Interview: Josh Eggleton
It’s a late but bright afternoon in the little village of Chew Magna just outside of Bristol and Josh Eggleton, chef owner of The Pony & Trap, is making his way behind the small but considered selection of draft beer pumps at his one Michelin-starred pub.
You may have seen him on the telly but, just as any pub landlord would, Josh is preparing to pour a couple of halves and have a bit of a sit down.
The subject of the afternoon? Getting stages.
“It’s shit,” Josh says frankly. “There’s absolutely no help for stagiaires out there and there should be!
“Staging is amazing first-hand experience in top class kitchens, learning and practicing skills and generally being a sponge. Its super important as you can gain an intrinsic understanding of the kitchen you’re in, which is priceless.
“I feel that all kitchens and restaurants are classrooms as a big part of cooking is teaching. I’m still learning when I go into new kitchens for guest chef appearances - they’re stages in a way.
“Honestly, if someone rings me and asks for a stage, I’ll probably say yes (if I can fit them in). I know how hard it is sometimes to sort them out.”
The Pony & Trap takes a good few stagiaires a year, many of whom are local to the area (although they did recently take one from LA). And, like with some stage placements, a job can occasionally come of it.
Jacky, a 45-year-old former Chinese restaurant owner, got himself a commis position after staging with Josh and the team for three months as part of his college studies.
He stayed for a good few years (“He made amazing staff food!” Josh told me) but left last month in a blaze of glory as he returned to his native Hong Kong for a period.
“A few years ago,” continued Josh, “I went to Melbourne to visit some cousins and I really wanted to go and see the kitchen at Attica (20th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Award 2018).
“So I sent them an email which explained how I really just wanted to come in and see how they worked for a day or two as I wasn’t in Australia for long. I also explained who I was and about the Pony and all of that.
“They (eventually) got back to me and said that it was a minimum one month stage term for everyone and there was a three month waiting list. Not even Michelin-starred chefs have it easy with stages!
“I also remember walking into Nobu in New York (my aunt lived there) every single day of the week as an 18-year-old chef looking to get in the kitchen and being told to f*ck off by the maître d' every time as I wasn’t on his clipboard for stagiaires.
“A lot of the time you need three things to get that stage of your dreams – luck, bravery and persistence!”
Dinner service at The Pony & Trap was fast approaching and I was to stage with Josh for the duration. So we drank up, grabbed our aprons and went to finish our conversation in the kitchen.
“Do you know,” said Josh as we arrived. “Three or four times, on social media, I’ve had chefs get in touch asking for a stage and when I’ve replied with a yes, they stop replying!
“I find that odd. But I suppose it can all be quite intimidating, actually confirming a stage and making the whole thing real. But we don’t bite! We’re actually pretty cool here!”
Before our chat I’d been prepping with the brigade and then had been whisked away in a Jaguar to forage wild garlic. That evening, on the occasions when Josh himself would take out dishes to the dining room, he had me calling out tickets from the pass.
How’s that for cool?