Meet Head Chef at The Pig, James Golding

James Golding, shares some of his Hampshire favourites with Sarah Peters

We sit in the library on dimpled leather sofas looking out over the neatly mowed lawns and spiky branches of beech and oak trees nodding in the wind. Inside all is cosy and warm, with the comforting, heady aroma of the wood-burning stoves and the smell of polished wooden tables and old, battered classic on bookshelves.

This is The Pig; Hampshire’s newest and most talked about restaurant. At the helm of this most excellent rustic restaurant is Head Chef James Golding who is relishing the challenge of meeting the incredibly high expectations of his diners. Since The Pig opened in July 2011 the restaurant has been showered with praise and accolades from critics as well as paying guests.

James spent his childhood in Hampshire. He was born in Southampton and lived in and around New Milton and the New Forest. He now lives with his wife and two children just over the county border in Highcliffe.

"We would go shooting in the forest and we would go mushrooming and foraging in the woods with my Dad," recalls James. "My Mum would take us fishing too so I spent so much time outdoors doing country-things...or just playing with my brother and bashing him with sticks." Growing up in Hampshire was great for James and he has so many happy memories.

"When you are young, you just don’t appreciate what’s around you and it’s only when you go away that you realize what you had. Once I had a son, I realised I wanted him to have the kind of life I had."

James’ maternal grandmother was Italian and she worked as a cook in a big house in Italy. When James was growing up the focus at home was very much on the food and the family eating together.

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"My Mum used to make her own pasta and she was a great cook. We always ate together. As a teenager I was allowed to do whatever I wanted as long I was at the family meal each day. Eating together is vital for a family; a time to talk about things good and bad. I think that is very important." When James reached 16, he moved up to London and undertook the Specialised Chef Apprenticeship Course. He worked at The Savoy under acclaimed Chef Anton Edelmann for four years.

"For me, coming to London from the depths of Hampshire was a full-on experience," he says. "The regime was tough. There were 130 chefs, but most only stayed a year. After four years I was one of the longest serving chefs on the team." That James stuck at The Savoy for all those years, under the grueling pressure and with an exhausting workload, is testament to his dedication to food. He progressed to Le Caprice, J Sheekey and Soho House, New York. Working in such prestigious venues, under exacting Head Chefs meant his experience, skill and confidence grew and grew. It was when he moved back to Hampshire, to relocate and raise his young family, that James realised the wealth of produce that could be locally provided by New Forest producers. He has been more and more inspired by the region and what it can offer; the forest, the farms and the sea.

"When I came back from New York it really hit me. It was a real eye-opener when I saw the quality and variety of the local produce. I met Sarah Hunt from the New Forest Marque and was introduced to so many farms and producers. We now get producers to share vans and carry stuff for each other to get things delivered to the hotel; working together... it’s brilliant!"

Since its opening The Pig has been a storming success. The reputation for its cuisine, innovative menus and provenance of its ingredients have been tremendous; and, rightly so. It has been a whirlwind for James and he is delighted to explain why.

"The whole concept, using the garden, green houses, local producers, local people etc. is what I always wanted. From my point of view, this is the best way, the only way, to source a restaurant like ours."

The smoked salmon cannot be sourced from Hampshire as salmon isn’t found locally. But James has an ingenious way for making Glen Arm salmon into a Hampshire product.

"I marinade it in Hampshire honey and herbs from the garden. I then smoke it in 100% Hampshire oak from a local saw mill. We exchange a load of smoked salmon for the saw dust, so we can smoke it in Hampshire oak. Inspired!"

There are a few Saddleback and Tamworth pigs on site that are raised and eventually slaughtered by the local butcher, Mr Bartlett.

"It means we have our own lardons, bacon, pancetta, crackling and every kind of pig product in our fridge," James enthuses. "Even our cured meat recipes are developed by myself along with Mr Bartlett. He cures the meat to my recipe which means we don’t have to import any cured meats from France, we use our own."

One of James’ earliest memories when he was growing up is of Mr Bartlett the butcher in New Milton. The shop opened in 1938 and naturally the local business is struggling to compete with the local supermarkets.

"I am trying to raise awareness of the importance of shopping locally because if we don’t use them we lose them. It’s vital to showcase shops like his and, if we can’t produce something locally here at The Pig, we try to support someone local who can." Selecting and managing all the local producers makes James’ job even harder. He starts every morning at 9am and is still working through to 11.30pm at night when the last diners head off.

"Even when I am at home, supposed to be relaxing, I’ll be on line looking at new products, noting down ideas or just checking correspondence so I am never off duty. But, as a chef, that’s your life. If you are passionate about your job and you’re passionate about what you produce then you put your whole heart and soul into it. You have no choice."

At home, James has a wife and two young children aged three and five. His wife is also in catering and works at Limewood.

"We are so lucky with our kids. They eat everything. When I see kids tucking into their food, it warms the heart. I want to give them a similar experience to the childhood I had. We live near the sea so we fish. We go out to the forest and search for things you can eat and identify things you can’t eat. It’s all valuable knowledge whether they want to use it or not is up to them. But, I am sharing my passions with them."

James enjoys the changing seasons and the produce each season provides. The warm winter last year meant many of the garden’s plants were producing much longer than normal. This was very exciting for James and his kitchen team.

"My favourite season has to be autumn; all those sensational mushrooms, crab apples on the trees and all the other gorgeous things we find in and around our forest. There is an abundance of produce if you know what to look for." Even the chefs are taken out into the forest foraging for mushrooms or they head to the coast to collect seaweed or sea beat. He mentions some of the wonderful produce that the forest provides:

"Amazing wild pears were pickled last year so we can serve them with our cheese board. The sloes at the back of the property were harvested and made into a sloe reduction to go with the venison. Bog myrtle was turned into Mead; stinging nettles became Nettle Beer and a Nettle and Herb Salsa Verde. Nettles have more vitamin C than anything else," James continues. "They have a great flavour and with a twist of lemon juice and a splash of vinegar are just fabulous."

It’s hard not to get enthused by James’s descriptions and attention to detail when he talks about ingredients. When he suggests a tramp around the muddy garden, I obediently pull on my wellies (provided by the hotel!) and march up the pebble paths to the beautiful walled vegetable garden so he can show me his prized red celery, baby ceps and leafy endives. He is visibly excited when he sees the borage is still in flower.

"For me, there is something satisfying and exciting about seeing a raw product come in from the garden in the morning, watch it be transformed and then seeing it leave the pass a while later. It’s an immediate sense of satisfaction and pride. It’s all about taking an idea and seeing it through; that’s the enjoyment."

When he has a bit of spare time, which is very rare indeed, James likes to be with his beloved family.

"We like to go out to eat," he says."We like country pubs and our favourite is the Hare and Hound in Sway. Cheese and Alfie’s in Chirstchurch is a great modern bistro cafe too. They serve fabulous old classics and have funky leather sofas and an open kitchen." The family also love Paultons Park.

"It’s so cool there! Peppa Pig World is just brilliant, but it’s impossible to get the kids to agree to leave! Paultons was around when I was small and we loved it, it’s part of my history. We are definitely a foodie family. My son is a good (and enthusiastic and messy) cook already. We eat together; we explore the forest and forage together; we chat together round the table. That is precisely what I wanted for my family and Hampshire is the best place for me to provide it."

Book a table at The Pig, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, SO42 7QL. Telephone: 01590 622354.