Interview with Executive Chef Sam Bowser

We are delighted to introduce Sam Bowser, Executive Chef at The Wild Rabbit.

With classical training and a passion for locally sourced, seasonal, and foraged ingredients, Sam brings a wealth of knowledge to The Wild Rabbit. Sam has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Philip Howard at The Square in London and Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.

Sam tells us about his influences in creating his dishes and shares insights into the next chapter for The Wild Rabbit.

What is your earliest childhood memory of food?

My grandad was a farmer. He had orchards, raised chickens and grew all kinds of produce, so one of my earliest memories of food is eating peas fresh from the field. I can really remember the sweetness of them.

What brought you to The Wild Rabbit?

I really admire the Bamford family’s attitude to food: it’s produce-driven and shows so much respect for ingredients.

When I first went to the farmshop at Daylesford it was a big eye-opener for me. I saw the proximity of the cows to the dairy and the creamery and was so in awe of the fact that you could also buy the cheese produced there on site.

What is it that’s so special about the market garden at Daylesford Organic?

It’s so rare to see produce of this quality; or the unusual and heritage varieties that are grown there. And the fact that it’s just down the road from the restaurant. When you are picking and cooking with produce this fresh, it just tastes better. It also means I can go and speak to Jez, Head of the market garden, on any day of the week. That keeps you in tune with the seasons as you know what’s coming out the ground.

What produce are you excited about right now during the hungry gap?

Forced sea kale is such a unique and very special ingredient; it has a really delicate flavour – a bit like asparagus – and because it’s hard to grow it can be quite difficult to get your hands on it. Otherwise the hunger gap really means purple sprouting broccoli and early cabbages! I quite like this time of year; it makes you very creative.

What can we expect to see from the dining room menu?

The à la carte menu will be led by what comes into season. My background and training are rooted in classical French cooking, so there will be elements of that – bold sauces with big depth of flavour, for example – but there will also be some modern touches and twists on classic dishes in there.

In general, I’m focusing on lighter food. I still really enjoy cooking with meat, game and fish, but I am moving towards vegetable-based starters where meat is adding seasoning rather than being the main focus of the dish.

And where we do cook with meat, there will be a big emphasis on a nose-to-tail approach. That’s always been an important part of the kitchens I’ve worked in and I think it shows real skill and versatility to bring the different cuts of the animal together. I also like the ethos behind it; to me it feels very natural for a chef to want to get the most out of an ingredient; there’s a frugality and a sense of respect to it.

What is your favourite dish on the new menu?

The smoked Wootton estate venison with radicchio, baked beetroots and grand veneur sauce. It brings together lots of different flavours: there’s sweetness from the beetroot and bitterness from the Treviso. Also because it represents what I’m about as a chef in terms of wanting to get the most out of an ingredient: we’ve used the loin as the centrepiece, its trimings to make the venison faggots; and the bones to make the sauce.

The bar menu feels more relaxed with plates that are designed around classic pub food – it’s pub food that’s just a little more refined.

What do you like to cook at home?

I go for comfort food like cauliflower cheese pasta with bacon, it’s like a level up from macaroni cheese.

What’s your desert island dish?

Salt-baked leg of lamb with persillade. Or masses of desserts, I’ve got a sweet tooth!

Who is your culinary hero?

Phil Howard, Gary Jones and Martin Burge. I wanted to work for the people that I admire and these three have been really inspirational for me.

What’s your most memorable dining experience?

I went to work in Australia for a while and Justin North was running a restaurant called Becasse in Sydney. As part of my trial he invited me to sit down and eat the whole tasting menu. I wasn’t expecting it at all and it just reflected the generosity of hospitality.

Three things you’ve always got in your cupboard at home?

Passata; Worcestershire sauce, which ups the flavour of anything; and onions, which are a great base for a plate of food.

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