a rural cook shines a light on Michelin-starred Richard Craven and the country pub he runs with his wife, Solanche: The Royal Oak, at Whatcote, in Warwickshire. Making the best of seasonal produce that showcases the exceptional terroir that is Richard's larder. Richard articulates the journey he's taken during his career, remembering successes and failures along the way, in a book that is as elegant and classy as his exquisite food.
It celebrates twelve years of Richard and Solanche working for themselves. The first part of the book is part diary, covering their journey from working for others through to their first restaurant 'the chef's dozen' and finding their way to The Royal Oak.
The second part of the book is filled with seasonal recipes with 8 menus celebrating early and late seasonal highlights containing over 80 dishes showcasing Richards love of wild food both game and foraged ingredients.
We’ve all got our preferred cookery bible – the stained pages and broad, torn spines are the giveaway. These are unwieldy manuals that we turn to again and again when we need culinary guidance. (Mine’s the Ballymaloe Cookery Course by Darina Allen and about which I’m tediously evangelical.) But this is bigger and heavier than any weighty work by any foodie doyen.
Richard Craven is the chef patron at the Michelin-starred The Royal Oak in Whatcote, Warwickshire. And this mighty tome is quite difficult to categorise, as it’s as beautiful as any coffee-table book and is rather more than a cookbook. It begins with a potted biography, which details how Craven fell into his career after a rural upbringing, and then covers 12 years of the business in a diary style.
The recipes are perhaps for the more competent cook and are photographed to induce maximum inelegant salivating. They are arranged seasonally and there’s much focus on wild ingredients, foraged and game. Mallard, woodcock, hare, muntjac and squirrel all feature.
Not only does the book weigh 5kg, it also encompasses the grandeur of the four seasons. The chef and owner of the Royal Oak in Whatcote, Warwickshire, has created a debut cookbook divided into recipes from spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each section begins with a monthly list of seasonal ingredients, which are suitable across starters, mains and desserts.
It is, in many ways, a deeply personal book, one that touches upon Craven's accidental "fall" into hospitality; the "files of cuttings from The Caterer" he used to have when starting out in the industry; and his love for his wife and business partner, Solanche. It is only by the time you get to around page 95 of this 320-page epic that you are introduced to Craven's dishes, starting with the basics, ‘our wholemeal loaf', which has been "an important part of our offering since [the Chef's Dozen] at Chipping Campden".
Apple and cinnamon brioche is one of the simpler items in A Rural Cook, but Craven uses this to once again demonstrate his restaurant's emphasis on collaborating with trusted, artisanal suppliers. Foraging and using local produce takes on a whole new dimension in this book, in which the chef proudly proclaims that "we've been cooking squirrel for around seven years now".
His final entry for September 2022 summaries the ethos that underpins A Rural Cook:
"I can't imagine being anywhere else but Whatcote, cooking, skinning rabbits, deer and wandering the hills not seeing a soul."
Friday and Saturday
Solanche and Richard Craven
The Royal Oak | Whatcote |
Shipston on Stour | Warwickshire | CV36 5EF
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