Neil Cooper – The Foxham Inn


Neil Cooper square

I would consider that I had a very lucky upbringing, as both my Parents love food and wine!  My family loved to go out to eat and we would visit restaurants  at least once a month, which was quite rare 30 years ago.

When I was a child we would spend Summers either at Lyme Regis or in the Quantocks.   At Lyme we had a little fishing boat and would catch mackerel, prawns, pollock etc to eat and would even smoke our own mackerel at times.  In the Quantocks we would stay at a farm where we would help with the farm chores including milking the cows.  Ahh, the pleasure of fresh unpasterized milk!

I have never wanted to be anything but a Chef.  At home I would often be found cooking the family  dinner or cooking for dinner parties for Mum and Dad (even if I did think in a coq-au-vin recipe that a clove of garlic was the whole head of garlic!).

My first job in the Catering Trade (apart from helping friends out at the Bristol annual Wine Fair) was at The Red Lion Hotel in Lyme Regis.  The food wasn’t the best, but at 16 it was great summer of fun!  I then returned home to attend Bath College for two years to do my City and Guilds 706/1 and 2.

After leaving college in 1987 I was very lucky to be offered a Commis Chef’s job at Ston Easton Park.  I spent three years at Ston Easton and learnt a lot.  From Ston Easton I  moved to The Tytherleigh Cot Hotel in Chardstock (on the Devon, Somerset and Dorset border) to further my career.  To further progress my career I then moved on to Chelwood House Hotel  and  Bibury Court Hotel before taking a  Sous Chef’s position at Hinton Grange Hotel .  I spent four happy years at Hinton Grange and whilst there I was promoted to Head Chef and I met and married my wife, Sarah.

After leaving Hinton Grange I then spent a little time as a Buyer  for a Fine Food business.  I would travel up to London and visit Covent Garden Market,  Smithfield, Leathams Larder and occasionally the Flower market.

During this period  Sarah and I moved to The South Hams in Devon as Sarah was offered a very good job there.   I carried on going to London twice a week  until I was offered a job in our local pub.  I was cooking basic food there, but it did give me a good insight into what to do and what not to do when running a pub!

Our baby, George, arrived in the Spring of 2001 and, because of my work being split shifts, I was very lucky to spend a lot of time looking after George when Sarah went to back to work four months later.  George and I had so much fun going to the beach or up to Dartmoor with our dogs over the next four years.   I also ran a small pheasant shoot whilst we lived in Devon and this is where my love for Game cookery has came from.

George started school  in 2005 and,  having lost my play mate, I needed a new project!  We started looking for a pub of our own to run.  Originally we wanted to stay in Devon but our search soon widened and we ended up falling in love with and buying The Foxham Inn near Chippenham in July 2006.  Sarah gave up her career and took on the role of Front of House and I run the Kitchen.  We have had a very good local following and have slowly adapted and moved the food forward over the last seven years.  In 2011 we extended the Restaurant and grasped the opportunity to have an open kitchen which has proved a great success.  We also undertook a loft conversion above the Bar and we now have two en-suite letting rooms which are going great guns.

We try and have something special going on every month and these events have proved to be very popular with our customers.  Whilst we started off slowly with our seven course Vegetarian Taster Menu, we now have a very good attendance and it is a pleasure to see so many people who are not vegetarian enjoying meat free meals.  We also have Gourmet Evenings which consist of five courses and a wine to compliment each course.  In November we always have a Game and Wild Food Gourmet Dinner and in the Spring/Summer we always hold a Seafood Gourmet Dinner.  Both of these nights are very popular with our customers.   We also have cheese and wine nights, butchery and fishmongery nights and we are considering having a customer “take over the kitchen” night sometime this Autumn/Winter.