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Food & Drink
A star in the making
Earlier this year the Pea Porridge restaurant in Bury St Edmunds won a much coveted Michelin star - the first in Suffolk. Richard Bryson hears how this this culinary world ‘Oscar’ has surprised and delighted owner and chef Justin Sharp
It seems no-one - outside of a little close-knit circle of reviewers and judges - knows how the Michelin stars system works. Certainly chef Justin Sharp is bemused by it, but also thrillled, as he and his Bury St Edmunds restaurant Pea
Porridge have been awarded a much sought after star - the only one in Suffolk.
“You never know who is judging you. Sometimes a single diner comes in and you think ‘ah, he or she was taking notes and asking about the menu, so they must be doing a review,’ but the person could be part of a group, or just a passer-by wanting to have a quick look at the restaurant and what we do, “
says Justin. “But the common denominator is they all pay and don’t draw attention to themselves.”
That the awards criteria and
rankings are shrouded in a little
mystery rather appeals to Justin who
says he had no idea one was coming
his way. “I didn’t think our
restaurant, and our food, fitted the
remit, I wouldn’t know how to go about trying to earn one.”
Wasn’t he a little suspicious when a call came in from Michelin’s French headquarters asking if he could appear in an awards ceremony?
“Not really. It had been a decade to the week that we won the coveted Bib Gourmand award and I thought they wanted to talk to me about that. Also the caller had a strong French accent so the conversation was polite but fairly short...I didn’t ask too many questions.”
Maybe when the organisers began making sure the Zoom connections were up to par, and instructed Justin what to wear, the penny may have dropped. But no, he did as he was asked and was absolutely stunned to be told he was a winner.
“We cook from the heart, with simplicity, championing flavours and working with the best suppliers - perhaps whoever has been judging saw that,” says Justin who is quick to include the success with his colleagues, front-of-house wife Jurga, and fellow chef, James Carn, who has been helping him in the kitchen.
He sees gaining a Michelin star (it’s like winning an Oscar in the culinary world) as a collective triumph for
Suffolk, and especially for Bury St Edmunds.
“Of course, we are delighted but I also see it as a
much needed boost for the county and I hope it will help local tourism too.”
Messages of congratulations have been flooding in and there are times this hard working chef, orginally from Speyside but one who has gained valuable culinary experiences in Wales, London and Hertfordshire, can’t take it all in. That said, it won’t change the basic philosophy behind Pea Porridge.
“We’ve been able to grow our business organically, saving up money along the way so we can own the
freehold of our property and run it the way we want to run it. The award may draw in people from further afield but we still want to welcome and look after our loyal local customers.”
What new and old customers will find when the Cannon Street restaurant re-opens is a refreshed menu. Several of the more popular
dishes remain but in addition there will be some with a Moorish influence.
Says Justin: “We’ve been in Bury for ten years and maybe needed a bit of a change of direction from sweetbreads and certain types of meats. Jurga was behind it and I bought into it, so now there is a North African and Mediterranean flavour to our menu. I’m excited about it - the first lockdown gave us the chance to learn and try out new ingredients and dishes.”
Goat meat, which is said to have superior nutritional values to beef and chicken, is among the tasty new offerings and Justin likes the connection with his supplier, a fellow artisan. “Our goats come from an ex-London chef who has set up a business called Cabrito in Devon. He has delivered here in person, once it was early evening and he was going to take in drops across England before getting home at around 4am in the morning. That’s dedication - he wanted me to know him, and build up a relationship that way, rather than through a third party.
“Like us he has a small, niche business and is passionate about what he does.”
Clearly those qualities shine through at Pea Porridge as those Michelin inspectors have discovered.
n Get My Goateating out review, page 45.
Inside the Pea Porridge restaurant

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