THE PRIDE OF LANCASHIRE
As executive chef at Northcote and a familiar face on our television screens, Lisa Goodwin-Allen is an unstoppable force. She joined the team under co-founder Nigel Haworth and by 23 was leading the brigade, making her one of the youngest people ever to run a Michelin-starred kitchen. She was also the first woman to win BBC2’s Great British Menu and has since been a judge on Great British Menu and Masterchef The Professionals. Here she shares tips for leading a team and chats about the future of the hospitality industry with Imogen Lepere.
Katto (K): How has the past year been for you?
Lisa Goodwin-Allen (LA): In the first lockdown it was amazing to spend so much time with my family. My son Teddy had just started school, so to have those unexpected few months with him was invaluable. But in the most recent lockdown I’ve been at Northcote pretty much every day. We started doing gourmet food boxes in September and now put together 350 a week. It was our way of looking after local producers and keeping some of the team working.
K: How are you feeling about this summer?
LGA: Because we’re in a rural area (Lancashire’s Ribble Valley), I feel fairly confident – our guests have always had to make an effort to come and see us and I think staycations are going to be massive. I’m more worried about urban restaurants because of fewer international tourists and workers in city centres. There’s no doubt the whole sector is in for a rough year or two but overall I think we will bounce back. Hospitality people are resilient! That’s part of the job.
K: Do you think the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the hospitality sector in the UK?
LGA: I think the trend of fine dining at home is probably here to stay. For some people enjoying that restaurant experience without having to go anywhere is the ultimate luxury. Now that restaurants have figured out the logistics, I think they’ll be keeping recipe boxes going – we certainly will. The general public seems to have become more aware of supporting their locals too, which is brilliant.
K: What did you learn from Nigel Haworth?
LGA: I started working for Nigel when I was 20 and he taught me vast amounts. He was a real champion of local produce, which wasn’t very fashionable when he started doing it in the 80s. He’d make commitments to local suppliers and honour them, which is still how we work today. I remember his butchery particularly well – he was incredibly skilled and taught me a lot about game. But really what was special about Nigel was the level of focus he brought to his work every single day, which is something I try to emulate.
K: What advice would you give for leading a team?
LGA: Keeping people happy, energised and focussed is the key to success. My leadership style has definitely changed over my career. Now I’m all about trying to bring out the best in people and helping youngsters develop. I’m such a believer in education and you have to learn as much as possible yourself in order to pass those things on. Oh and don’t be afraid to show your passion. Nothing is as inspiring as passion.
K: What qualities do you look for in young chefs?
LGA: Sure some people have natural talent but the main things I look for are passion, drive and hunger to learn. I really think with these qualities you can achieve anything and that goes for most industries.
K: Your food is super creative. Can you talk us through the process of developing a new dish?
LGA: It’s a massive process… we’re talking weeks rather than days. The first step is a walk in Northcote’s kitchen garden to get a sense of the season and then I’ll choose the main ingredient. Over time, I’ve learnt that less is more so I generally only pick two or three supporting ingredients. My aim is for people to be able to close their eyes, have a bite and identify every flavour on the plate. I’m a big fan of modern art and that influences my presentation – I love vibrant colours and funky textures.
K: Northcote recently retained its Michelin star for the 27th year in a row. What’s the secret to its longevity?
LGA: The secret is in constantly striving to break new boundaries. Since I took over from Nigel as executive chef in 2017 we’ve gone hard on the modern British thing. I love twisting food and playing with classic dishes. We never sit still and that keeps people interested enough to come back.
K: Tell us about some of your favourite seasonal ingredients...
LGA: Asparagus is a beautiful thing. It’s best either chargrilled or blanched with lots of seasoning in the water. Wild garlic is also lovely in herby soups or pestos. At Northcote, we serve it in root barley with garlic butter, topped with crispy lamb sweetbreads.
K: How would you describe Lancashire’s food and where do you like to eat locally?
LGA: I would describe it as hearty, warm and humble, like the people. There are a lot of excellent cheesemakers and the landscape is ideal for shooting, so our game is top draw. For a fancy meal out Mark Birchall over at Moor Hall has two Michelin-stars. I also just love all the amazing gastropubs like the Three Masons at Wissal and The Parkers Arms in the Trough of Bowland. It’s where I was born so maybe I’m biased, but Lancashire really is a lovely county.