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Thomas Elson-Knight. Head Chef at The Royal Oak in Meavy, Devon

In the Kitchen with... Thomas Elson-Knight

Sue Stoneman chats to the MasterChef finalist, Thomas Elson-Knight, who now heads up the kitchen at The Royal Oak in Meavy

When did you start to cook?
I started cooking at a young age. I enjoyed leafing through cookery books and would prepare meals for my family.

What did you do after being in the finals of MasterChef?
After chatting with the landlord of my local pub (The Royal Oak, where I now work), I was lucky enough to hold my first event there. Along with a fellow MasterChef contestant, we cooked the food for a pop-up charity dinner. This went really well and kick-started my cooking adventure. Add to the mix a third MasterChef contestant and SALT Kitchen was formed. The three of us were cooking food for celebrities and private diners, and catering at big events all over the country.

How has Covid affected your job?
My main job was a stone sawyer, cutting and fitting granite worktops. At the end of last year, I gave this up and started spending more time cooking at the pub and with SALT Kitchen (as we were getting booked up with events). Then Covid struck and everything came to a halt. As soon as pubs were allowed to open, I was back in the kitchen.

How do you describe your style of cooking?
I like to put my own spin on dishes and love using local ingredients. We have just introduced the evening menu again, so I can be a bit more creative in the kitchen. I want diners to be able to relax and enjoy my food over a glass of wine.

What are your favourite ingredients?
Meat (particularly lamb), salmon and spices.

Can you tell us a little about the work you do with Dartmoor ponies?
We work with a local charity and buy in pony meat when it becomes available, so diners may find a pony burger on the menu. It’s a very lean meat and most people seem to like it.

What are the most popular dishes on your menu?
Beer-battered cod goujons and our Dartmoor Beef Burger.

When you are not in the kitchen, what do you like to do?
I love cooking food outdoors over fire, and sharing it with friends.

Who is your favourite food hero?
New York chef, Anthony Bourdain.

What’s your favourite thing to cook?
My prawn and pesto crostini with sweet chilli and garlic aioli – it will be on the menu when I have my own restaurant! I want to serve up impressive food which makes diners want to come back for more.

The Royal Oak
Meavy
Devon PL20 6PJ
01822 852944
www.royaloakinn.org.uk

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