Meet the self-taught head chef creating delicious dishes using local produce in a Shropshire gastro pub
When Brent Ellis and Mark Baggett found themselves a chef short of a kitchen at their gastro pub, The Navigation Arms, near Oswestry in north Shropshire, Brent (pictured) decided to roll his sleeves up and have a go himself.
He’d had no training and virtually no experience of working in a professional kitchen, yet found he took to it like a duck to water. He soon realised he had a knack, not just for cooking, but for creating new dishes and menus. And before long, he’d gone from a newbie holding the fort, to head chef.
“It’s a steep learning curve, which I’m still on,” says Brent, “but the reviews we get are extremely good, which is a real confidence booster.”
Having run the pub with Mark since 2004, Brent had picked up the odd tip from previous chefs about the likes of cooking to tight schedules, meal planning and presentation. These stood him in good stead and he was determined to continue working to the same ethos as before. “When we came here 14 years ago, we set out to make high-quality, ethical homemade food. We only use free-range chicken, eggs, pork, and we always use British beef.
“That’s what I’ve continued to do in the kitchen. All of our food is homemade, fresh and cooked to order. That’s what we’ve been about for as long as we’ve been here.”
Since becoming head chef, Brent has grown in confidence, developing the menu to suit the needs of his clientele.
“I’ve created a lot more vegetarian options,” he explains. “We have a section of the menu called ‘To V or not to V’ – these dishes are either vegetarian with the choice to add meat or fish, or a vegetarian option of a popular non-vegetarian dish. For example, we have sausages and mash, but we can do Glamorgan sausage instead, which is a seasoned potato sausage. I’ve worked on that part of the menu and I need to work on it further to develop more vegan options.”
Brent is keen to maintain a wide choice for the customers, whether they’re looking for a fi ne-dining experience or good hearty pub grub.
“My favourite dish at the moment is pan-fried duck breast with a crispy skin, served with crushed potatoes, a passionfruit, maple and whisky sauce and crispy kale. But if people would prefer a nice homemade pie, burger, or fi sh and chips, we have that, too.”
The fact that Brent has taken so well to his new role shouldn’t be a surprise considering the range of jobs he’s excelled in over the years, including working in IT, the theatre, marketing and as a customer loyalty consultant. But it was always his and Mark’s dream to run a pub, and when they saw The Navigation Inn on the banks of the Montgomery Canal, they couldn’t resist. “I love the building, the setting, the countryside – being on the canal is really special. The building has real character and a great feeling about it.”
And though he never planned to work from within the kitchen itself, he’s mightily glad he did. “I’ve done a lot of fascinating things in my life, but this is special. Ironically, if I’d known I can cook as well as I now believe I can, I would have got into the kitchen many years ago.”
• The Navigation Inn, Maesbury Marsh, Oswestry SY10 8JB. Tel: 01691 672958.
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