Interview with Craig Fletcher, head chef at Skylark in Eastbourne

Craig Fletcher

Craig Fletcher - Credit: Archant

Craig Fletcher, head chef and co-owner of Skylark in Eastbourne, on what it takes to open your own restaurant

When I was at secondary school I worked part-time in the kitchen at Middle Farm, near Lewes. That's where my passion for food developed and I later enrolled on a BTEC professional cookery course at my local college.

My partner Erina and I had both worked in hospitality for 15+ years and gained experience from working in a variety of establishments with some inspiring and talented people. We decided to take a leap of faith and, with the support of encouraging family and friends, we opened Skylark. The standards and ethos of these other businesses helped shape what we wanted to create.

We started off on a smaller scale, with opening hours that were manageable for a kitchen team of just one. As my workload increased, we recruited kitchen assistants and, after a year, a sous chef. This strength in the kitchen enabled us to open longer hours and we introduced a dinner service on Thursday nights as well as the existing Fridays and Saturdays. Our menus have developed and become more extensive and we also now offer roasts on Sundays.

Skylark reached the number one spot on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Eastbourne before its first birthday. We have never left the top ten to this day. We were also shortlisted as a finalist for the Newcomer of the Year category at the Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2019. In addition to this, Skylark achieved first place as Place to Eat/Drink at the Eastbourne Herald Excellence in Business Awards 2019 and won Café of the Year at the Eastbourne & District Community Awards 2019.

We use a small selection of local suppliers, most of which are in Eastbourne. This enables us to get daily deliveries ensuring fresh produce. I have worked hard to establish strong relationships with these suppliers which is great for loyalty and recommendation too. I believe it is extremely important to support small, local independent businesses.

My favourite dish on the menu is the wild venison we have been getting from a local gamekeeper. He is a retired butcher and after shooting it himself, he then processes the animal. The quality is second to none and we have been serving it in cutlets and fillets. My guilty food pleasure has to be my sticky toffee pudding with hot butterscotch sauce. I have a sweet tooth and whenever we have this on the menu at Skylark I can't help but tuck in.

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At home we're still eating lots of jars of homemade chutneys, jellies and jams that we received as Christmas gifts. And lots of stir-fry ingredients, as I feel like eating fresh, crunchy, veg rather than anything roasted at the moment!