Q and A with Andy Watts, Head Chef at Jack Russell Inn, Faccombe

by Aug 19, 2023

What do you love most about the menus that you’re creating? 

Two things:

Firstly being led by the produce around us at The Jack Russell Inn, whether that’s the game from the Faccombe Estate, the fruit and veg from the gardens including our little kitchen garden or what we can forage from the estate. I’ve already got some exciting ideas ready for the next game season. 

Secondly, as our kitchen team is growing and getting stronger it’s nice to collaborate on our menus and get the team’s input and ideas for the menus.

Have you always wanted to work in this industry?

Not really, I wanted to be a graphic designer but getting an F in my graphics A level burst that bubble; however, I have been in the industry since I was 12 years old washing up in my aunt’s cafe, this progressed to a burger van at The famous Donington market at Donington Park race track and then at 16 I took a part time job at a local pub working evenings and weekends. 

I got a real buzz for it and when I realised Uni wasn’t for me the pub took me on full time at 18 and I have never looked back. I just loved it, I was always genuinely excited to go to work and learn something new (as well as trying new foods).

What are you most proud of? 

Wow, tough one. So many things over the years; from seeing junior chefs that I have trained become senior chefs and run their own kitchens, various write ups and reviews but one thing that stands out was finishing in the Estrella Damm top 50 gastropubs when I was Head Chef at The Pheasant Inn Lambourn.

What advice would you give to someone keen to start a career in food but unsure where to begin?

Try and get some work experience in different kitchens, be open to anything and don’t chase pay packets or promotions. 

Find somewhere you can learn and grow under a Head Chef who really values what the junior chefs bring. I’ve been really lucky working for some great head chefs where we became like a family and life long friends who had a real passion for not just cooking but for teaching as well.

Who is one of your biggest inspirations – either professionally or personally?

I would have to say my mum, she is truly an amazing woman, bringing up 6 children, running her own business and giving me the right values and upbringing to help mould me into the person I am today, and always being so supportive in my career, even when that meant moving 125 miles south for a new challenge.

If you could attribute your success to anyone who gave you your big break?

Again, there are lots of people and places that spring to mind but I would have to say Jack Greenall (who I met whilst working at his parents pub in Derbyshire, The Duncombe Arms) I was working around Cookham and Windsor and got a call to meet Laura and Johnny at Jack’s new pub for a coffee, this coffee turned out to be a very casual job offer. 

My partner and I had been contemplating moving to Dubai for a lifestyle change but something drew me into The Pheasant and Jack really believed in me and the team and I was given so much freedom to create menus and choose suppliers and we had so much fun. A hell of a lot of hard work too but a rollercoaster of a ride so much so that 6 years flew by and now here I am at The Jack Russell trying to build on what is already a great reputation in a really beautiful country inn.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

For me personally the hardest thing is switching off, I love what I do and I get so focused on what I’m doing my work sometimes consumes me, but I mean that in a positive way, I could just talk about food all day and cook all day I really love it. 

Also remembering to walk before I can run, I always want to be better and want to improve and sometimes I just need to slow it down a little and take stock of the positves before pushing on again

Which part of your job do you most enjoy?

It sounds silly but the cooking.

I love being on the stoves on a busy dinner service, working with the team, being involved in that buzz of a busy night and seeing everyone nail it, then chatting to guests at the end of the service when you have made someone’s night memorable by cooking or when a guest asks for a recipe because they enjoyed it so much that to me is still one of the best feelings.

Do you find it easy to balance work and play?

In the past no, not at all. I was a proper workaholic; I would work all hours under the sun. When we had our little girl Ella who is now 3 things changed for me and I knew I needed to be better and take my time off and I wanted to spend time as a family. 

This coinciding with me becoming involved in The Burnt Chef Project (who aim to raise awareness for mental health in the industry and break the stigma attached to it) I am now an ambassador for The Burnt Chef Project and being involved has really helped me in my own life but also given me the tools to be a positive role model, create the right work environment for my teams. 

I also started playing football again for Haywards FC in Andover, which has been amazing, the comradery is similar to kitchens and it’s a brilliant bunch of guys, it’s great getting out there and I find I really switch off from everything except the game it’s been great for me, and we have just won the league in our first season!!

A few years ago I used to think I was being a good leader by working all the hours and being first in and the last out, and that is still the case today but I also think it’s so important to make sure I set the right example and take my days off, get my rest and have hobbies and interests which I encourage my team to do as well.

Want to try Andy’s ever changing and evolving seasonal menus? Keen for a mini break close to London with cosy beds, fresh countryside air and delicious food? To book a room or table, visit The Jack Russell Inn or call 01264 737315. Dogs and children welcome.

About Emily Eaves

Co Founder and Editor at To Work or Play, Emily has been Freelance Copywriting for over 10 years. She is passionate about food, drink, travel, design and finding ways to keep her two children out of trouble.

With a background in Luxury Restaurant and Hotel PR, Emily moved from London to Dorset in 2019. She now spends weekends at the beach and daydreams about her vegetable garden.