We first took over The Sportsman in November 1999 and in the space of a week a group of friends transformed the inside of the building. The pub had layer upon layer of tat which included two fish tanks set in to the bar, filthy net curtains and sheets of plywood over some windows to ensure no natural light would disturb the drinkers. We stripped the bar down to reveal an interesting almost colonial style room and then added oak, cherry and walnut tables made by John Ford from reclaimed timber. The money for the refit was provided by our brother Damian who had been successful with his Brighton based record company, Skint.

We opened for business on Tuesday November 8th and started serving a short menu of four starters, four main courses and two puddings. The food was a modern take on country cooking with dishes such as pot roast pork with sage roasting juices, watercress soup with oysters and roast rump of lamb. Potatoes were par-boiled in salted water and then roasted in goose fat and all the dishes were served with greens or cabbage from Mallardís Farm just up the road in Waterham. This seems quite common now but I had never had vegetables like this in a restaurant before. Back in 1999 most provincial restaurants would give you a side bowl of pre-blanched and then microwaved vegetables and certainly didnít worry about the ethics of serving fine beans from Kenya. So to drive round to a farm only a mile away, collect vegetables that had been picked that morning and serve them cooked to order, was unusual. It caused a lot of customers to ask what we were doing to the vegetables to make them taste so good. Being a self-taught chef, I think, caused me to question traditional approaches to cooking. It made me question why chefs boil, chill and reheat vegetables when it strips them of their vitamins and flavour. The answer is that some chefs donít care about these matters as long as the food looks good and is easy to cook during the heat of service. I should also point out that some customers hated what we did and vowed never to return. There seems to be a certain type of person who dislikes intensely what we are trying to do. They like cheap food, have a fixed idea of what a pub should serve and often seem to get the words servile and service mixed up. They also like very long menus, very hot food and are quite Stalinist about these matters. The idea of a pub serving food of the highest quality (by definition this is also means a higher price) in a simple, relaxed setting seems to annoy them. Luckily most people are bright enough to understand what we are trying to do and support our efforts.

Although we had some help in the kitchen it soon became apparent that we would need to employ another chef to help me. The first six months had been successful and we felt secure enough to employ Dan Flavell as a full time chef. This was really the turning point for the whole venture because Dan knew what we could achieve and was willing to work hard (and often push me to be radical when I may have otherwise played safe) to achieve it. In return for his hard work, I took Dan to all the top restaurants in London and showed him the standards I wanted in our kitchen. We saw no limit to what we could serve at The Sportsman and happily sent out food that matched for flavour what we had eaten in 2 and 3 Michelin starred restaurants.

As we continued to refine our food the pub was becoming very popular and so the press and guide books began to take notice. Our first press was a review in Sainsburyís magazine which was followed by Jay Raynerís review in The Observer. This opened the floodgates and along with a feature in The Gastropub cookbook by Diana Henry it meant that we never looked back. As for the guide books my rule is that I like those that give us a good mark and I hate those that donít understand what we trying to do. The most important thing is a fully booked restaurant.

Luckily, our business has thrived and we try not to stand still. In 2004 we opened another pub The Granville at Lower Hardes near Canterbury. Our sister runs the pub and the financing was again thanks to Damian. The head chef is Jim Shave who had worked at The Sportsman for 2 years and his ability to run a kitchen so well, allowed me and Dan to start concentrating on projects that had been on the backburner. This has resulted in launching a tasting menu which has caused quite a stir. We make our own sourdough breads, unpateurized butter, hams cured for 18 months and even salt from the seawater by the pub. This project has only just begun and will be refined in the years to come.

The original idea for The Sportman came at a meal I had at Chez Nico back in 1992. At the time Nico had 2 Michelin stars and the food was mind blowingly good. However, many people would never experience food that good because of the cost and intimidating atmosphere of that type of restaurant. I thought it would be fun to try and match that standard of food but serve it in a pub. I learnt how to cook by eating at Marco Pierre Whiteís, Gordon Ramseyís and all of the other top chefs places but removed the superfluous extras. Along with many people who had similar ideas - such as Andrew Pern, Steve Reynolds, Steven Doherty and Nigel Morris - I think we can say the idea has worked , especially as the chefs who unknowingly taught me to cook are now launching chains of "gastropubs".