Chef Ben Handley, who runs two popular foodie pubs in North Norfolk, tells us about his culinary pedigree and about a certain football dream
Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Ben Handley and my wife, Sarah, and I own The Duck Inn in the village of Stanhoe, near Burnham Market, and The Hunworth Bell, near Holt.
How long have you been there?
We will have been at The Duck for six years on Valentine’s Day 2019 and we opened The Hunworth Bell in the summer of 2017.
Where were you before?
Previously, I was at Briarfields in Titchwell, The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe, and I also worked as sous-chef at Ruby Ruby in Melbourne, Australia. I like a kitchen with a view!
Where did you train?
Mostly on the job! I was brought up with my brother Sam and sister Kate at my parent’s former pub, The Lifeboat in Thornham, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen there. I also attended City College in Norwich to study cookery but I found it was a long way to travel once a week for a beer!
Who has inspired you?
A recent trip to Barcelona, meeting Ferran Adria of El Bulli who gave us the most sincere and awe inspiring talk at the Estrella Damm old brewery before giving us a guided tour of El Barri, was terrific. Also the new restaurant, Cornerstone, by Tom Brown in Hackney Wick looks incredible. Inspirational chefs include Tom Kerridge and Anthony Bourdain.
What is your favourite ingredient?
My favourite ingredients include Holkham Estate pure breed beef from Arthur Howell as well as local mutton and hogget. Being in Norfolk, we all look forward to the mussel season, and Clive Houlder provides with amazing mushrooms – his recent haul of ceps and fairy ring mushrooms (mousseron) were stunning. We also have herb gardens at both pubs which provide us with a wide range of herbs to use throughout the year.
Got a favourite gadget?
My team – they are a machine!! We couldn’t achieve anything without them all.
What is your signature dish at the time of year?
We are doing a gorgeous dish with Holkham Estate venison which we pair with damson and carrot. We are making carrot crisps, fondant and a really intense purée and we finish the dish with cocoa and rosemary. It is so rich and indulgent and perfect for this time of year. The mackerel dish we are sharing on these pages is also lovely at this time of year, with flavours of onion, apple and cinnamon which are warming and evocative of dark evenings.
What do you like doing when you are not cooking?
That doesn’t happen very often! When it does I love spending time with Sarah and the children and taking our dog, Boomer, out in the gorgeous area around our home. And I love to travel, losing myself in local markets.
Where do you like to eat out in the region?
It’s hard to find time but we hear amazing things about the guys at North Street in Burnham Market, Benedict’s in Norwich and The Old Bank in Snettisham. The problem is they are so good they are always fully booked! Kevin at The Neptune in Old Hunstanton is always doing great things as well so I would love to go there soon.
What would you be doing if you were not a chef?
I’d be playing football for Man Utd.
What’s your foodie prediction for 2019?
I think we are having a return to more conventional cooking as people are starting to understand more about their food and where it comes from. With rising food costs, people are becoming more resourceful and I think we will see a rise in self-sufficiency and a lot more emphasis on fresh, local, sustainable produce.