The one that didn’t get away

Lancashire Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

Lisa Good­win-allen re­cently cel­e­brated her first year as ex­ec­u­tive chef at Northcote with a stun­ning mas­ter­class at the

Ob­ses­sion food fes­ti­val. She spoke to ROGER BOR­RELL

When they come to write the his­tory of Northcote, the fam­ily tree of chefs who learned their trade at the Rib­ble Val­ley ho­tel be­fore mak­ing their names in kitchens around Britain will read like a Who’s Who of culi­nary over­achiev­ers.

In re­cent times old boys have in­cluded Mark Bir­chall, win­ner of two Miche­lin stars at Moor Hall in Aughton, Tom Parker who has just bagged a star for his din­ing pub, The White Swan at Fence, and Hip­ping Hall’s Oli Martin, a ris­ing star who made the fi­nal in the lat­est se­ries of Masterchef: The Pro­fes­sion­als.

There is one no­table ex­cep­tion – the one who didn’t get away.

Lisa Good­win-allen pitched up as a fresh-faced young wo­man in Nigel Ha­worth’s kitchen 15 years ago. ‘I’d planned to spend a year here, learn as much as I could and then move on,’ she says. ‘It didn’t quite work like that.’

Her boss recog­nised a star in the mak­ing and Lisa, who had pre­vi­ously been at Holbeck Ghyll in the Lakes and Le Champignon Sau­vage in Chel­tenham, be­came Nigel’s pro­tégé. At the ten­der age of 23 she be­came his head chef and, just over a year ago, she was given the ex­ec­u­tive chef’s jacket. This mod­est but de­ter­mined wo­man is now a qui­etly con­fi­dent queen bee in the Northcote kitchen.

If there were any con­cerns about the changes they were quickly dis­pelled when Lisa and her team re­tained a Miche­lin star for a re­mark­able 28th year run­ning at this Rib­ble Val­ley institutio­n.

Any­one still to be a con­vert to the Lisa revolution should have been at the open­ing night of Northcote’s Ob­ses­sion fes­ti­val. It was a mas­ter­class in el­e­gance and taste and her dishes drew ad­mir­ing com­ments from some of the best in the in­dus­try.

Lisa has grown as Northcote has de­vel­oped from a cosy coun­try house ho­tel into a lux­u­ri­ous desti­na­tion. ‘I’ll al­ways be grate­ful to Nigel,’ says Lisa.

‘He pushed me for­ward but he also gave me the time and space to learn and grow and to de­velop my own style. He was a great men­tor, who kept me on the straight and nar­row.

‘It means that when I be­came head chef I was ready for the step up. I got en­cour­age­ment from ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially Craig Ban­croft (the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor) and Craig Jack­son (general man­ager) so we had a really great tran­si­tion. Tak­ing over from

Nigel was a plea­sure but also a great honour.

The style of cook­ing has changed un­der Lisa, who has brought a light touch. ‘I believe that everything that is writ­ten on the menu should be tasted on the plate and I want the chefs and the cus­tomers to be able to know what they are eating blind­folded.’

She talks pas­sion­ately about the need for cus­tomers to be ‘con­stantly blown away by the stan­dard’ at Northcote.

‘I believe that less is more in cook­ing and I like us­ing un­usual cuts that give you the best flavours, things that make you sali­vate. I really con­cen­trate on flavours but the look on the plate is also very im­por­tant – peo­ple eat with their eyes as well as with their taste­buds.’

While Northcote has never been prone to fads, Lisa is aware of the need to cater for chang­ing tastes. ‘We now have a plant­based gourmet tast­ing menu,’ she says. ‘It has taken off well and is even en­joyed by peo­ple who aren’t veg­e­tar­i­ans. Times are chang­ing and peo­ple are eating lighter, they’re going meat free a cou­ple of days a week and we need to re­spond to that.’

As well as de­vel­op­ing the ho­tel, Nigel and Craig also recog­nised that they needed to cre­ate their own suc­ces­sion plan to cre­ate the chefs of the future.

‘The ap­pren­tice­ship scheme we have here is a great way to go,’ she says. ‘Col­lege cour­ses can be very good but I don’t think any­thing beats work­ing in a kitchen. If you really want to un­der­stand the place and the busi­ness, you need to live it.

‘Our ap­pren­tices do four days in the kitchen and one at col­lege. And they don’t just stay in the kitchen, they get in­volved with front of house so they un­der­stand each part of what we do and how we ex­pect them to de­liver ex­cel­lence in ev­ery as­pect of the job. We don’t just want them to be able to cook, they have to be able to meet and greet peo­ple com­ing through the door.’

While life in a kitchen is still a tough gig, most en­light­ened head chefs now recog­nise that young peo­ple re­quire a work-life bal­ance if they are to keep staff.

‘How far you go in this busi­ness de­pends on how much you want it and how much time you are will­ing to invest. I was 23 when I be­came a head chef. I sud­denly found my­self in charge of peo­ple who were older than me, and mostly men. That meant I had to grow up very quickly.

‘I believe that everything that is writ­ten on the menu should be tasted on the plate and I want the chefs and the cus­tomers to be able to know what they are eating blind­folded’

‘Hap­pily, we have in­vested in the team here and we have great tal­ent. Now I am the men­tor and that’s a real honour to be able to pass on my knowl­edge.’

Lisa isn’t ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Northcote sous chef Danny Young is a lo­cal lad who has been crowned Na­tional Young Chef of the Year for 2018, head chef Matt Sherry has vast ex­pe­ri­ence while the cook school is headed up by another Northocte favourite, Ja­son ‘Bruno’ Birk­beck.

‘We all work hard but we make sure ev­ery­one has got a life too,’ she says. ‘These days, the job is more about brain than brawn. Peo­ple need to come to work re­freshed rather than exhausted from the last shift. We have a great work ethic but we want to get the best out of peo­ple.’

Part of that phi­los­o­phy means that Lisa makes time for her four-year-old son, Teddy-ray. And he seems to have fol­lowed in his mum’s foot­steps, en­joy­ing his vis­its to the ho­tel kitchen and help­ing at home to make a pretty mean cot­tage pie.

Could this young man one day be part of that Northcote fam­ily tree?

ABOVE: Lisa has brought a light touch to the menu BE­LOW: Lisa with her kitchen bri­gade LEFT: Lisa has grown and de­vel­oped as has Northcote

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