SO HOW DO YOU BECOME AN INSTAGRAM SENSATION?
DANIEL OUTSIDE THE ANCHOR
I arrived in the Essex village of Hullbridge on an overcast and wet Monday in March to eat at The Anchor Pub, where over the past 6 years, local Chef Daniel Watkins has made a name for himself, both in the guide books and on Social Media via his stunningly elegant plates of food. I was long overdue on a promise made in 2016 to drop him some of our photography styling boards to try out and I was also looking forward to finally trying out some of his food, that so far I had only seen on his Instagram feed (more on that shortly!)
Arriving earlier than planned after a long drive, I opted to take a quick run before lunch to stretch my legs along the Southbank of the river Crouch. The recumbent, muddy sandbanks of this tidal river are flanked by clutches of small holiday chalets and a couple of private boat clubs. If you know where to look, apparently there are the remains of evaporation pans where salt was made way back in the Bronze Age (Hullbridge is only a half hour from Maldon, of Sea Salt fame) Along the footpaths I saw hedge garlic shooting up everywhere, later in the year Daniel tells me marsh samphire, fat hen, sea purslane, sea rosemary and fennel are all abundant and collected regularly for the kitchen.
THE RIVER CROUCH (WHEN ITS NOT RAINING OR OVERCAST)
The Anchor sits on the south bank of the Crouch, its beer garden extending down almost to the river between the holiday lets and dry docked yachts. Large but unassuming, the exterior of this riverside pub really belies the smart restaurant set up inside. I was seated in the conservatory facing onto the river and had an awesome lunch (pictured below) prepared by Daniel before our brief interview after lunch service
SALT BEEF TACOS, OCTOPUS WITH ALL KINDS OF GARLIC, TEMPURA BREAM AND HONEY CHEESECAKE (ANOTHER STANDARD MONDAY LUNCH FOR ME)
So how many chefs are in your team?
At the moment we have 11
And how many covers do you do here?
Yesterday was just shy of 400, The summer gets really busy here, we can have nights when we only have a handful of tables booked yet we end up cooking for 350 inside and another 400 outside from our BBQ so yeah, she’s a beast!
How did your Instagram page come about?
It all started as a hand over to my kitchen team just before my days off, so they could see the presentation of the dishes but also at the same time we use it as a tasting session for the front of house and chefs so they can understand and become familiar with new dishes. I used to photograph them in the kitchen but quickly realised the harsh lighting and stainless surfaces did the pictures no favours so I started taking them by the window at the back of the restaurant. The lighting first thing in the morning or in the afternoon works best. I wasn't an early adopter of Social Media or anything like that, I’ve only been on Facebook for a few years so wasn’t familiar with Instagram but it just seemed a useful place to share the images and its become quite a busy account now!
Err yes just a bit! (At the time of writing Daniel’s Instagram account has 261K followers) Do you remember when it all took off on your account?
Probably in the last year its really gathered momentum, I remember it reaching 10 (thousand) and thinking- ‘oh wow, cool’, you know we are just a pub in Essex, but then it hit 20K, then 50K and then it hit 100K, it just snowballed
Instagram seems to have become a great source for inspiration and sharing of ideas amongst chefs would you agree?
Yes, I think it’s made it much easier for everybody, I’m very easily inspired anyway, I follow some cool people but I don’t like to replicate anything, more just stay aware of what other people are doing- we create a lot of new dishes at the Anchor, I get inspiration from the guys I work with- that’s really important for me to work with them creatively because there’s no way this all comes from just me .
Have any unexpected opportunities arisen for you because of your Instagram fame?
Any hobbies in your spare time?
I’ve been practising Yoga regularly for 18 months, although recently I’ve been holding back as I’ve pulled my back going hard on the headstands, but it’s a great way to focus and relax away from the kitchen.
So down to business, we unwrapped the boards to see how they'd shoot (and also so I could get to see the Instagram professional in action)
DANIEL AT THE PASS
BOX OF COOL CHEF STUFF
NATURAL LIGHT IN THE AFTERNOON
NEW SPRING LAMB DISH
So how do you become an instagram sensation? Great plates, natural lighting, a consistent composition? I guess all of these help, but the sense I got from talking to Daniel was that whilst he modestly plays down his role -almost as if it was just a happy accident born out of a necessity to keep consistency in the kitchen in his absence- what really shines through on his feed is his natural and contemporary style which has become a source of inspiration for chefs. The presentation is understated but finessed and his cooking light and considered. It seems his instagram account is simply a great window for showcasing his talent as a chef.