What’s cooking? Dave Wall from The Unruly Pig, Woodbridge
The award-winning chef tells all about life at one of Suffolk's most loved pubs, cooking for Lord Voldemort and his secret to perfectly crispy roast potatoes.
Over the past few years, The Unruly Pig has become one of the most loved pubs on the Suffolk coast. As well as being “just a damn good restaurant” according to William Sitwell, the pub has an ever-expanding trophy cabinet… County Pub of the Year – Suffolk (The Good Pub Guide 2021), Best Suffolk Restaurant 2018/19 and in 2020 it was named one of the top six pubs in the East of England in Estrella Damm’s Top 50 Gastropubs 2020.
We tracked down the man behind all the hype, Head Chef Dave Wall (winner of Britain’s best pub restaurant chef 2019/20) and quizzed him on his journey to The Unruly Pig kitchen, famous people he’s cooked for and what he’s going to be cooking once lockdown is over. Warning: reading this will make you hungry.
How did you become a chef?
I fell into cooking when travelling in my late teens and early twenties. I spent a year in Australia and the ski resorts of Canada and got my beer money by washing dishes, before getting chucked in to help one day when somebody called in sick. I got hooked on the buzz of the pressure and never looked back!
What has been your career highlight so far?
Opening and establishing The Unruly Pig has been a real rollercoaster, but building a fantastic following who love what we do and fill our seats is all you could ever wish for as a chef. Having critical recognition is very rewarding for the team and being listed in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs is a wonderful honour.
How would you describe your cooking style?
It’s a bit cliché, but I like to be led by produce, sourcing the best ingredients I can and treating them with respect and letting them shine. I don’t like to over-manipulate with loads of fancy techniques and gadgets – just good old-school cooking and keeping it simple on the plate. Two or three flavours maximised to their full potential.
Most memorable moment at work?
Most memorable for bad reasons and I wasn’t actually at work! Being woken up at 4am with a call to let me know The Unruly Pig was on fire just three months after we opened is something I’ll never forget. However, making the decision to rebuild it was a pivotal moment and I think we came back stronger than we could have imagined.
We will be trying to harness that positive spirit when we are finally allowed to reopen in full following Covid lockdown.
Have you ever cooked for a VIP or someone famous?
I’ve been privileged enough to cook for quite a lot of famous people over the years. My own personal favourite is less famous outside of chef circles, but having Pierre Koffman, winner of 3 Michelin stars at La Tante Claire (now Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) in for dinner was a real honour.
Outside of chef royalty visits we’ve also had a few visits from Ed Sheeran and Ralph Fiennes, both local Suffolk heroes. Ralph Fiennes, AKA Lord Voldemort, caused a particular stir back in the Wall household as my wife and kids are completely fanatical about Harry Potter!
Who’s your favourite chef?
I particularly love the food of Phil Howard and I’m massively influenced by his flavour-driven but elegant cooking.
Tom Kerridge is one of my biggest inspirations – he is the first and only chef to receive 2 Michelin stars in a pub and has helped break down any stigma or belief that you can’t deliver amazing food in a pub setting.
What’s your favourite type of cuisine to eat and cook?
That stalwart of traditional Great British pub fare – the stew. Whether its form be encased in a pie, presented as a more refined braise or as one of our favourites at The Unruly Pig, a ragu with hand rolled pasta – I adore slow cooking using flavourful ‘secondary’ cuts.
While you might say that anyone can chuck some bits in a slow cooker and get a good result, I think that achieving a truly great result requires skill and the resulting flavour is unparalleled.
What do you whip up for dinner when you’re tired after a day at work?
I must admit I rarely have an appetite after a long, late day at work but if I do have the munchies, there’s not much better than cheese on toast for me. Good crusty sourdough, thick slabs of cheddar and extra Worcestershire sauce and tabasco is a comfort I’ll never tire of.
What are your favourite places to eat in Suffolk? And any favourite local markets/ suppliers?
My wife and I love The Bildeston Crown. Chris Lee is a brilliant chef and Hayley his better half, is just the most wonderful host.
We’re blessed at The Unruly Pig to have a tremendous bounty of producers on our doorstep, but two of my favourites are just down the road in Orford – Pinney’s Smokehouse and Pump Street Bakery who also have Pump Street Chocolate (which never comes off our menu).
What’s your favourite ingredient and why?
I love cooking with game. We’re surrounded by local shoots and game is healthy, sustainable and so tasty. Our guests love it too and it always produces our most popular dishes.
What’s the best dish you’re serving at the moment/ once lockdown is over?
Who knows when lockdown might be over, but I really hope we get to see all of the asparagus season this year. We totally missed it last year but it’s one of my favourite ingredients.
What dish are you most proud of creating?
We do a starter of seared octopus tentacle with a raviolo of nduja and chorizo which our guests adore. We’ve tried to take it off a few times as I like to keep the menu fresh and always changing but people always revolt so it never stays off for long!
Tell us your best ever cooking tip?
Freeze your roasties! It’s not my own technique but one that I came across when we were researching how to deliver a great quality roast dinner in a hamper for our customers to finish at home.
At first I turned my nose up at the idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I gave it a go and have never looked back – it’s now how we cook all of our roasties in the pub!
You just blanch your potatoes in salted water like you normally would until just cooked (offering little resistance to a skewer), drain and allow the steam to boil off, then toss in beef dripping before freezing on a flat tray overnight. The following day you crank your oven up to 220°C, preheat a roasting tray and then tip your roasties on there. Roast as you would normally, turning every 15 minutes until they are golden and crispy (30-45 minutes). As well as cutting down your prep time on the day, the actual result is astonishing – beautifully crispy but with the fluffiest centre.
That Aunt Bessie knows what she’s going on about!