James Cooper, head chef at Ravenstone Lodge Hotel, with the AA Rosette Coach House Restaurant and the Stable Bar Bistro, Bassenthwaite

Essential Ingredients:

When making any dish the most important thing to remember is to get the most out of your ingredients. This is done with your seasoning, so my essential ingredients are definitely salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar.

First kitchen worked in:

As a boy I worked at Barons Cross Inn, in Leominster, Herefordshire, but my first full time employment in a kitchen was at the Royal Hop Pole Hotel, in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, where I learnt the fundamentals of cooking.

First dish I prepared:

It was a very long time ago but my first cooking experience was baking bread with my grandfather on a Saturday morning for the family. This always brings back great memories and I can still smell the bread cooking now! The first real dish I cooked in a professional kitchen was probably an omelette. Learning to cook a good omelette is a vital skill for all training chefs, as many say a good omelette is the sign of a good chef!

Signature dish:

I don’t have a signature dish as such and don’t really agree with the concept of a vanity dish. A good chef needs to be able to create a wide variety of dishes all to the same high standard and to put the same effort into all his dishes. Cooking for an AA Rosette restaurant means using seasonal fruit and vegetables, sourced from local producers. This presents a chef with challenges at certain times of the year. My favourite time for fresh produce is late spring/summer where there is so much choice of fruit and vegetables.

Food philosophy:

Many will say it but not so many actually do it but my philosophy is definitely to produce good honest food with outstanding flavours. To ensure my cooking reflects this I use the highest quality products and ingredients - as many as possible should be locally sourced - when preparing my dishes.

Biggest kitchen disaster:

Thankfully, I honestly don’t think I’ve had any kitchen disasters! That’s not of course to say I'm perfect but real disasters come from lack of planning and that is always avoidable.

My favourite chef:

I have two - Keith Floyd and Rick Stein. I like them for their simple and traditional way of approaching food, no unnecessary frills but just really good ingredients cooked superbly well. I like to think my style of cooking is very similar.

My biggest influence:

Martyn Emsen, my former employer at the Old Downton Lodge and Jolly Frog at Leintwardine. I learnt a lot from him and his knowledge of gastronomy and his brains as a businessman.

My favourite meal:

I appreciate any meal that somebody else has taken the time and the care to cook for me. Being a chef and spending my days cooking for other people, it is always nice when someone takes the time to do the same for me.