The superb quality and rich variety of Devon produce has given Darron Bunn a new lease of life as a chef, he says. Bunn - known to his peers as Bunny - moved to Orestone Manor, near Torquay, in April 2005, having previously worked at the Greyhound in Stockbridge, Hampshire, and before that under Marco Pierre White in London for many years.
As head chef of Orestone, a 12-bedroom country house hotel with a 40-seat restaurant, Bunn has already managed to earn a Michelin star. This was awarded in January after Bunn had been in the job for only nine months. But this is not something he was aiming for, he says. Rather, it has come about naturally because of his harnessing of the terrific local ingredients.
"We're a country house hotel, so my ethos for the food here is simply to serve good classic country house cooking based on top ingredients," says Bunn. "And we are so lucky in Devon with what's on our doorstep. One of the first things I did when I got here was to do tastings with local suppliers, and I was blown away by the fantastic quality of the produce. It's amazing."
Sea bass and turbot, for instance, he buys from Channel Fish in nearby Brixham - getting it on the same day that it's landed by the fishing boats. Meat, meanwhile, comes from Newton Abbot supplier Steve Turton, including the south Devon beef used in Bunn's best-selling main course, fillet of aged prime beef with braised celeriac, pan-fried foie gras and port jus (£24.50).
"The beef is incredible, because the cattle in Devon are able to graze outside virtually all year round on fresh pasture. You can really taste that freshness in the meat," Bunn enthuses.
Added to this, he explains, one of the key clinchers for him taking the job was the fact that Orestone has its own kitchen garden, and he's working with a full-time gardener to develop this. "I tell the gardener what I want and he plants it. It's so exciting as a chef that during the year you can tweak your menus according to what you've got in the garden. We're growing broad beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, broccoli, tomatoes, courgettes, rhubarb, gooseberries, blackcurrants and lots more besides."
At lunch, when most of Bunn's 20 or so diners tend to be mature locals, he offers them a menu of relatively light dishes, such as fishcake with a poached free-range egg and chive beurre blanc; broccoli risotto with Dartmouth oak-smoked salmon; wing of skate with sautéd chorizo, haricot blanc and black olives; and vanilla panna cotta with mini ginger doughnuts. This is priced at £10.25 for one course, £14.75 for two and £17.95 for three.
Meanwhile, at dinner - when the varying number of diners (anything from 10 to 50, depending on the season and day of the week) tends to be a 50:50 split of hotel residents, largely visiting from London and the South-east, and local non-residents - a menu touting six options at each course is offered.
While the beef dish is the clear favourite at main, the best-selling starter at dinner is tian of Dartmouth crab and avocado with a tomato vinaigrette (£9.95), while prune and Armagnac soufflé (£7.50) wins hands-down at dessert. "People like the theatre of that dish, as it looks spectacular," says Bunn. "As soon as we've sent one out to the dining room, everyone else orders it too."