Head chef James Pilcher makes sure seasonal produce and sustainability are always on the menu at The Ferry House

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I run the kitchens here at The Ferry House. Our food is ultra-seasonal, with a heavy focus on sustainability. We grow all kinds of weird and wonderful produce in the kitchen garden, and I take great pride in being offering food that many of our customers have never tried before.

When did you first get interested in cooking?

I left school not really knowing what I wanted to do and fell into a bartending job, where I met Tony Basini, a hugely charismatic chef and font of knowledge for all things culinary. He has an infectious passion, and I began my journey sneaking off to spend more time in the kitchen, asking him questions about everything. Tony then moved on and offered to take me with him and teach me how to cook. I spent a few years working for him, and then friends of his, learning the basics. The venue we worked at wasn’t particularly renowned, but they were good people and I’ll be forever grateful for all their time and patience.

What is your signature dish?

With more than 160 unique dishes across the year, nothing stays on the menu long enough to become signature! We’ve had a carrot nduja ravioli on for the last couple of months - we lacto-ferment carrot trimmings with smoked and dried chillies from our garden, paired with onion ash and garlic. You’d have no idea it was carrot. It comes with miso butter and a powder of dehydrated garden tomatoes.

What do you eat at home?

Mostly east Asian food - noodles in broth, jasmine rice, dumplings. It’s important to me to eat food that’s different to the dishes I make at work. It keeps it enjoyable and reminds me there’s always more to learn.

Which kitchen ingredient could you not do without?

We smoke our own Maldon salt with maple wood and that goes on almost everything to finish.

If you could dine at any restaurant, where would it be?

Canoe, Toronto. Ron McKinlay is seemingly in a league of his own - really cool mix of classic techniques, local ingredients, lots of offal and fun things. Very much a chef’s chef!

What would you eat for your last meal?

The Crab Bao Bun at Tom Brown’s Cornerstone Hackney.

Favourite music to cook by?

To cook to: old-school hip-hop. To clean down to: 90s dance anthems.

What do you do to relax?

Most of my time is spent working on my house, but I go out to eat once a week to support local restaurants and to be on the other side of the counter. It helps to keeps my mind fresh. In the evenings, I’ll play guitar or read - I love a cookbook.

Who is your culinary hero?

Jeremy Fox. His approach, and the approach of the restaurant he runs, really resonates with me. Ingredient-led, ultra-seasonal, local suppliers, no waste, high amounts of fermentation, unusual produce, but always in an approachable manner that isn’t even slightly pretentious.

The Ferry House, Harty Ferry Road, Harty, Kent, ME12 4BQ
01795 510214