Will Devlin

Will survived his first week and ended up staying for the next year. It was Pétrus that gave him a good grounding technically – he learnt to be fast and gained a foundation in classical cookery – but the biggest lesson of all was how attached he felt to his home county. ‘I missed Kent like hell,’ he says. ‘I’d get the train back on my days off, and I’d be nervous to go back. I felt sick. It was stressful. I started thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' It was pretty miserable.’

Will returned to Tunbridge Wells and took a job at Thackeray’s with chef Richard Phillips. Immediately, he felt the stress lift from his shoulders. ‘There was a lady that used to bring in fresh eggs every morning, because she had some chickens nearby,’ says Will. ‘It just felt real to me. This isn’t someone ordering all the specific things they need from all over the world, we were using the great produce that we had around us.’ In hindsight, that moment was the genesis of The Small Holding. Will spent the next seven years working with Richard, at Pearson’s Arms in Whitstable, Chapel Down Vineyard and then The Windmill in Hollingbourne, where he was head chef at just twenty-three years old. ‘I could pick what was on the menu, reach out to local farmers, go and forage for wild garlic and mushrooms and stuff,’ he explains. ‘It was a game changer for me.’

The next logical step was actually being able to grow it all himself. In the spring of 2018, Will discovered an old pub in nearby Kilndown that was on the market, with space for an allotment and a small restaurant. He invested everything he had in the quaint roadside pub and named it The Small Holding, in reference to the small plot of land opposite.

The plot quickly grew. Today, two polytunnels house myriad tomato varieties, as well as peppers, aubergines and a host of other vegetables, whilst courgettes, marrows, squashes and more grow outside. A small wildflower meadow fills the air with perfume, and provides ample nectar for Will’s two beehives. Pigs grunt cheerfully from the pig pen by the main entrance; next to them, ducks and chickens roam around in their own little enclosure. Two large plastic tubes stuffed with straw hang from the rafters of a nearby shed – synthetic tree logs brimming with oyster, shiitake and enoki mushrooms. And that's only a taste of all the things Will and his team grow and nurture themselves.

The effort that goes into the produce is matched by the industriousness and attention to detail of the kitchen, too. ‘It’s important that we pay as much attention to what we’re making in the kitchen as we do on the farm,’ Will explains. ‘I don’t want to be riding on the back of the fact that we grew it. That’s not a restaurant. There has to be a wow factor to everything – the food, the wine, the service, everything.’

The Small Holding started from very humble beginnings – but it quickly built a nationwide reputation. The Good Food Guide named Will its Chef to Watch for 2020, and he’s since taken over The Curlew, his second restaurant eight miles down the road in Bodiam, Sussex. To top it all off, The Small Holding won a Green Michelin Star in 2021, which is awarded to restaurants with an exceptional focus on sustainability. Will is making a serious name for himself, and whether you see him in the kitchen or on the farm, you can tell he’s having a great time doing it too.

Three things you should know

The farm at The Small Holding is only an acre in size, despite producing a huge amount of ingredients for the restaurant.

Will is also a keen charcutier, making salamis and more from the pigs on his farm.

Will opened The Small Holding in 2018, just four days after his daughter was born.