dish
Remove duck legs from fridge and fry, skin side down, in a little oil over a medium heat until skin is golden and crisp. Remove from pan and put in warm oven to heat through completely. Meanwhile reheat purée, duck sauce and finish cassoulet as above. To plate, place a pile of the cassoulet to one side of a pasta bowl or deep plate and put a spoonful of purée to the other side. Place a crisp duck leg against the beans so that the bone is facing up. Drizzle with duck sauce and serve with a watercress salad.

From coaching inn to café culture

The Bell at Ramsbury is a landmark 300-year old former coaching inn with a sophisticated yet informal restaurant, serving seasonal cuisine. Much of the produce is grown in its own kitchen garden or comes from the Ramsbury Estate. If you are planning a visit to The Bell at Ramsbury, you can choose from the main restaurant or food served in the bar along with its hand-pulled Ramsbury Ale from the local Ramsbury Brewery. It also has a Café Bella, which combines a tearoom with a modern coffee-culture twist. To find out more visit www.thebellramsbury.com, Facebook The-Bell at Ramsbury and Twitter: @thebellramsbury

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