Ben Bullen thought long and hard when asked to head up the kitchen at The White House in Bladon. “It had to be for the right reasons,” he tells me, “I love it there, but I had to weigh it all up, and the positives just slipped into place.”
After all, Ben already had a great job as head chef at The Feathers in Woodstock where he’s been for nearly three years.
“I really want to get my teeth stuck in and make The White House a destination pub”
Before that he was working at Sudbury House in Faringdon (two rosettes) where he appeared on Masterchef The Professionals, reaching the quarter finals. In short, Ben Bullen is in demand, especially with the current chef shortage raging.
So why rock the boat? “I was ready for a change. I live in Bladon, I wanted a better work/life balance and I get on really well with the landlord Johnny Roberts.
“But more than that I really want to get my teeth stuck in and make The White House a destination pub. Johnny and I have the same vision and passion, so it’s a really exciting prospect. Plus I get to walk to work, which is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Ben, 37, says.
“I loved The Feathers but I won’t mind if I don’t see another tea or breakfast again,” he laughs.
Ben starts at The White House on September 10, after current head chef David Fowler handed in his notice before undergoing a major operation.
“Bladon is an amazing village and The White House is an amazing pub so we want the food to reflect that. It’s a massive project but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and although there is a lot of competition around here, with Ben on board we can really run with that,” Johnny explains.
“I get to walk to work, which is something I’ve always wanted to do”
“Plus, I love Ben’s food, he has a great reputation in the industry and we get on really well which is really important. The White House has so much potential and we want to provide the food people expect when they come here.”
So what did they serve before? “We asked everyone what they wanted before they opened and they said cheap classic pub food. But actually they expect more than that, something more classy, and that’s where Ben comes in, so it’s time to go in a different direction.
“We want people to come here and have a good time in a relaxed community setting, but also to have a great meal. It’s all positive.”
“I think about the menu constantly. It’s going to be all about the right flavour combinations – my style, my interpretation”
Not that Ben will have an easy ride at The White House, because if both the garden and inside tables are full he needs to cater for 100-130 people at a time.
“It is a bit intimidating, but we will just see how it goes and adapt naturally. We will have three in the kitchen but that might need to change,” Ben concedes.
With the first few weekends in September already fully booked, what can we expect? “Food doesn’t need to be poncey it just needs to taste good, so we will do the classic staples and then use local suppliers, growers and ingredients for the rest of the menu. I am thinking about it constantly. It’s going to be all about the right flavour combinations,” Ben says. “So it will be my style, my interpretation.”
“Having a third child certainly puts things into perspective. I would be nothing without them”
“I’m not talking about dumbing things down but about being clever with what you cook.”
His new work/life balance is equally important especially as Ben’s wife Genevieve has just had another baby: “I couldn’t do it without them. My wife is at home holding the fort, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to be out here doing my thing. Having a third child certainly puts things into perspective. I would be nothing without them. And I love this industry. It’s all I know.”
As for The White House which opened as a community pub in October 2020, (READ ABOUT THE CROWD FUNDING FOR THE COMMUNITY PUB HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/locals-celebrate-successful-bid-to-buy-the-white-horse-in-bladon-the-pub-where-churchill-learnt-to-drink-after-global-fund-raising-success/) it hasn’t been an easy ride, being more closed than open so far thanks to Covid, although the pub did provide 300 community meals to those in need during the pandemic, funded by the local population.
“We are really excited. We work well together and want to get it right from the start”
But with Ben on board the future looks bright. We are really excited,” the pair said. “We work well together and want to get it right from the start. And as a freehold community pub you know your clientele and have more freedom to take it in the direction you want. We just want to get started.”
For more information or to book a table go to: https://www.bladonwhitehouse.co.uk