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Meet the chef: Iain Dawson, Millbrook Inn, South Pool

Iain Dawson. Photo: Millbrook inn
Iain Dawson. Photo: Millbrook inn

Iain Dawson is the head chef at the Millbrook Inn in South Pool in Devon

What is your earliest food memory?

My earliest food memory, literally, would be my first favourite dish. I had to be about four at the time but it was very simply, two sunny side up eggs and Heinz beans. However, a dish that has forever stayed in my memory, for whatever reason, would have to be my mother’s chicken à la king on white rice. A tin of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, a tin of Campbell’s creamy chicken soup, a poached chicken breast, corn, peas, a bed of steamed rice and a bit of mother’s home cooking magic. When it was cold outside, bam, culinary delight for any Canadian kid.

How would you describe your approach to food?

With respect, instinct and humility. A lot of what we cook is done so, and over live fire and high temperatures. Fire is a force of nature, it will do what it wants, and the more you try to fight that, the harder it fights back. Work with it. Our inspirations and recipes are based around that thought. We brine our fish and pork to help it survive these temperatures, we pay attention to the marbling, colour and age of each cut of beef to decide how and where it’s going to go in the Josper. Vegetables are cooked in wire nets more than metal pans. It can be limiting at times, but those limitations inspire innovation.

Who's your food hero, a chef who's inspired you?

Lennox Hastie, head chef and owner of Firedoor in Australia. This legend has been a huge inspiration for me, from his time at Etxebarri, to how he cooks purely over fire and charcoal. If you don’t know him, check him out, his kitchen is a different kind of intense.

A memorable cooking experience?

There are so many it’s hard to choose. I suppose it would have to be the entire time I spent on the Junior Culinary Olympic team. Working through our hot and cold programs, creating and perfecting recipe after recipe, only to scrap the lot and start from scratch until we created something we truly felt would hold its own on a global stage.

I have never felt so tired, intimidated, challenged, inspired or driven than I did in those days.

Your favourite dish on the current menu?

Hands down, the entrecôte, our rotating selection of sharing steaks, served with the customer’s choice of sauces and additional sides. Saturday nights in the summer, this option takes off, and the vibe in the kitchen is indescribable. The smoke, the fire, the sound and smell of roasting beef and bone. The anticipation from the chefs as we slice each cut and the satisfaction when that perfect colour appears. Every. Single. Time.

A favourite dining out spot in Devon?

There’s a lot of amazing talent in Devon. Unfortunately, with the hours I work I have not had enough experience with any of them to find a favourite.

What do you love most about Devon?

The sense of community, it’s one of the largest counties in England but such a small town mentality, in a good way. Everyone supports each other, remembers your name, etc. The ingredients here are also second to none. Right on your back doorstep.

A down-time/go-to meal you like to cook/eat at home?

Cacio e pepe. I am in no sense an Italian chef, and what I cook probably would have a few Nonnas pinching their fingers. But it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s delicious.



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