Behind The Apron: Culinary Conversations – Connor Wilson, Head Chef at The Kirkstyle Inn & Sportsman’ Rest Slaggyford


Connor Wilson, Head Chef at The Kirkstyle Inn and Sportsman’ Rest


Can you tell us about your Background?


Hi, my name is Connor Wilson, and I am Head Chef at the Kirkstyle Inn.  I started my career in a local pub as a kitchen porter.  I fell in love with the energy in the kitchen and that’s how my career began. From there I went on to work in various places around the north of England, eventually ending up at The Kirkstyle! During my career I have become increasingly interested in sustainability, and today it’s the backbone of everything I like to cook. My passion for sustainability is what led me to work with game. I have learnt a lot about the conservation of our moorlands through working closely with the gamekeepers.  Discovering how the game birds are beautifully cared for, and that the huge amount of plant and wildlife that thrive on the moorlands is because of the incredible work the gamekeepers do!


Can you remember the first game dish?

It was a long time ago… but I think it was a very simple Pheasant dish with red cabbage and Fondant potato.

Biggest challenge

I think the biggest challenge when cooking game, for a home cook, would be sourcing the products to begin with, but the good news is Eat Wild is there to help! I don’t think cooking game is harder than cooking any other meat, and I really recommend giving it a go. In the restaurant the biggest challenge is (like any meat) getting the timings accurate to make sure it’s cooked and rested properly, and still warm when it’s time to serve.


Favourite Game Bird

My Favourite game bird to cook has to be Grouse.  I like to start by brining it in a 10% Brine, then roasting it on the crown, with lots of hard herbs and some butter.  We tend to use the legs for things like a faggot to serve alongside, and the livers you can use to give a luxurious texture to your sauce

Worst Game Bird

I love all the game birds, but my least favourite to cook is Pheasant, which takes quite a bit longer to cook on the crown than other game birds so can be a real challenge to manage in the restaurant (because I’m stubborn and insist on cooking them on the crown). However, if we are making a terrine or something, pheasant is my favourite, it has a great flavour that does well served cold.


Chefs that inspire me


The three chefs that inspire me are:


Clare Smyth : Her attention to details, accuracy in cooking and ability to lead a world class restaurant is second to none


Simon Rogan : His farm to fork, homegrown and hyper sustainable ethos is really something to look up to


Brett Graham : I think his food is just amazing, flavour driven, and he farms his own venison!


Top 3 Tips


The most important things about cooking game, for me, are:


Be careful not to overcook it

People are scared to cook game because of this, and I totally get it, you always hear how it is dry when it’s overcooked, which is true, but it is actually not hard to cook it properly.  You can either use a temperature probe, your looking for 55c core temperature on red game meats (grouse, venison), 63 on white (like pheasant or partridge), or cook it until it is soft to touch, but springs back when released. It does take practice, but if you are under, just put it back in the pan, if you’re over, a bit of extra sauce will sort you out! Don’t forget the core temperature will increase a bit as it rests, as the outside is hotter than the 55 your looking for.


Use plenty of fat

I know it’s cliché, but lots of butter in the pan while your cooking will help keep the meat moist, by controlling the temperature of the fat (the liquid in the butter stops it getting as hot as oil) and also coats what is actually a very lean meat in the fat, which is what gives flavour and moisture.  It is also a good idea to add some hard herbs like thyme or rosemary, maybe some garlic cloves, which will add to the finished product.


Rest for as long as you cook it

Resting is so important, not just with game but with all meat and fish cookery. A good rule of thumb is if it needs 10 minutes cooking, it needs ten resting! Resting will allow the fibres in the muscle to relax, creating a more tender and juicy mouth feel. Don’t worry about it getting cold, you can always give it a minute or two in the oven before you serve it if you think it’s not warm enough!


Encourage people to eat game

We use a lot of game here, so to be honest it’s hard not to eat it if you dine here, but we also offer free game based bar snacks during the season, to encourage people to have a go, more often than not they find they like it! 


Surprising ingredients

To be honest I’m not really a surprising ingredients kind of chef, I would say I am more about classic flavours, often done in modern ways. For me red game meats go beautifully with sweet root vegetables and red-fleshed fruits, such as blackberries or bilberries, and white game meats with leafy brassicas and white-fleshed fruits, like pears and apples.

Favourite tipple

This one is hard, because I actually don’t drink.  That said nor do an increasing amount of people these days.  At the Kirkstyle we are developing our non-alcholic list.  Recently I had a good non-alcoholic pairing based on beetroot juice, which was great.  However, I can’t tell you how it was made and what ingredients were used.  

Advice for young chefs

Find a great restaurant, with a passionate chef, listen, watch, work hard and you will succeed. Sustainability is hugely important, and it isn’t going anywhere.  So, look for chefs who are committed to sustainability, protecting the planet, recycling, biodiversity and reducing their carbon footprint.


From Left to Right General Manager: Nick Parkinson: Sous Chef, Sohail Lebaschi, and Head Chef, Connor Wilson