PUBLISHED: 09:00 06 December 2014
Devon Life’s Chef of the Year admits he ‘cried like a baby’ when he learned he’d earned his first Michelin star for his cooking at The Treby Arms. SUSAN CLARK went for lunch at the modest village pub that is serving great food
The smiles are wider, the greetings possibly chirpier and the steps just that bit springier amongst both the diners and the staff at The Treby Arms now that the Sparkwell pub has taken its place among the nation’s prestigious Michelin-starred eateries.
The Treby (as the locals call it) is only the fourth place in Devon to be awarded a star and everyone can’t stop smiling which is no surprise because you can’t buy, bribe or influence your way to a prestigious Michelin star for your food – you can only cook and serve your way there.
And there were plenty of dissenters who told chef patron Anton Piotrowksi it couldn’t be done: not in that pub, not in that village and not without becoming a snooty restaurant instead of a well-loved village pub.
Anton, who is still only 32 and so the youngest of Devon’s Michelin-starred chefs was having none of it and neither, I suspect, was wife, Clare, who is clearly Chief-of-Staff on the Treby team.
The couple first met at school, became childhood sweethearts and then married in the middle of the maelstrom that was Anton’s filming for the BBC’s Masterchef Pro series in 2012. They had no idea he would go on to become the joint winner and so planned a wedding and a three-week honeymoon, the latter having to be cut short so Anton could get back to the UK to film (and win) the finals.
That show and that triumph may have put him on the national foodie/chef radar but Anton and Clare had already sunk their hearts, their souls and all their cash into the Treby which they had opened the previous year in May 2011.
“We’d spent everything we had gutting and refitting the pub and only had about £400 left for the kitchen so we opened with a £50 second-hand domestic oven and a £50 second-hand dishwasher which blew up that first night,” says Anton.
Voted the Devon Life chef of the year for 2014, Anton admits winning the Masterchef competition didn’t do him any harm but says he really only entered because chef/presenter, Michel Roux Junior is one of his heroes and he wanted to learn from him. And when Anton won his Michelin star, Michel (and co-presenter, Monica Galetti) were among the first to congratulate him and Clare and the team.
It may sound all very glamorous now but when the list of new star holders was published at the end of September, Anton was in Germany cooking for the returning troops. Training details meant he had either a sketchy or no mobile phone signal the entire morning and so the first he knew of getting a star was a half tweet from @Masterchef that said “From Masterchef to Michelin…” and then tailed away leaving him none the wiser.
“I was running around that camp holding my phone up to the ceiling and the tops of windows desperate for a signal,” he says. “And when we finally worked out that we had been given a star, instead of being all cool and composed, I cried like a baby!”
If you’ve had a meal at The Treby Arms you will be in the queue to cock a snoot at those early dissenters because to be honest, Anton could cook on your Granny’s old frying pan and you’d still be raving about the meal halfway into next year.
Although a Michelin star is a fantastic boost for a business – Anton predicts an uplift of around 20 per cent – he says it’s not an excuse to put up the prices and so the great news is you can still sample a two course lunch for around £20 a head.
Earlier this year, Anton and Clare acquired The Springer Spaniel pub at Treburley, just outside Launceston so this is clearly not a chef who is resting on his laurels or his awards. He thrives on a new challenge and variety, is adamant that his success is all down to the team he has working with him and modestly tells me both pubs are just that, pubs (not restaurants).
“They’re good pubs serving good food,” he says.
He’s wrong, of course.
They’re good pubs serving GREAT food.