Tell us more about the Northcote Cookery School
I opened the Northcote Cookery School so I could teach people about how our ingredients are selected, prepared and transformed into the dishes we serve today. As a champion of British seasonal cuisine I believe it is the quality of the ingredient and attention to detail that determines the success of the dish.
Why are initiatives like this important for the restaurant industry?
It’s a great way of passing on skills! The Northcote Cookery School creates a professional environment where students can learn from a restaurant kitchen – these skills can then be transferred to the home.
Why do you think Northcote has been such a successful restaurant?
I’d like to think it was a combination of Craig’s and my skills, especially our attention to detail. In 2015 we’ll have been around for 30 years, so we have been able to learn from a vast number of experiences. We understand the needs of our local guests, as well as the needs of our guests from all over the world. Northcote has evolved - we have reacted through the years to all challenges and look where we are today; I am a firm believer that great restaurants take time.
Tell us about the refurbishment at Northcote – what have you changed?
The renovation has been ongoing for 11 months now and is finally finished, so it’s fair to say there have been quite a few changes!
We’ve given the whole place a new look, with a sweeping entrance that passes the newly-created Garden Lounge. Guests will be able to have pre- and post-drinks here, overlooking the lush green gardens, and it can even open up during warmer days – a great spot for summer! The Cocktail Bar & Lounge, opened since last July, fit perfectly with the more recent changes, too, overlooking the Lancashire Countryside but with plenty of sophisticated urban glamour – thanks to our wonderful long-term designers Jill Holst and Jackie Dent of Ward Robinson.
The restaurant itself is the most recent to be finished, providing a shiny new stage for myself, Lisa and the kitchen team to showcase our new seasonal summer menu.
We also opened our new Cookery School – with eight stations for students to learn under our head tutor, Michael Vanheste – which also doubles as a Chef’s Table and enables diners to watch the action of the working kitchen.
Additional rooms are also being added and will be available to say in soon, together with a brand new staff wing for our hard-working, talented team.
Why did you decide to champion seasonal British cuisine?
It was just an obvious choice to me; my roots are here in Lancashire and the broader North West region. In my early years I cooked in Europe, there it’s second nature to embrace their heritage and I brought this philosophy back and it’s stayed with me.
Why did you decide to go into pubs with Ribble Valley Inns?
Craig and I had always wanted to cook for a different audience, to experience providing for a more relaxed dining experience. When The Three Fishes was offered to us it was the opportunity we had been waiting for. It excited us to see how we could change the way we use local ingredients and offer great hospitality on a larger scale.
You say you want to open more Ribble Valley Inns – any idea where and when?
The Nags Head, Haughton Moss, near Tarporley opens on 9 June, followed by another later in the year near Alderley Edge. This will take us to six in the portfolio but we will continue to look for new sites. As we expand the group there is always a lot to consider, each site is carefully chosen.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career and there have been many highlights! Amongst a few, being awarded The City & Guilds Prince Philip Medal in 2004 for my contribution to the industry, and also winning the main course on BBC2 Great British Menu. A really special memory was when I cooked Lancashire Hotpot for troops returning from Afghanistan in 2009, it was such a great privilege. Earlier this month I cooked lunch for the Queen when she attended the Maundy service at Blackburn Cathedral - a huge honour!
What is harder – TV appearances or sweating it out in the kitchen?
Sweating it out in the kitchen!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to young chefs?
Be dedicated and ambitious.
Who inspires you most in the industry and why?
Heston Blumenthal for his innovation and Philip Howard for his dedication.