Fuelled by a love and passion for cooking that stemmed from his grandmother, our new Executive Head Chef at Summer Lodge, James Mearing, made a switch to work in restaurants slightly later in life. Grandma Molly, who James’ daughter is named after and who is an incredible cook herself, inspired the move into the kitchen which began at a local restaurant called Lanes in West Coker.

With a huge desire to learn and challenge himself, James quickly moved on to work at various high-quality establishments such as Fawsley Hall, Lainston House, and The Wild Rabbit. He rose through the kitchen ranks, consistently cooking at AA 3-Rosette and MICHELIN Star level. Working as Senior Sous Chef alongside Dan Moon, James was fundamental in the team achieving 3-Rosettes at The Gainsborough Bath Spa.

James now returns to the South West ‘where it all began’ and is hugely excited about putting down roots for his family in a place so very close to his heart. Being classically trained, you can expect to find classic flavours and techniques; however, with a Spanish wife and a love for travelling, James is also incredibly passionate about exploring different cuisines and flavours. Everything is underpinned by a deep-seated belief in the very best ingredients that should be delicately treated with love and respect.

What do you love about Dorset? 

There are many things that I love about Dorset, but the stand-out thing has to be the Jurassic Coast. My son grew up in the area and whenever we had time together we would head to the coast. Whether Lyme Regis or West Bay, it was always a special time and I have such precious memories associated with the visits; no matter how many times we went or whatever the weather, they were always the best days. My wife and I really love the coast and the Jurassic Coast truly is a spectacular coastline with so many amazing places to visit.   

What drew you to Summer Lodge? 

As I was local when I took the plunge to become a chef, Summer Lodge was a place that I really aspired to work at. I wanted to work at the best places possible, to learn and become the best I could be. With my family close by, and the prestige of such a beautiful hotel, working at Summer Lodge was really appealing. I was privileged to go and work at some amazing venues across the UK and learn my craft under some amazing tutelage. When the opportunity arose to become Executive Chef at Summer Lodge and to come back to such a special area, to be around family, and raise my own young family here, it just felt right and very special.

How important to you are fresh, local ingredients? 

Fresh, local ingredients and produce of the highest quality is everything! To produce the quality we want for our customers we must begin with the best ingredients and I am so excited to work with the amazing ingredients we have around us in Dorset and Somerset. Establishing connections with local suppliers and working with the very best of what they can produce is an integral part of the process here and a journey I am really looking forward to starting. When we are working with the very best produce then we can simply celebrate and enhance it for our customers to have the best dining experiences.

Do you have a signature dish?

I do not really have a signature dish. I have certainly had some more stand-out dishes along the way which are a bit more special to me, but for me, food is always moving with different styles and trends. Your favourite dish is always the next one you are creating.

Can you describe your creative style in three words? 

Not quite three words and I do not want to steal someone else's words, but it is very hard to say it much better than Gareth Ward - Ingredient Led, Flavour Driven.