Chris Bell, Longridge Restaurant, Preston

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd June 2011

Chris has now left Longridge and is now working at Galgorm resort and spa. We wish him well.

Give us an outline of your role here at Longridge Restaurant, your responsibilities, how long you've been here, what position you are now, did you join in that position? Currently I am head chef for Paul Heathcote within the Longridge Restaurant. I'm very much responsible for the day to day running of the kitchen, staffing, menus, the running of the kitchen is my responsibility. I've been here for currently two years. It's my second spell, I've worked here twice over the last eight years and yeah I'm really just the face of the kitchen for Paul. So in terms of menu structure how does that work here at Longridge? Do you come up with the ideas, the concepts for dishes and then you run them by Paul? Is it a joint venture? Since the sale of the restaurant Paul's been here a lot more, he has a lot of faith in his management and he gives me the responsibility, to run it, which from a chef's point of view it's absolutely fantastic. Paul's on hand if I need something and equally if something is running on the menus that he's particularly against he will tell you about that, It's not a case of knocking on his door and say, "Can I do this? Can I do that?". Are there certain things you have to have on the menu? Yes of course I mean you put black pudding, you put bread and butter pudding and they will never not be on the menu. As you say Longridge Restaurant is an institution, it's the image of Paul Heathcote and of course you think rhubarb and black pudding, bread and butter pudding. Have those dishes evolved? No, no they're classic just as they appeared on day one. They're good enough for two Michelin stars and in my opinion they're good enough now and for any chef to come in to this building and change it or take it off the menu would be a complete insult to the man himself. In the two years you've been here how do you feel you've developed as a person, a manager and a chef whilst working under Paul? Well I knew what I was coming back to when I worked for Paul. I left the first time to open my own business which I didn't enjoy so I came back. Why was that? I think I like to cook. I like to come in and cook and then go home again. Maybe I'm just not cut out as a person to have the pressure of my own business. I didn't cope with it very well and that reflected in the food I was cooking at the time so I just wrapped it up, I'm not ashamed of that. I'm just much happier to be in employment. Is there a lot of stresses and pressures and politics that go with running your own business? I think I done it the wrong way I went into a brewery-led pub and finding backing, we kept it alive for three years, we got a Bib Gourmand, two rosettes, in a rundown pub in Ribchester and I'm very proud of that. Is that something that you would look at doing again, by that I mean your own business? Maybe I opened my own business the same year as my son was born and just looking back it was just suicide, who knows in future with an older head on, and my son grown up a little bit and the family a bit more stable it's something I would look at but I'm quite happy at the moment to work for somebody. In terms of your time here what would you say has been your biggest professional challenge? I think bringing this restaurant back somewhere close to where Paul got it himself is always in the back of my mind I feel a duty to do that. The restaurant's had a bit of a roller coaster for ten years and I think we're in as good a position now as it's been for maybe four or five years. I know Paul is keen to get it back to that level ,I'm sure he looks at it sometimes thinking, "˜I'd like that status again.' So what back to two stars? Maybe not back to two stars but just a bit more talked about and a bit more in the public eye, this restaurant was the best in the north of England at one point and it needs to try and bring it back to somewhere close to that I guess things like The Great British Menu must help? Exactly. You suddenly get, Longridge Restaurant, in front of five million people and it re-energises people's thoughts about the area and restaurant? Definitely yeah and I've been back now two years and it's been a steady climb for me and coverage-wise we're doing maybe three or four times more covers than we were doing two years ago. The Great British Menu is definitely helping that and I think over the last two years we've turned the restaurant in the right direction, we've still a lot of work to do here but I think it's definitely moving in the right direction. Let's talk a little bit about your past then, obviously from Northern Ireland. Yeah I'm from Northern Ireland and I had a couple of jobs when I was younger but primarily two years with Paul Rankin and five years with Michael Deane, in Belfast. Why the necessity to come to England? I went to England with my old head chef from the original roscoff, Alistair Fullerton to the Great Eastern Hotel and I worked with Jonathan Wright. Where was that? The opening of Aurora and I absolutely loved it. Jonathan was pure Marmite, I had a great relationship with him, absolutely fantastic. Then Jonathan left and the hotel changed direction, the restaurant went more brasserie style and there was less focus on the restaurant in my opinion, and I moved on after that. Then I went to Dubai for a short spell. Where was that? I was working for Michael Dean, I won the Ramsay scholarship, Gordon Ramsay scholarship and I left Michael Dean under a bit of a cloud. Something you regret? Big time, big time. How's your relationship now? Better, thankfully. I left, I was young, 23, and it went to my head a little bit and I buggered off to try and work for Gordon Ramsey at that time. I went to work in Claridge's for a few weeks, Michael Dean threw a spanner in the works as he was probably right to do so and my contract with Gordon Ramsay was terminated instantly! So then I had a bit of a rough time in London after that. I couldn't settle in a job and I was bitter, very bitter. My long term relationship had broken down and I went to Dubai for the wrong reasons. I went to Dubai because it was far away not to go and work in a decent restaurant. Sure but it was almost like leaving your baggage in London? I moved the problems I didn't resolve the problems. I went to Dubai, I worked there and I messed around, I didn't take it seriously and then I came back to the UK in 2003. So I basically I'd just wasted 18 months of my career. I took a bad job in Leeds, then a sous chef position came up at Longridge with Paul. At that point I really started to get things back on track here to be honest. I met my wife, we had our son and I've been in Longridge ever since. The whole time after winning the Ramsay scholarship left me really bitter. Can you now use that experience and offer advice to people that are of 21, 22, because when you're that age, you know, the world's your oyster? You know you win the Gordon Ramsey scholarship and you do you think you're Jason Atherton but you're not. You're just a young chef who's won a competition, you know, you look at yourself definitely, I think I just need to keep my feet on the ground. Do you think London can be a lonely place? Yeah but I think working for Paul changed me also, I didn't settle anywhere. After Claridge's I came to Longridge, and I really settled here. Why do you think that was? What do you think this area has, outside of your family? I don't know if it's this area I think Paul, he's so professional, he's a great guy to work for. He gives his people within the restaurants a lot of responsibility. He makes you feel almost needed, and he gives you a great sense of pride in your job. I think I got that feeling of responsibility again, probably the first time since working for Michael Dean in Belfast, he was very similar and I think that's what's kept me here for so long. So how have you rebuilt your relationship with Michael Dean? I spoke to him before The Great British Menu this year and nearly went back to work there in the restaurant in Howard Street but it just didn't feel right but I've definitely built a bridge there and I'm delighted by that. No absolutely life's too short. Yeah and he was the biggest influence in my career bar none and I treated him with absolutely no respect and that's the biggest regret definitely in my career. So going forward then what does the future hold for you and your family? I'm going to work in a hotel in my home town of Ballymena. It's a little bit like this area. It's agricultural, it's rural and it's quite picturesque and the hotel, not on the same sort of kudos level as Northcote Manor but you could put it in that kind of mould. It's a small boutique hotel, or a small country house hotel, big barn grill, it's got a little 22 cover restaurant which is under-achieving. It's got two rosettes and the River Room at Galgorm and I'm going primarily solely to run that. So we open there Wednesday to Saturday and Sunday lunch, four chefs, and I see a great deal of potential in it. Was that always part of the vision then to go back to Northern Ireland? No not at all. I wasn't seeking a job. I wasn't looking to leave Paul or the restaurant, but this came along and I've been away now for ten years and my family sort of supported me in this move, they're willing to move to Ireland and the fact that it's in my home town just gives it that little bit more, you know, kudos.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd June 2011

Chris Bell, Longridge Restaurant, Preston