John McGinn is the head chef and owner of the Dog in a Doublet, near Whittlesey, a family run traditional pub with a country kitchen and farmhouse rooms - and is The Peterborugh Telegraph’s current Pub of the Year.
After being derelict for years, the building has been lovingly restored by John (and wife Della) whose passion for food and animals is clear. It is known for its farm to fork policy, and after appearing on BBC MasterChef a decade ago, John has created a menu that is local and seasonal, but still reflects his passion for world cuisine... creating English dishes with a twist. The building is surrounded by the working farm which is home to pigs, goats, chickens and horses and beyond that, the beautiful Fenland landscapes. There are now farmhouse rooms and bell tents for staying.
Where did it all begin - how did you get into the business?
I have always had a passion for food with an attitude that “if you have to eat three times a day... you should make it the best it can be everytime.”
Ten years ago I was a civil engineer butI would still study food, collecting a vast library of books and I would host regular dinner parties at home. Then everything changed. My girlfriend entered me into BBC’s MasterChef and I beat over 6,000 applicants to finally appear on the show. Although I cleared the first few rounds with great praise, my nerves got the better of me and I was knocked out by a finalist.
What were your ambitions then - and now?
Who have been your influences?
I then focused on something I had never realised... I could make a career from cooking. My ambitions then were to bring my passion and vast knowledge of cuisine to my home, The Fens. I have since achieved this and am now concentrating on honing this down at Dog in a Doublet which is still a work in progress.
I am influenced by everything around me... the seasons... the area... my studies... my travels and most importantly my customers.
How did you come to be here?
Dog in a Doublet was a twist of fate. I actually rang the estate agency to buy The Walk the Dog pub in Chatteris (where my family is from) and they informed me that Dog in a Doublet had just came on the market. My girlfriend and I bought it straight away, but I was shocked to see its state of disrepair... no floors, fire damage and every piece of metal had been stolen from within.
It took us six months just to get the restaurant open! We now have eight hotel rooms and two glamping bell tents, but its far from finished. The garden had a revamp this year and so did the restaurant, so next is the kitchen which is going to blow people away, its going to be amazing!
How important is the team around you? Is recruitment difficult?
My food is nothing if I haven’t got a team around me to back it up. I’ll be honest this has been a real problem in the past and I know all independent places up and down the country are struggling with staff. I have now resolved to invest in young talent (which is hard enough to find kids that actually want to work). I believe that I now have the team I’ve been looking for and the future is bright for Dog in a Doublet.
What can people expect from your menus?
My menu is seasonal with all the pub classics you should expect but with a twist - such as fish and chips with an onion seed and chorizo batter. But the special board is where it is at. Right now I have King Scallops with asparagus, Jersey Royals and Marmite butter.
What was the first dish you put on a menu - and what is the most recent?
The first dish that I specialised in was cured belly pork with bubble and squeak and Porcini cream.
My favorite dish at the moment (apart from the scallops) is the Tuscan beef pie with Moor Farm cattle, from across the river, joined by pancetta and smoked Tuscan sausage and caramelised tomatoes encased in a proper pie.
What gives you most pleasure working in a restaurant?
My joy comes from pleasing people. I think true chefs want to work to make people happy. When a plate returns from the restaurant I want to know from the waitress what the guest has said, when the reply is “yes, they liked it!” I say “no what did they say exactly?”“They said it was the best burger they have had.”