Why You Need to Visit Masham's Michelin Guide-Recommended Restaurant Where There's Smoke
Food cooked over coals and served on home-thrown pottery is what you'll find at Masham's Michelin Guide recommended Where There's Smoke restaurant
Jon’s passion for cooking began at university, where he studied economics. ‘I was enjoying cooking for myself and ended up doing some evening classes at a local college. One day all my friends went to the pub but I stayed at home to build a proving box around the radiator so I could prove bread. When they all came home drunk we sat in the corridor eating fresh bread and butter and I thought “I quite like doing this”,’ Jon recalls.
The idea of becoming a chef stuck in his mind and with some help from his uncle, Jon landed a placement at Chelsea’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Aubergine. ‘My uncle knew the head chef and I was sent in for a chat. What I later found out was that I was sent with the intention of realising [cheffing] is hard work in the hope that I would stick in my lane and become an accountant,’ Jon says. Instead of spending a week there, Jon worked for free for two months over the summer between his second and third year of university. ‘I spoke to the chef when I had to go back to uni and asked if I needed to go to catering collage. He said don’t worry about any of that, just come and see me when you’ve finished your degree. If you’re stupid enough to want to do this for a career, I’ll give you a job – and that’s what happened.’
Following two years at Aubergine, Jon went on to work at further Michelin-starred restaurants including Hibiscus, La Trompette and Arbutus, later discovering the simple joy of cooking over burning wood at Elliot’s in London. After gaining a Michelin Guide listing as head chef at the Tate Modern’s fine-dining restaurant, Jon decided to look at opening his own restaurant. ‘We’d been looking to do it for a couple of years and opportunities like this one don’t come up very often. We had to find something that we could afford, something ideally where we could live as well; it needed to be in a nice town, have good schools nearby as we have kids and when you start ticking off all the boxes, actually, the list of places which become available are slim,’ Jon explains. But when the space in Masham came up (previously Vennell’s restaurant) everything lined up.
Now heading into their second year, Where There’s Smoke gives diners a taste of the surrounding area’s best seasonal produce and Jon sources ingredients from a network of local suppliers, growers and farmers, bringing the best of Yorkshire to each plate. Expertly cooked over coals and embers, the tasting menu changes regularly. ‘We change one to two dishes every week so that by the time you get to the end of the month everything has rolled around. A lot of it recently has been from my grower [Rocket and Russet]. We have a chap over in York who grows fruit and veg so the months of the year he’s producing I try and look at what he’s got and write everything around that. Although meat and fish are seasonal, it’s not a massive leap to swap one white fish for another white fish, you might tweak the dish slightly or change the sauce,’ Jon says. But when certain ingredients such as Jerusalem artichokes become available, he uses his creativity to get the most out of them. ‘When they’re available, a dish could include purée of Jerusalem artichokes cooked in brown butter, some Jerusalem artichoke crisps or triple-cooked Jerusalem artichoke with a 45-day dried aged piece of beef,’ he says.
‘We change one to two dishes every week so that by the time you get to the end of the month everything has rolled around’
Despite the rise of cooking over fire within the restaurant industry, Jon says he does things differently. ‘Everyone has these Konro grills which are just little boxes where you put coals in and a drying rack on top that you cook over, but I find it quite funny because most places that do work like that, cook everything sous vide in a bag in a water bath [then finish it off over the grill]. I don’t cook pieces of meat or fish per person, I will cook a piece of meat for a table of four and that way it has time over the coals so the outside can really absorb the flavour, whereas a small piece of meat would cook so quickly that it doesn’t impart that much flavour. A larger piece of meat has got a good 15–20 minutes of firstly getting roasted directly over the coals, then moving back a bit where it can cook more slowly, then it will sit in a little bit of smoke to finish, all ensuring so much more flavour and texture than cooking in a bag,’ Jon explains.
The fire in the kitchen is not the only flame Jon likes to get behind, he’s also a keen ceramist with a goal of serving his dishes on 100 percent home-produced pottery. ‘We’re probably at about 50 percent at the moment and I made as much as I could before we left Essex. I’m currently in the process of converting the garage so I can start producing more again – it’s just taking time because I had other projects, like deciding it was a good idea to make my own tables for the restaurant too, so that has been delaying me a little bit,’ he laughs.
Jon has been interested in pottery from a young age, recalling that it was the first club he joined at school. ‘I did it through GCSE and A Level, then I forgot about it for years. When we lived in a flat in Camden there was a pottery class across the road and my wife wanted to start doing pottery, so I said I would give it a go. I hadn’t told her I’d done it before so she got annoyed when I was really good at it,’ he jokes. ‘When we moved I said I wanted a garage so I could start potting again.’
Where There’s Smoke has already been really well received. ‘We’re generally booked up a few weeks in advance and everyone seems very happy,’ says Jon. ‘It’s tricky to find that balance of value for money – that’s my big thing. I’ve eaten in two Michelin-star restaurants where I’ve spent a lot of money and although the food was nice, I’ve come out hungry, but you can also spend £50 in the pub for a meal for two and feel it’s been a waste. So value for money is not so much about how much it is, but rather what you get for that.’
Having spent time refining his dishes Jon wants to continue to grow the business and in the future suggests there will be another project on the horizon. However, for now, the focus remains on the food and its quality. ‘I think we do a really good offer of quality food at a very sensible price and everything is done by me. How many restaurants do you go to where the head chef will prepare every plate of food?’