Our new White Hart restaurant chef has had it with conformity, crap service and egos. Eamon Fullalove, who comes from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, explains how our mouth-watering new menu challenges ‘the usual convention that all food begins with the chef’s mind’.
It is this attitude that got him a job at Fifteen in London. ‘I don’t care how famous you are,’ he said to Jamie Oliver. ‘If I were you, I would hire people who aren’t impressed by fame.’
To which Jamie replied, ‘Right, you’re my head chef’.
Eamon grasped the opportunity, spending three years transforming the lives of young people who had previously been homeless, were misusing drug and alcohol or were just unemployed. They learnt how to be chefs.
Eamon, right, with Jon Perkin of Old Parsonage Farm (based on the Dartington Hall estate)
This quality of being unfazed by fame was perhaps the result of being surrounded by it as a child. His mother Patricia ran the celebrated garden restaurant at Derry and Toms, in High Street Kensington, where A-listers from Mick Jagger to Madonna partied among real flamingos in a 1930s rooftop garden.
He was drawn to Fifteen after having done a deep dive following jobs such as working as a chef in traditional French kitchens all over London, Sydney and Hong Kong to work out what good life might look like for him. ‘I looked under the rug, at all the mess under there, and had a lightbulb moment. My whole life had been – “like me, like me”. I had a real moment then when I realised I wanted to do something for other people, those who had a bad start – to help them find their skills and their passion.’
‘Fifteen taught me that it’s really common for people to work out vicariously what others need,’ said Eamon. ‘We thought the young people in our kitchens would want to go on and be head chefs at other kitchens, when in fact what they wanted was a house, or they wanted the domestic violence they were witnessing at home to stop, or to get hold of better drugs…We had never actually asked the group what they wanted out of the project.’
Eamon in the White Hart kitchen
Now, at The White Hart in Dartington Hall, his disinterest in celebrity continues: ‘My dream is that no one knows who the White Hart head chef is. Don’t put a name above the door, that’s not what Dartington needs.
‘I think The White Hart has been ravaged by chef’s egos. We want it to be here in 20 years’ time giving people what they want – that is, good and honest food that is an extension of their experience of the gardens or an estate walk. The customer experience should be so seamless that it doesn’t distract from the gem that this place is. I want it to be that whoever comes after me is given a brief rather than a free rein, so that they fit in with that.
The way he’s doing this is by taking local sourcing to its logical conclusion on an estate that is home to 21 land based enterprises. ‘The usual convention is that all food begins with the chef’s mind. We’re doing it the other way round. We’re looking at what is growing now out there on the estate and working way more in harmony with the growers and customers. So rather than buying asparagus in, in December, we should let people know that there is kale here that is so incredible that it will blow your mind.’
When Eamon started at The White Hart in 2018 he said: ‘The first thing I did when I started was wash dishes for a week. I cooked on every shift. I went out and brought some good quality smart uniform. At the beginning there was much resistance. The old culture put up a pretty good fight.
‘I found that people were obsessed with not learning everything, seemingly wanting everything done for them. I want them to learn butchery for example. Conformity is the death of passion and creativity. Many waiters in the UK are on route to become dancer or an actor. It gets me so upset when you have crap service with the attitude that ‘this is beneath me’ when it’s actually a really honourable profession – to be in service to others.
‘Now I feel like we’re a team at The White Hart – and that we won’t fail if I stop. The other day I saw five chefs walk across the courtyard… They looked so proud.’
On The White Hart’s new Devon O’ Clock feasting menu, you’ll find goat stew from Dartington Dairy, venison from Dartington Deer Park or mushrooms from Grocycle, grown in coffee grounds by the way.
Devon O’ Clock feasting menu: Spring
you – chose a main course such as spring lamb or kid
we – whip up a selection of sides, from macaroni cheese to outrageous salads