Emily Watkins recalls her journey to success at the Kingham Plough

My journey as a chef started 15 years ago with a one-way ticket to Italy. I was so determined to make it as a chef that I felt that if I didn’t move away from distractions in the form of friends and family, I wouldn’t be able to throw myself into it (plus I love Italian food).

As it happens it was the best decision I could have made. With no knowledge of the Italian language I was able to keep my head down and work on through the plentiful tellings off that an inexperienced chef receives — as I didn’t understand a word my chef was shouting at me!

By the time I understood the language I had upped my game and was fairly competent in my work.

Having been working in London for four years after a stint at The Fat Duck in Bray, I moved to Oxfordshire in 2007 to open a pub in Kingham with a friend — The Kingham Plough.

We had been working on the project for quite some time, I had been cheffing for others for years and was keen to do my own thing, cooking from the heart in an informal, but beautiful place. Having been brought up in the West Country I was desperate to move out of the city and back to the countryside.

The Plough in Kingham came up and seemed like a dream. My sister had recently moved to the village and told us it was on the market. It is wonderful to be in the same village as her and be able to regularly see my nieces and nephews. Being a chef, unless you are close enough for a five-minute visit, you don’t get time to see anybody much.

The pub had changed hands a lot in the 10 years previously and it was showing. We had a huge project on our hands which grew bigger as we encountered more and more structural problems.

Eight months later and we opened as a dining pub. I was in the kitchen with just one commis chef cooking with beautiful ingredients. Luckily, people decided to come and try us out.

Kingham is the perfect village, aesthetically beautiful and big enough to host several pubs without being too big to lose its charm. Location wise, it is perfect, with a huge range of suppliers for vegetables, game and lamb — and since we have been here it has been amazing to see the growth in local, and excellent quality, cheeses as well as other artisan products.

We are very proud to have an entirely Cotswold cheese board as well as managing to source the bulk of our ingredients from within the county. We have a lovely local and loyal following who come regularly for both a quick snack from our bar menu as well as for more special occasions the à la carte menu.

Seven years since opening and I feel like I have been here forever, now firmly rooted in family as well as business life. I got married after our first year to my best friend since childhood and we decided to make it a family business by buying out my business partner.

Miles and I have had three children in the past five years, the eldest who has just started school and I am so happy that they are growing up in such a beautiful and natural surroundings.

The pub has also been a whirlwind and I am so thrilled that we have managed to keep up the hard work.

This year we were awarded the title of Oxfordshire Pub of the Year in The Good Pub Guide, as well as a few other accolades including the honour of cooking at the banquet dinner for D-Day veterans in St Paul’s after winning the fish course category in the BBC’s Great British Menu. We were also listed in the top 100 restaurants in the UK for the first time.

It is amazing that cooking from the heart (albeit with a big team now to keep it up and without whom we wouldn’t be where we are) has been so rewarding and that our loyal customers from the area enjoy our food.

It doesn’t come easily, especially when you are pregnant! But we are so proud to be part of the community.