Game cookery expert Ralph Skripek on his passion for wild food and the countryside
PUBLISHED: 15:12 03 February 2015 | UPDATED: 15:12 03 February 2015
Ashbourne-born chef Ralph Skripek's culinary adventures include lecturing, writing his own cookery book, TV appearances, demonstrations at county shows and running his own catering business. He takes time out to talk to Derbyshire Life and share two recipes...
What inspired you to be a chef and how did you develop your passion for game cookery?
I have been inspired by the countryside from around the age of eight, messing about with friends and fishing in brooks etc. Looking back to my childhood days, the individual seasons of the year remain very vivid in my mind. My passion for cooking has always been there, and this developed during my chef training at Buxton College. I knew at a very early age that I would work in a creative environment and my love of game cooking then just fell into place. It was a natural progression.
What are the most important skills for cooking game properly?
Cooking is a creative art so approach it with an open mind and learn the basics before moving on – this applies to all cooking.
Game cooking, however, requires an understanding right from field to fork and means getting out into the habitat and using your eyes as an artist would.
If you’ve never cooked or eaten game before, what is a good way to start? What game do you recommend for this season?
There are many game and country fairs throughout the year at which I demonstrate game cooking. Watching and tasting the game being cooked is a good starting point. A good local butcher, one who specialises in game, can also give invaluable advice. Buying from local butchers also supports local businesses and estates. From September, duck and partridge is readily available, and in October pheasant and venison. Many dishes can be created from game, depending upon individual taste. For me, saddle of venison or goose breast beats turkey hands down on Christmas Day! Both are succulent, rich in flavour and healthy. We can surely thank our ancestors who laid the path for us to enjoy the wild game we have in our countryside. My self-published game recipe book Wild Chef contains 21 easy-to-follow seasonal game recipes to try at home (available through www.butlerspantryderby.co.uk).
Do you enjoy any aspect of your job more than the others, and do you see your career developing in any particular direction?
It sounds a cliché, but I enjoy every aspect of cooking. I thrive on the challenges that give you a purpose in every working day. Meeting like-minded country loving people has always been an interest of mine, sharing memories and stories of the great outdoors. I never sit still and will never become complacent. You have to keep focused and diversify where necessary. It’s always a great laugh filming with my good friend, The Cornish Countryman from West Country Films, our last expedition saw us cooking on an estuary in -10 winds! As for future direction, I would love my own game cookery series on TV, who knows!
Have you any disasters or triumphs that you can tell us about?
I have been fortunate in my career to experience lots of personal triumphs, and very few disasters! There are two particular triumphs that I cherish, both of which occurred in the same year. I was chosen to cater for a wedding for a member of a Derbyshire Estate-owning family and the main course requested was saddle of venison to be cooked pink, but not too bloody, for 180 guests (right up my street, probably why I was selected!). The kitchen on the day worked like clockwork, a tray of venison saddle for every 20 guests into the oven for 12 minutes and ‘rest’ for 5 minutes, thereby carving and dressing 20 plates every 17 minutes – to be precise! The words ‘Succulent and cooked to perfection’ greeted me following the meal. It was a huge success for my kitchen team and I.
The second triumph, was to devise and deliver a game-inspired menu with a team of chefs in Cheshire (whom I had never met before). The guest of honour was my personal idol, the late Clarissa Dickson-Wright. Between each course, off came my chef’s whites, and on came my shooting gear as I spoke to 140 guests about the provenance of the menu, throwing in a few personal shooting stories. I was extremely lucky to have breakfast the following morning with Clarissa. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable two hours chatting with her over a cooked breakfast and she ended our rendezvous by saying, ‘You know Ralph, I’m not a chef, I’m just a fat cook!’ Classic, and unfortunately an occasion that can never be repeated.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
That’s a tricky one, as there are so many. When you hunt, cook and deliver a great dish, it’s memorable in itself. So I guess, it’s not always the actual dish that makes it memorable, but the scene around you and the company you are with – friends and family.
What draws you back to Derbyshire?
I have had the privilege of working at some of the most scenic places in Europe, around the German and Swiss Alps and from Scotland to the south shores of England, but cementing my roots in Derbyshire is the most satisfying. Born in Ashbourne, I had a great Derbyshire up-bringing, and now live in the county with my wife, two children, and my gun dog, Tom. With plenty of Derbyshire game on my doorstep, fishing in reservoirs and rivers in my spare time, foraging, great local cheeses, ales, mushrooms and farmed meat, I wouldn’t wish to live anywhere else. The Peak District has an abundance of scenic beauty spots, perfect for relaxing and admiring the views. Discover Derbyshire, with wide open eyes, and own a great pair of walking boots! Game-on!