The Vineyard at Stockcross in Newbury has two Michelin stars and its chef, John Campbell, is well-known for taking a very modern, almost scientific approach to his food.

Less easy to detect from the menu is that this is a different way of putting science to work in the kitchen. Rather than shocking or confusing the diner like a lot of his contemporaries, John is just out to make every dish the best it can possibly be.

But that's not the only reason that The Vineyard is probably the most illuminating kitchen I have spent time in.

As well as an interest in the science behind what he does, John also has an absolute passion for passing on his knowledge of food, flavour and cooking.

In his book, Formulas for Flavour, John seems to genuinely care that you get the recipes right. He's also co-written a number of educational books for trainee chefs.

Often I feel a bit surplus to requirements when I'm visiting chefs, but John took a real interest - he seemed determined I would learn as much as possible, and fully understand it.

I was blown away by how they cook here - it just seems completely contrary to what you might think. Every steak is vacuum sealed and cooked in a water bath before a quick browning directly on the hot plate.

Stocks cook for 20 hours and are reduced from 20 litres to four before use.

I learned the scientific basis for espumas and foams, how sous-vide techniques can be used to make perfect vegetable pur�©es, and how to make jellies that do not melt when hot.

John has gone beyond local produce and actually harvests his own ingredients where he can.

He shoots his own venison and hares, traps crayfish and grows watercress in the stream behind the restaurant. He even picks his own truffles and mushrooms locally.

The recipe John demonstrated is a brilliant example of how he layers and builds flavours to produce an intense and complex end product.

My version may seem a bit long, but believe me, compared to what they do in the restaurant (you will need two more stocks, some mushroom jelly and a cep espuma) it is downright simple.

Also, the more labour intensive aspects can be done in advance and finishing only takes five minutes, so it is great for dinner parties.

John showed me real eye-openers which are worth mentioning.

First, do not fold the butter in off the heat when you make risotto. Beat it in vigorously over several minutes with the pan on the heat. This agitation of the sauce and the butter helps them emulsify and produces a thick, creamy result.

Second, John took me through how seasoning builds flavour. He put a portion of the unseasoned risotto aside and had me taste it. Very nice, I thought.

Then he added salt and parmesan and did the same. I tasted that. Ah, I see - this was just completely different.

The finished risotto had a little more salt and just a splash of sherry vinegar.

You taste this last one and it's like a seasoning light bulb goes off in your head - so that's how they do it!

Then you go back to the first portion and you wonder how you ever thought it tasted good.

Try this at home on your guests - it is an amazing example of how seasoning transforms food:

200g button mushrooms

200g field mushrooms

200g mix of field, shitake, oyster, button, or other fresh wild mushrooms

2 medium onions, diced finely

1 white of leek, chopped

2 sticks of celery, chopped

3 cloves of garlic

4 bay leaves

Fresh thyme

4 tablespoons of olive oil

80g of butter

250ml dry vermouth

250ml double cream

350g of risotto rice (ideally carnaroli)

2 teaspoons of sherry vinegar

4 teaspoons of truffle oil

Mushroom stock

1.Gently sweat one onion, one garlic clove, 2 bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, the leek and the celery in a tablespoon of oil for 5 minutes without colouring.

2.Roughly chop 100g each of field and button mushrooms, cook briefly then top up with two litres of water.

3.Bring to the boil, skim, simmer for 30 minutes, skim again, remove from the heat and add half the dried porcini mushrooms.

4.Leave to cool (ideally keep over night in the fridge) then strain and reserve.

Mushroom pur�©e

1.Gently fry one onion, one clove of garlic, the remaining porcinis, bay leaves, and some picked thyme in 10g of butter on a very low heat for about half an hour until everything is lightly caramelised

2.Turn up the heat and quickly add half the dry vermouth and reduce until you have no liquid left.

3.Finely dice 100g each of the button and field mushrooms, lower the heat, and cook, stirring, until almost all moisture has evaporated.

4.Add half a litre of the mushroom stock and reduce by two thirds.

5.Add 150ml of cream and reduce by half then take off the heat, pur�©e, season generously and set aside.

Mushroom confit

1.Dice all the remaining mushrooms into half cm pieces

2.Heat 10g of butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms briskly for about five minutes.

3.Add the sherry vinegar, stir very briefly and remove from the heat.

4.Add the half the truffle oil, season generously, and set aside.

Risotto base

1.Heat 10g butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan on a medium heat

2.Add a clove of garlic and some thyme, cook for 30 seconds without colouring then add the rice.

3.Fry gently for about a minute, coating with the fat, until the grains have just turned translucent.

4.Add the remaining vermouth and reduce to nothing.

5.Gradually add the mushroom stock a ladle at a time constantly stirring.

6.After ten minutes, stop adding stock, boil off the remaining liquid and put the par-cooked rice onto a tray, spreading out to cool it quickly, cover, then set aside.


1.Add the risotto base to a large frying pan with a little stock and bring to the boil.

2.Add ¾ of the porcini pur�©e and cook, constantly stirring, for about two minutes.

3.Add the mushroom confit, and 50g of butter, and continue to cook and stir vigorously until you have a thick, creamy mass of rice and sauce.

4.Remove from the heat and beat in the parmesan.

5.Check seasoning, and along with the necessary salt and pepper add a little sherry vinegar.

6.Stir through and put on plates.


1.Gently heat the remaining porcini pur�©e with 100ml of cream and a little stock.

2.Add 2 teaspoons of truffle oil and take off the heat then season

3.Foam using an aero latte and spoon over the risottos

Have you tried out this recipe? Post a comment to let us know how it went.