Mark Dodson

Mark Dodson

Mark Dodson’s food at The Mason’s Arms is complex, precise and highly assured – as would be expected from his twelve years working as head chef of Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray, where he secured their third Michelin star. With elegant, but unfussy, menus that follow the rhythm of the Devon seasons, the country pub he runs with his wife Sarah was awarded a Michelin star in 2006 – within six months of opening – and has held it ever since.

Some of Mark Dodson’s strongest childhood memories revolve around good, home-cooked food: 'My mum’s parents had been through World War II, so had a ‘don’t waste’ mentality which really rubbed off onto her and the food that she cooked. She’s a big fan of offal and I remember tucking into braised heart on Saturday lunchtimes.' Another of her well-loved dishes has also stayed with him: 'The lamb neck suet pudding that is popular in our restaurant is based on the steak and kidney suet pudding my mum made,' he says. This experience taught him to make the most of ingredients. 'My grandfather made amazing chutneys and pickled onions and this has spilled over into some of my cookery today. We serve a rhubarb chutney in the pub, which is influenced by my grandfather.'

Mark's first taste of the hospitality industry was working at sea. Following a brother who was in the merchant navy, he worked on a North Sea ferry, in the galley – a challenging experience, which provided eye-opening insight into the realities of the industry. After graduating from Colchester Catering College, he started work at the InterContinental (now Radisson) on Portman Square, London, where he worked for a year before moving to Jersey to work at the Old Court House hotel. His next job was at the Michelin-starred Le Talbooth restaurant in Dedham. He tells The Caterer: 'During the next two years, I progressed from chef de partie to sous chef and started to realise that everything counts. The pieces of the jigsaw came together in my mind as I realised the importance of teamwork, staff and equipment.'

But it was at The Waterside Inn in Bray, under the tutelage of mentor Michel Roux, that Mark truly developed as a chef. 'I learnt everything about cooking food, seasonality, guest care, running a kitchen and running a business.' Working for Michel Roux for eighteen years – twelve years as his head chef – Mark was in place when The Waterside Inn was awarded the maximum three Michelin stars, an accolade it still retains today. During his lengthy time working at the highest of culinary levels, he learnt that consistency and continual improvement were the keys to success.

After leaving Bray, Mark spent three years working as executive chef at Cliveden House in Berkshire, before moving to Devon with his wife Sarah to open their own place, The Mason’s Arms – a village pub with a fine dining restaurant attached. With his wife Sarah running front of house and Mark in the kitchen, the couple won a Michelin star only six months after opening, an award which has been held ever since.

Mark serves British and French classics with a modern take, describing his food in understated fashion as 'good food that is unfussy'. A master of classical French cuisine, his food is precise, mature and highly assured, with plates that display thoughtful complexity and effortless flair. The Roulade of pork belly with braised red cabbage and apple compôte is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, with locals insisting that it remains available in perpetuity.

With a down-to-earth edge that you would expect from a country pub which caters for locals as well as destination diners, the menu is inclusive and spans from the sophisticated to the rustic. Highlights include the elegant starter of Scallops wrapped in prosciutto ham with butternut squash and watercress purée, followed by Wood pigeon with blueberry jus, beetroot purée and potato crisps and for afters, a comforting Chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

The food at The Mason’s Arms follows the annual rhythms of rural Britain, with a separate game menu available when in season. The emphasis is on the very finest ingredients, with local Devon producers and farmers providing much of the restaurant’s supply. A champion of the South West’s remarkable bounty, Mark worked with Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines (when he was still cooking at Gidleigh Park) to launch the Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink in 2014.

Mark also runs a consultancy business, focused on transmitting the knowledge he has gained over his many years at the top of his game. Drawing on his thirty-five years (and counting) of experience, he guides clients through the process of starting a new business, with advice ranging from management to marketing to menu design. His impressive impact on the UK's fine dining scene is long set to continue.