Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Ben Hegarty and I am the newly appointed, and proud, Head Chef at The Crown at Woodbridge, restaurant with rooms. I started my culinary adventure at the Westleton Crown and then followed my passion to Cambridge where I worked at The Pheasant, which appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s Channel 4 TV show ‘The F Word’ (one of the good restaurants and not where he visits and closes the place down). I then returned to my roots in Suffolk and took a Chef de Partie role at the Brudenell Hotel in Aldeburgh, where my cookery skills really began to develop. I was given a great opportunity by the then Head Chef, Justin Kett, to work with him as Sous Chef at The Swan at Lavenham, another of the hotels within our Hotel Folk collection. After spending three years honing my skills, I took my first Head Chef position at the White Lion, again in Aldeburgh; then it was back to the Brudenell where I oversaw the Seafood & Grill restaurant. The rest, as they say, is history.
Where did you train?
I trained at Lowestoft College one day a week and divided the rest of my time between work and reading books. I feel their tutelage gave me the confidence to express myself and understand different ingredients and flavour combinations. I also had some great work experience placements including the House of Lords, which gave me the drive and belief I needed to succeed. I have also collected a lot of cook books on my travels, which have helped me develop my cookery style. To me it’s all about big flavours that dining guests can experience without being overwhelmed.
Who is your favourite chef?
The one chef that I always come back to is Jamie Oliver. His passion and ‘have a go’ attitude is just amazing and something I fell in love with; the way he seemed to just throw things in a pan/pot and the most amazing dishes would appear like magic. In recent years I have been inspired by people like Tom Kerridge, Daniel Clifford, Sat Bains and of course Gordon Ramsay and Tom Brown at Cornerstone in London who was Nathan Outlaw’s young gun.
What three ingredients do you always have in the cupboard?
Chilli, bread and cheese – and it must be a mature cheddar as I love the nutty notes it brings.
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
Mint chocolate chip ice cream is always a winner for me!
Describe a perfect meal
A perfect meal for me is friends, family and the BBQ. Sounds so cliché but there is something so natural about cooking on open flames and just eating outside. I also love going out to great restaurants with all the formalities that go with them. This is somewhere you can get inspiration from and also see how other great chefs are doing things and what is trending in the workplace.
Where do you like to eat out in Suffolk and beyond?
When I am not busy with work and planning with my fiancée for our wedding I like to keep it low key and visit places like the Westleton Crown and the White Lion in Aldeburgh. One of my favourite meals was when I was trying to impress my soon-to-be-wife Leanne and we ate at Alimentum in Cambridge, which is sadly now closed. This was her first taste of fine dining and was my way of introducing her into my world of cooking and what it means to me to be a chef.
Tell us something we don’t know about you
I have a keen passion for photography and find this is another way to use my creativity by capturing a moment in time through a lens. I think this came from my childhood when I loved to draw and which has stood me in good shape when it comes to putting my food on a plate. I have recently spent a few days working with a great photographer who was shooting my food for our new website and tried to pick up little tips for the future. So watch this space.
A favourite tipple?
I do love a spiced rum with just a splash of lime on crushed ice or, failing that, a good beer will do!
What are your foodie predictions for the next few months?
I think the things to look out for are plant based dishes and healthy living. This is a market that just continues to grow and is something we are keen to explore at The Crown along with strong flavours and great cooking. One of my favourite dishes at the moment is a simple little bar snack we have, golden scampi with wasabi mayonnaise-it just eats like a little piece of heaven; the flavours work like pork and maple syrup, or chilli and lime. You must come along and try it, you will not be disappointed!
To book a table or overnight stay call The Crown at Woodbridge on 01394 384242, details can also be found online.