Country life



Dean Bailey meets chef and (small) game hunter Craig Harvey – and his canine companions

Many chefs talk about knowing the provenance of their produce from field to fork, but few truly live by the mantra. Get within half a mile of Craig Harvey’s cottage at Great Whittington in Northumberland, and you’ll see he’s one who does.

The head chef at the Northumberland golf resort Close House, Craig moved into the picture-perfect gamekeeper’s cottage a year ago, and is enjoying his surroundings.

The son of a gamekeeper, he’s been shooting all his life. Indeed, it turns out he was out earlier this morning with a black lab called Hamish, now snoozing on the settee in the kitchen.

“Hamish retired last year,” Craig explains, leaning on the kitchen sink, slippers on his feet. “He’s just turned nine, but you wouldn’t have thought it this morning when I got the gun out – he still loves it.”

I’ve already met eight gundogs in the kennel outside. In addition to Hamish, there are five other black labs and three spaniel pups. Photos of the dogs cover the fridge and kitchen windowsill, which looks out over the paddock where the horse, Maggie, is having her breakfast.

Meanwhile, Craig is skinning and preparing a rabbit and a hare for the pot. The rabbits he shot this morning will be served up with tagliatelle, while pheasant, hare, pigeon and partridge will meet in a casserole topped with a herb dumpling. “Keep it simple,” he says. “My cooking at home is generally things like corned beef hash and casseroles, and a lot of Indian-inspired food. Including the dogs, there are 11 of us to cook for, so I’m in the kitchen a lot,” he says, adding that the dogs got an extra serving of flat-iron steak last night – leftovers from a barbecue at Close House.

There are spiced venison pasties (my lunch) on the counter, alongside Craig’s meticulously prepped ingredients. “I cook like I would at work,” he says. “The only thing I hate is not having someone to do the washing up.”

Not surprisingly, game will feature heavily in the autumn and Christmas menus at Close House. “We’re well into the grouse, partridge is starting now and we’ll get pheasant, venison and pigeon on the menus,” says Craig, who has worked without a break in the first three quarters of the year to give him time to enjoy the shooting season.

After shoots, you’ll often find him in the Black Bull at Matfen with Hamish, who likes half a Guinness and a packet of crisps in front of the fire. Angus, another lab, has a thing for whisky, meanwhile.

Craig learned to shoot with his father, a gamekeeper in Scotland, when he was seven, and grew up eating a lot of game at home.

He started his career in the local pub kitchen before training with Terry Laybourne at Newcastle’s Michelin-starred 21 Queen Street and then leaving for Paris. “That was a big learning curve; the thing I’ll always remember is the shock of seeing you can order a salad with a Big Mac.”

His career has also included a stint at Claridges under Gordon Ramsay, owning his own pub, roles with a number of big names in the North East, and a couple of years working as a gamekeeper in the Borders. He returned to the kitchen to join Close House in 2014 and set up home in this cottage.

“It’s really quiet up here, but there is a great community spirit. We’ll get lamb from the neighbour and I’ll give him a couple of pheasants. The Chinese restaurant in the village takes ducks when I have them.”

Of cooking game, Craig says: “There are big flavours there so compliment them with pastry, pasta or potatoes and let the meat be the star.

“Game is also very rich, so I often use fruit like redcurrant jelly or jam, and red wine. I’d also recommend a good butcher – Hall’s of Corbridge if you’re local – who’ll be happy to give you advice and will prepare the meat for you properly.”

Venison pasty in my hand, I say goodbye to Hamish, who’s got his eyes on what’s left of the casserole, and Craig, who’s heading off for a walk with the dogs again. This is truly a great country life.

Recipe: Spiced venison pasties
Recipe: Wild rabbit tagliatelle
Recipe: Game casserole and herb dumplings

Sign up to our news
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us.