Meet the Chef – The Peacock in Rowsley
We speak to Head Chef Dan Smith, who started out working for nothing at a 2* Michelin restaurant as a school leaver, to running the restaurant team at The Peacock in Rowsley – the proud bearers of 3 AA rosettes.
How long have you been cooking professionally?
I’ve been cooking for 22 years, since I was 14! I always have – and still am – totally motivated by my love of food!
Where did you train to cook?
When I left school, I wrote a letter to a restaurant in Berkshire called L’Ortolan which had two Michelin stars at the time, asking if I could work there for nothing. After two weeks they offered me a job – and I ended up staying for 2 ½ years.
I was born in Mansfield but then moved around the country as a trainee chef. As well as gaining experience at Michelin starred restaurants, I’ve also been fortunate to work with notable chefs such as Tom Aikens in London. I returned Derbyshire and joined The Peacock eight years ago.
Do you have a signature dish or a favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
The fillet of Derbyshire beef dish from our a la carte menu, which is cooked with red wine braised oxtail, onion, lovage and kohlrabi. For me, this showcases the quality of our local, Haddon Estate beef and it uses classic flavour combinations but done in a modern way. As well as organically reared beef, we also use lamb from Haddon Estate and use other local butchers – EW Coates in Two Dales and Hancock’s in Stoney Middleton.
Run us through your average day as chef at The Peacock
As Head Chef, I design and oversee the preparation of all The Peacock’s restaurant and bar menus, which this summer focus even more on seasonality and quality of ingredients.
When I arrive at work in the morning, my first job is to check that all the deliveries have arrived and are correct. We don’t serve anything that’s not in season and we only use top quality produce – it really is only the highest standard ingredients that make it on to each plate. Our meats and dairy all come from local sources, our fishmongers are first-rate in their knowledge of what’s good in season, and our vegetables and fruits are all packed with flavour. I’ve built up really good relationships with our suppliers and I’ll spend some time each day on the phone with them to find out what’s good right now.
Depending on what we’ve got on that day, if I’m on a section I’ll spend the morning setting up, and if not, I’ll give the kitchen a push doing things like butchery or fish preparation. Then it’s all hands on deck for lunch service, after which I usually get to my office to catch up on paperwork and admin. I’m then back in the kitchen for dinner service, which is followed by clean down and doing the ordering before I head home.
What has been your most interesting/fun experience from your time working as a chef?
I’ve had lots, but I’m not sure that you will be allowed to print most of them! But I would say that one of the great things about being a chef is that it has enabled me to travel a lot and gain loads of varied experience – you’re never out of work as a chef.
Is there another chef you most admire?
A chef I admire is Phil Howard because he has been in the industry at the top level for a long time and has ridden all the fads, trends and recessions, whilst remaining a force to be reckoned with
What would your ‘last request’ dish be?
It would have to be a good Sunday roast or a curry
Finally, any advice for any young chefs out there?
Don’t try to progress too quickly, take your time and learn your craft properly before you become a sous chef.