A young chef from Thame has been named a rising star and one to watch in his industry by winning a coveted Acorn Award. James Durrant, 27, head chef of The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor, one of Oxfordshire’s Peach pubs, was presented with the award at a special ceremony on Monday 4th June at the Grade II-listed Lygon Arms hotel in Broadway, Worcestershire.
Awarded annually, the Acorn Awards seek to highlight and celebrate the achievements of 30 of the hospitality industry’s brightest prospects, with each winner nominated by their peers for their outstanding ability in their field. Just 30 Acorns under the age of 30 are announced each year and most go on to excel, including past winners such as Gary Rhodes, Marcus Wareing and Jason Atherton. An Acorn is also a life-long privilege held only by an elite group of industry professionals.
This year’s 30 young achievers have just spent a celebratory weekend at The Lygon Arms including a welcome dinner plus a team-building exercise to test their ‘Apprentice-style’ scavenging and football-related teamwork skills. They then took part in the awards ceremony hosted by organisers The Caterer, where Josh Eggleton, chef and co-owner of Bristol restaurants the Pony & Trap, Salt & Malt, Root and the Kensington Arms, was guest speaker.
James was singled out for praise for his remarkable achievements as a chef over the last 11 years, a period which has seen him rise from waiting on tables to running his own kitchen, with every step he has taken so far in his career being made right here in Oxfordshire.
At 17, he started out as a waiter at The Angel, Long Crendon, quickly convincing the chef / patron to take him on in the kitchen and send him to catering college. After gaining his chef’s whites at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, he worked at The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon, a 2 Rosette, Bib Gourmande restaurant, where he impressed chef proprietor Gary Witchalls with the high standard of his cooking and his focussed and professional approach.
Keen to take on a more senior role, James moved to The Thatch in Thame as junior sous chef in the spring of 2014. Here, he took control of the entire kitchen team within three years, helping the pub to win a slew of awards as well as boosting its food sales and profits.
He became head chef of The Fishes in North Hinksey, Oxford, Peach’s biggest pub which serves up to 3,000 meals a week at its busiest time, creating a new outdoor kitchen to cook a new garden menu. When Peach took on The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor this February, James became its new head chef, helping to put this classic country inn firmly back on the culinary map.
“It’s a really big deal to win a national award like an Acorn and I haven’t quite taken it in yet – in fact, I’m quite overwhelmed,” says James. “It’s certainly an acknowledgement of the commitment I’ve made over a decade to become a good chef, and recognition of all the effort I’ve put in, and I feel very honoured to have been nominated.
“I also know that I am fortunate to have had so many good people around me, who have helped and taught me, and it’s been thanks to their support that I have been able to push myself and work hard to get where I am today.
“I’m really excited to be bringing the award back to the pub and hope that it will encourage other young chefs to follow me into the industry and to work hard to achieve their dreams. I also hope it will inspire people from around the area to come to visit us to try the food we cook and have a great time at our pub,” he says.
More about the Acorn Awards can be found at www.thecaterer.com/articles/529462/acorn-award-2018-winners-revealed. To book a table to try James’ award-winning food, please go to
www.bearandraggedstaff.com or call 01865 862329.