Taste Buds talks to Rosie Weston, Head Chef and Owner of The Vineyard Café in Ashprington
Rosie Weston is the Head Chef and owner of The Vineyard Cafe at Sharpham Vineyard on the banks of the River Dart. The dining area is outside, catered from a mobile trailer, known as the magic box.
Originally created to serve food produced and grown on the Sharpham Estate to visitors to the winery, the café is now a destination in its own right. It has recently been awarded Alfresco Restaurant of the Year 2012 by The Good Food Guide.
What’s your background, and how did you get to where you are now?
I was brought up on a dairy farm near Berry Pomeroy, Totnes. My late mother ran our home as a farmhouse hotel. There were always mouths to feed and plenty of cooking to be done, so from an early age I just started cooking, it felt like second nature and I loved it.
After training at South Devon Catering College, I worked in the West Country, travelled to the Far East and worked in London for 13 years.
When the establishment in London closed, I decided that I should return to Devon and make my ambition to run my own restaurant a reality. That restaurant was The Vineyard Café.
With a love of what you do, and a lot of hard graft, it is possible to achieve your dreams.
What type of food do you serve?
I would say our food style is modern British. Our food is simple, using the best ingredients.
You have a very small kitchen at the Vineyard Café – how do you cope at busy times?
The front of house is the key element, you have to stagger bookings. Preparation is also important: have a clear idea of what you are going to do, and do it well.
What is your favourite local ingredient and where is it sourced from?
Our raspberries are to die for. They come from Oak Tree Gardens, a pick-your-own farm in Ashprington. Our salad and vegetables come from the walled garden at Sharpham. We also buy salad from The Husbandry School in Bickington, near Ashburton.
Describe a typical day.
It starts about 6am when I have the chance to look at my emails at home (we do not have a computer at The Vineyard Café), a cup of coffee and off to work around 7.30am. Prep until 11am when we all try to have lunch, then we get ready for service at 12 noon. Once this is finished orders are placed for the next day. I am usually the last to leave and work on the computer until 7 or 8pm in the evening.
What is your signature dish?
I don’t think I really have one. At the café our pork, pistachio and prune terrine with green runner bean chutney and our pea, mint and Sharpham Rustic cheese fritters are both very popular.
Where do you enjoy eating in Devon?
The Seahorse in Dartmouth, The Dartmoor Inn at Lydford or fish and chips at Start Bay Inn at Slapton.
Who is your Devon food hero?
Joyce Molyneux from the wonderful original Carved Angel in Dartmouth.
What are your tips for budding chefs?
Dedication to the profession – Rome wasn’t built in a day! Try to learn from the past experience of others. Work with a chef; this is not something that can be taught from a book or television programme, and you will be amazed at what you take on board. After time you will develop your own style.
What ingredient couldn’t you live without?
In the spring and early summer: English asparagus. In the autumn I love hand- dived scallops.
What awards have you won, and what do they mean to you?
The Vineyard Café has recently been named Alfresco Restaurant of the Year 2012 by The Good Food Guide – which I am truly humbled by. I am delighted for the whole team as they work very hard. For me the award is recognition of my original concept when I began in 2006: simple food, using the best ingredients. I always believed that if the food is good people will come – even if the kitchen is a burger van!
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The SepOct issue of Taste Buds is out now