10:00am Saturday 5th May 2012
By Rene Gerryts
RIVER Cottage Canteen’s Sam Rom beat competition in a nerve-wracking series of cook-offs to get the job as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new head chef.
The 28-year-old takes over at the Axminster restaurant from Tim Maddams, 33, who is going to be teaching at the River Cottage cookery school as a freelancer.
Mr Maddams said: “It has been quite a hectic four and a half years. I have a new baby coming and that is really exciting and I didn’t think I could manage two children and a busy restaurant.”
He said it had been an amazing experience.
He said: “In no other restaurant that I have ever been involved has there been a brief to use the best, highest welfare, most local, incredible ingredients regardless of cost.”
Mr Maddams said it had been a long process finding his successor but they were confident they had found the right person.
Mr Rom started in restaurants when he was 14 and can still remember the buzz.
He said: “I fell in love with it on the first night. It was Wednesday night, I got paid £3.25 an hour.
“I spent eight hours at the sink, I came out with big swollen, wrinkly, stinky hands and I had the biggest smile ever at the end of it.
“I think it was the buzz of the kitchen and the atmosphere, it is going 100 miles an hour.
“You either love it or hate it and you have got to love it if you are spending 100 hours in a steel box all week. Maybe you’ve got to have a screw loose to be a chef.”
Within six months he was there every night after school, putting in full-time hours all through his schooling.
Despite the passion, he claims he never wanted to be a chef but realised it was in his blood, despite a detour to the Northern Film School to do a degree.
It is clear he has a passion for food but he is also driven.
He added: “I need to be entertained constantly, I can’t sit still, if I have more than a day off I drive my girlfriend crazy.”
After an initial cook-off he was invited to impress Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and there was no question of using any of Hugh’s recipes as he didn’t own any of his books.
He added: “I did 10 dishes for him. I didn’t know how the cook-off went but at the end he gave me three of this books so I wasn’t sure if it was a hint or not.
“It is a little bit overwhelming what I am taking on, I have big boots to fill.”
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