NEW VIDEO: Will Lockwood and Nick Brown, The Black Swan at Oldstead

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd December 2017

Will Lockwood and Nick Brown work together as head chef and development chef respectively, at Tommy Banks' Michelin starred The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Recently voted 'The World's Best Restaurant' in the 2017 TripAdvisor Awards, The Black Swan at Oldstead is family-run, with a real focus on foraging and growing ingredients on-site. 

The Staff Canteen spoke to Will and Nick about how they develop dishes based on these ingredients and how Tommy Banks' Great British Menu appearances effected the restaurant. 

Raw Beef with Bone Marrow, Black Swan at Oldstead
Raw beef with bone marrow

What inspired you to become chefs?

Nick: I needed a job when I finished university. But I’d been cooking since I was fifteen so I decided to pursue that. We chefs hate the expression ‘self-taught’ but I guess that’s what I am. I’ve learnt most of what I know from working here at The Black Swan at Oldstead. I’ve been here for five years now. Before this, I just worked in a few restaurants and pubs in Huddersfield.

Will: I’ve always known that I wanted to cook, from a weirdly young age actually. I used to watch Rick Stein programmes in my bedroom with the curtains closed, trying to hide it from my friends! I went to college for three years and then came here. When I dropped out of uni, I had a friend who was a chef so I too got jobs at local places to start with.

How did you get your jobs at The Black Swan at Oldstead?

Nick: I was travelling in Laos and I was running out of money! I spoke to Tommy on the phone and he asked me to come in for a trial the following week.

Will: I was looking to move on from where I was, and I was still quite young. When I was scrolling through Twitter, I noticed an advert for the job here and they invited me in for a trial. The funny thing was, I got rejected at first!

Nick: Yeah, we didn’t want to give the job to the guy with red shoes!

Will: Then I woke up one Sunday, really hungover, and Tommy called to say that the other guy had dipped out, asking if I wanted the job. I said yes straight away, even though I had nowhere to live in the area yet. I think that frightened my parents a bit.

What are your daily responsibilities in your roles?

Will: I look after the ordering, day to day mise en place and looking after the team. I help Nick with dish development and I also make sure it’s clean and tidy… and that everyone else is clean and tidy!

Nick: My title is ‘development chef’ but it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. I do lots of recipe development of course, but I’m also responsible for some of the growing and foraging. We picked eight kilos of sloes the other day and I came in looking like I was covered in blood! I’m always trying to find a use on the menu for the weird ingredients they grow.

hogweed custard with elderflower vinegar, sheeps yoghurt and honey comb, Black Swan at Oldstead

Hogweed custard with elderflower vinegar,

sheeps yoghurt and honey comb

Photo by Tommy Banks

How closely do you work with Tommy - does he have much input in the menu?

Nick: It’s a three-way thing really. We all work together – there’s nothing autocratic about it. We discuss everything when we make a dish and we put it on the menu really quickly. Then after a week or so, we’ll look at maybe tweaking it or we’ll take it off if we don’t think it’s working. Some stay on for a long time, it depends on the dish really.

What is your favourite dish on the menu?

Will: I get bored very easily. I’m of the opinion that every dish has to stand out or there’s no point in putting it on. If you go somewhere and get filler, and there’s no stand-out dishes, you know straight away. So there’s no filler. Everything has got its place – the whole menu is balanced throughout.

Nick: I agree. I never used to like the idea of signature dishes but when people start paying attention to particular ones, you have them whether you like it or not. Like the crapaudine beetroot, I eat it and try not to like it but I do. That’s become a signature dish.

What effect did Tommy’s appearances on Great British Menu have on the restaurant?

Will: The first time he went on, just before it aired, it got really busy and I was on holiday! But I definitely noticed when I came back – we were doing a lot more covers and needed more staff.

Nick: You could tell within a week – it doubled how busy we are. It really changes a restaurant when you know you’re going to be full for a while. Sometimes there can be dribs and drabs during the week and we had a good few months of being full – it was great!

Info bar

Dream restaurant 

Will: We joke we’d like a place in Huddersfield – but totally different – almost a comedy restaurant! I’d serve things like stew and dumplings and beans on toast. I just want to stand there and make pies.

Nick: He’s the founder of Stew Sundays. It’s a staff tradition where we dig out the most horrendous meat from the back of the freezer and we make a stew for all the staff from it. It’s got to have suet dumplings on top though.

Will: Absolutely.

Dream Brigade 

Nick: I know it sounds cliché but we’d have all our boys on their normal sections. They’re fantastic – can’t really do better.

Will: If we had all of them in there together, me and Nick would be KPs. I’d happily wash up & make coffees all day for those guys.

Will: We also got lots of nice new things - equipment and that.

Nick: Yeah, Tommy and the family are good like that – they focus on improving the business, not just making profits.

Black Swan Oldstead exterior
Black Swan at Oldstead

Can you tell us a bit more about growing and foraging ingredients at the restaurant?

Nick: Obviously the seasons are set in stone - give or take a couple of weeks - so we know what time of the year is coming and what ingredients will be coming in. Sometimes you’re really excited – like in April/May time when the spruce trees come out. We always do a dish straight away.

I hate cobnuts though! Lots of cobnut bread. In the winter, there’s much less around so we preserve a lot of what we grow. Then I don’t have to resort to trying to grow mangoes and coconuts in December!

What are your plans for the future?

Will: Just to keep pushing on and going forward really. We’re working on getting a new kitchen at the moment!

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd December 2017

NEW VIDEO: Will Lockwood and Nick Brown, The Black Swan at Oldstead