Emma Dance catches up with Josh Eggleton from The Pony & Trap
To say that Josh Eggleton is spinning a lot of plates at the moment seems like an understatement. For most chefs, running a Michelin-starred restaurant would be more than enough to keep them occupied – but not Josh.
The Bristol-born hob god recently won the regional heat of BBC2’s Great British Menu and is due to return to the screens on October 24 for the finals. It’s his third year taking part, but says he’ll be giving it a miss next year – “I’ve got too much on,” he tells me.
Frankly, it seems amazing that he’s had time to do it at all when you look at everything he’s got on his plate.
As well as the acclaimed Pony and Trap in Chew Magna, Josh’s culinary portfolio also includes his Salt & Malt fish and chip shop and tearoom by the lake as well as being one quarter of the team behind Yurt Lush and the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion event – but he’s not stopping there with two new openings on the not-too-distant horizon.
The Chicken Shed, part of the CARGO development at Wapping Wharf is his next venture with the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion team and was due to open a couple of months ago but delays put the launch on hold. A tentative date is now pencilled in for the end of the month. But while many people would be frustrated by the lack of action, not Josh.
“It’s been delayed because the whole development has been delayed,” he shrugs. “The developer has never done anything with shipping containers on this scale before and it’s taken longer than everyone first thought. But when it’s done it will be of a very high standard.
“There’s a few food places due to open there and we’re all independent, Bristol based businesses that specialise in local produce and brews. We’re thinking about launching as a bit of a collective. There’s going to be a real sense of community on that side of the harbour.”
And he’s not taking any down time while he waits for the work to be completed either – instead he chose to take over The Kensington Arms – affectionately known as The Kenny – in Redland with Guy Newell (the former MD of Butcombe Brewery) which, after a closure of just a handful of days for some sprucing up, he’s hoping to reopen in the next couple of weeks.
“People keep asking what I’m going to do with it and I just say ‘I don’t know’,”says Josh. “It’s easy to look at something from the outside and make plans, but once you’re on the inside it’s very different and experience has taught me to hold fire and see what will work for the best.
“It’s a great British pub so I’m not going to do anything crazy. We’re going to repaint and make it a bit warmer. It’s a bit serious at the moment so we might get some artists from Upfest in to deface some of the art on the wall.
“We’ve got a new head chef in too – Luke Hawkins. I trained him up when he was 16 and he’s been sous chef at The Pony for several years so he’s got our DNA in him and the menu will be reflective of that with an emphasis on locally sourced, great ingredients. It will be accessible to everyone. And once we get going I want to have a specials board, with dishes that are really special!”
As Josh talks you can almost see his brain whirring, coming up with new ideas and plans – he wants to farm his own chickens for the Chicken Shed offering training for those who want to learn to farm, build a smoker and increase the offerings from the garden at The Pony, create more speciality tasting menus, and at some point open a cookery school. It’s like talking to the human equivalent of the Duracell Bunny. But while lesser beings would flounder, somehow Josh makes it all look easy.
“It’s just about being a master of delegation,” he says with a smile. “And surrounding yourself with a really good team.
“I visit most of my projects most days. In the day I’m running around doing all the nine to five stuff like dealing with the building works, but at night and at the weekends I’m on the pass at the Pony and Trap and I’m just cooking.
“Five years ago I would have said that the busiest part of my week was the weekends, but now it’s the quietest!”
Catch Josh on the Great British Menu on BBC2 from October 24–28 at 7.30pm.