Aaron Craig

Executive Chef: The Brasserie and New Hall, Rockliffe Hall

What inspired you to become a chef?

At an age when many kids were playing with their friends after school, I was hard at work at my mother’s small pub. That’s where I learned to cook, but I really discovered my love for cooking whilst in the British army as an infantry soldier. At 16, I was too young to go on patrol during tours so was sent to the kitchens. I immediately realised I had found my vocation, and on leaving the army I knew there was only one job for me.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Being a chef is so creative and there is so much you can do with food; also getting good feedback from guests is amazing and makes you feel good.

And least?

The anti-social hours, but thank god this is getting better within the industry. I have missed many birthdays, Christmases and weddings, but its part and parcel of being a chef.

What is your favourite game bird to cook at home?

Partridge is one of my favourites, and it’s very accessible too. If you’re like my wife and don’t like your meat too gamey, they will be right up your street and, like grouse, one bird makes a perfect portion for one person. I like to keep my recipes at home very easy, and use ingredients like haricot beans to do really lovely stews with them.

What is the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking game at home?

Cooking game at home isn’t hard, although people see it as something you have to be experienced in doing. The only real issue you may have when cooking with game is trying to keep it moist. The absence of much fatty tissue means overcooking can quickly dry out the meat, though this can be prevented through several techniques such as basting, or covering while slow-cooking.

What game in particular benefits from hanging?

The reason I ask my game dealer to hang my game is in order to let the meat rest slightly. Birds use a surge of adrenaline to take off, and so if they are shot soon after take-off, they will be full of adrenaline. Leaving it to hang also lets the birds’ tissue relax and rest. Some chefs may disagree with me, but I maintain that pheasant and partridge both need at least two days of hanging before being cooked, regardless of any other factors.

You are cooking for a dinner party at home with game as the primary ingredient, what would you serve for starters and mains?

Well for a starter I would make rabbit ballotine stuffed with smoked eel, and because I love using the whole rabbit I would make a rabbit parfait and serve this on toast with a cress mayonnaise. Main course would probably be venison (the recipe in this feature) or a nice wood pigeon dish, boned out and stuffed with haggis. Served with smoked mash and whisky sauce.

Is there a particular game dish you serve regularly in your restaurant?

In winter venison will always feature on my menu.

What makes game different?

It’s eating from the wild, something I am doing more and more. Foraging for the garnishes to go with this can mean you’re serving almost free food!

What is the best way of encouraging people to eat more game?

I try to educate people how to cook game and not be afraid of it. It’s so important that people do cook these game birds, or any game, otherwise we will lose them and for me that would be a big shame.

Is there any game you don’t – or wouldn’t – eat?

As a chef I am seeing more and more restaurants going down the exotic game route, such as zebra, crocodile, python and kangaroo. I feel this is more to shock people to try it and I prefer to stay away from products like this. There’s nothing game-wise from the UK that I wouldn’t eat.