CATERING for a number of well-known entertainment and sporting celebrities at his own restaurant – John B’s French Restaurant in Poole – was a great experience for Mark Roberts and luckily for us, he now lives and works in Somerset.

Mark started working at The Hankridge Arms in Taunton in 2008. He has been working as a chef his whole life and has been passionate about cooking since the age of 14, when he worked as a kitchen assistant.

Mark said: “I served my apprenticeship with Crest Hotels in Christchurch and after continued to train at a number of restaurants. I then ran my own restaurant business in Poole for almost 25 years.

“Running my own restaurant was hard work at times but very enjoyable and rewarding.

“It gave me the opportunity to meet and cater for a number of well-known entertainment and sporting celebrities.”

After deciding it was time for a change, Mark moved to Somerset when the opportunity to become head chef/director at The Hankridge Arms arose.

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To Mark, creating local and homemade dishes is extremely important and something he focuses on in Taunton.

He added: “Offering homemade dishes is a particular focus of mine and I would estimate that around 80% of our meals are homemade. This is one of the reasons we appeal to our customers, who appreciate the higher quality of homemade dishes compared to mass-produced options.

“Producing homemade and handmade food offers greater freshness and quality as well as the flexibility to offer a more unique product that is then cooked to order, rather than simply being an assembly process as can be the case with many pre-prepared products.”

Wherever they are able to, The Hankridge Arms use local produce.

One particular producer they use is Wessex Foodservice, a local butcher and meat supplier based in Wellington. Mark explained that they are also in the process of changing their potato supplier to Cutliffe Farm in Sherford, Taunton.

“I prefer to use local products where I’m able, both to offer our customers a quality product and to support local producers” Mark explained.

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Since joining the team in 2008, Mark has developed an attachment to The Hankridge Arms and loves having the opportunity to speak to the diners, especially when they are complementary about the food he and his team have produced.

The menu at The Hankridge Arms is seasonal and traditional pub food, with dishes such as traditional fish and chips, or a Panko breaded buttermilk chicken burger.

As well as desserts such as bread and butter pudding or white chocolate and raspberry crème brulée.

Mark said: “I am passionate about food and it gives me great pleasure to produce quality meals, often with a modern twist.

“Then seeing our customers enjoying those meals and keep on returning.

“Personally, I enjoy most fish dishes with particular favourites being a fish and shellfish mixed grill or seabass served with sea asparagus, crushed lemon and olive oil potatoes with a lobster, prawn and crab velouté.

“I love using herbs from my own herb garden, in view of the variety of flavourings and aromas that herbs offer, which then greatly enhance the meals in which they are used.”

In the future, Mark would love to introduce a trolley carving service, which he believes will add an element of theatre to the service.

He added: “I feel fortunate to live and work in Somerset and appreciate the opportunities that the local and wider south-west region offers in terms of its plentiful produce that is also the best of quality.

“I also have great pride in the food we produce at The Hankridge Arms.”

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