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A passion for local produce and the prospect of rural life is what brought Scotsman and Executive Chef Douglas Balish to Pembrokeshire. We sat down with Dougie to talk a little more about his inspiration and his love of the wholesome vegetable.

Describe your food and style of cooking?

The ultimate favourite question! I’m very focused on ingredients and how they can be represented.  As a dish, I like the lightness of flavour, I don’t have anything that’s too heavy on the menu.  It’s about the thoughtfulness that goes into each component and using other natural ingredients to extract further flavour, like nut oils rather than butter.  For me, vegetables are a significant element to a dish as meat or fish is, so I think it’s important to allow the ingredients to shine, rather than overshadow them.

Have you always had an interest in the cooking of vegetables?

Absolutely. My family are vegetarians, and I was brought up that way so it’s just always been a really natural thing for me and not necessarily a conscious decision.  I only started eating meat when I was 18 and working in a kitchen, as it’s important for me to understand the flavour and texture, and what it adds to the dish.  But it’s not the focus. Outside of the kitchen and at home with my family, or eating out, I still choose vegetarian dishes.  

How did this shape your cooking style?   

In general, people now have more of an understanding of vegetarian and vegan foods. It used to be that you only had one vegetarian choice on a menu with no one serving options, and it was always the same thing! That’s always been in the back of my mind and it’s what has inspired me to give guests a vegetarian dish they have never had before, or something that’s just a little different – like smoked potato for example.  Even on meat and fish dishes, the side can be so much more than just a vegetable.  I probably spend more time planning for the vegetables than anything else, as there’s so much more you can to do elevate them.   

Locality and provenance are a big influence on you, why?

Put simply, it’s the right thing to do.  And given our base here in Pembrokeshire, how can that not be incorporated in what we do.  Our kitchen garden here is amazing, and I have a great relationship with our Head Gardener Surya, who grows incredible produce for our menu.  Amongst everything else, we have figs, leaves, herbs, Mexican marigold, all different types of garlic, salad mustard leaves, and our tomato polytunnel is a sight to see! We just go up there and pick what we want every day before service, and prepare for what we need that week.  It’s super fresh, which is something you can taste, and often our garnishes have literally just been picked ready to go straight on the plate.  What grows around us suits our style of food – everything has a natural element and is refined in the kitchen.

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with at the moment?

It changes all the time. That’s the great thing about seasons as you have something to get excited about. In spring it was all about wild garlic, which we used throughout the menu in both Fernery and the Artisan Rooms restaurant.  Summer it’s asparagus, and I love it when the whole kitchen gets excited about it. We have so much to work with and so many processes to take our ingredients up a notch, like charring, grilling, pickling. Everything we do is about making the flavour shine a little more.      

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