Andrew Pern, chef patron, The Star Inn at Harome

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th January 2016

Proud Yorkshireman Andrew Pern is the chef patron of Michelin-starred The Star Inn at Harome.

It’s been a fixture in his family for years, his parents used to visit in the 60s and he says ‘it was the only place I ever really wanted’. After attending Scarborough College, working in France and at a hotel in Rosedale Abbey he took on the 14th century thatched pub in 1996. He has both won and lost his Michelin star before getting it back in the 2015 guide. He also now owns The Star Inn the City in York and runs a popular hunting lodge.

We spoke to Andrew about continuing to be successful after 20 years, the Roux Scholarship and the heartache of losing that Michelin star.

Andrew Pern
Andrew Pern

What made you want to buy The Star Inn at Harome?

It was the only place I ever really wanted, people used to ask me ‘why don’t you go to London?’ but I just wanted a pub. I was 25 at the time - I was in the kitchen, my wife was out front and her mum was behind the bar. Now we employ over 100 people – it’s a big old business.

We were jam packed from day one and for the first two years we were working seven days a week, 18 hour days, we were doing everything.

Twenty years on and you also have The Star Inn the City in York – is it very different to The Star Inn?

I have six kids, I’ve spent my life eating in Frankie and Bennys and Pizza Express, not having great experiences – I thought 'why can’t they just do things nicely?' I always liked the idea of doing the volume but still to a good standard.

The Star Inn the City was a derelict building in a grotty corner of York – it took off and had 200,000 through the door in our first year! I just like to test the body and the mind sometimes. It’s good to give yourself challenges because I think if you stand still you start going backwards.

We have a brilliant team down there and they do between 3500 and 4000 people a week. I cook down there for special events and I go there a few times a week to speak to the team – it’s amazing how it has taken off.

Why did you want to be a chef?

lobster with squid ink cracker
lobster with squid ink cracker

All of my family are farmers, my parents used to have a lot of parties but my mum got MS so I used to help out at these dinner parties. I loved doing the canapes, starters or making soups – it was a lot more appealing being in a nice warm kitchen, especially on a miserable rainy day, than being in a field with your hand up a sheep’s backside.  Forty years later and I’m still in the kitchen cooking!

Living on a farm you grow up with the seasons, they are all around you – we used to play football with puff ball mushrooms, now I think why did we do that? We could have used them!

I went to Scarborough Tech to get the city and guilds equivalent to go in the army as an officer; they sent me off to France as part of the catering course – I saw good looking waitresses, ate nice food and drank nice wine. I decided I didn’t want to go in the army!  At college I was taught the classics but I used to like to break the rules.

So who did you train under?

I didn’t really. I had a job at a hotel in Rosedale Abbey through my dad it was on the Yorkshire Moors, we got two rosettes when I was 19/20 (odd that we still only have two rosettes now) and I became head chef at 21 because I had been there the longest. I was there for about six years and then this came on the market. andrew pern quote

Was a Michelin star always an aim for you?

No. Pubs never got Michelin stars, it wasn’t something that happened. We got the star in 2002, the second pub to get a star in the world which was fantastic. All of a sudden you are catapulted into a different division but once we got a taste of it, we built on it.

How do you maintain the consistency Michelin looks for?

We’ve basically had three people in charge in 20 years. James Mackenzie from The Pipe and Glass was the first head chef after 12 years of being here. He was here for another four years, then Peter Neville and now we have Steve Smith who has been here nine years. I think that is where the consistency comes from – we are always here and nothing within the style, the ambience or the ethos of the place ever changes. The food moves with the trends but we are still using the same ingredients and the seasons write our menus.

The fantastic produce we have around us is the envy of the country. Our suppliers are supplying some of the best restaurants including the depths of Mayfair but I can just give them a call and they drop off what we need in the back of the car.

You took part in the Roux Scholarship in 1995, how was that?

I didn’t manage to win it and I was definitely the odd one out, but I was a regional finalist. I was so nervous when I entered, I had Michel Roux looking over one shoulder and Albert looking over the other! I was quite naïve but it was brilliant, I tried again the next year but I think I was even more nervous the second time!

Would you encourage your chefs to enter competitions?Cranachan low res

Definitely. I’ve judged National Chef of the Year and Young Chef of the Year and I think it’s a great industry to be involved with. I’ve met so many like-minded people through the trade; Paul Heathcote, Nigel Haworth, Terry Laybourne, Steven Docherty – the northern mafia if you like. They were the ones who inspired me.

Although you have a Michelin star, you did lose it for a few years. Do you know why?

We moved from being very much the local to become more of a restaurant, moving with the times if you like, we had to change the food slightly, it was that transition when we lost the star. I’d just opened The Star Inn the City, got divorced and we had the Norovirus – take your pick! I was on my way to do Great British Menu when my ex-wife rang up to tell me we had lost the star. So I had to go and stand in front of TV cameras thinking I don’t want to be a chef anymore – I felt like crying. It was a hard time, I was at rock bottom but we pushed on through and I think we are stronger because of it. It’s a stubborn Yorkshire thing, we just don’t give in.

When you’ve held a star for a long time, do you think you become complacent?

We didn’t think we were doing anything different. We thought we were doing the right thing by employing more people but I think the more we employed the more it got diluted. I’m a big team player but I think it came to a point where there were things on the menu that weren’t really me. But we’ve turned a corner and we came back fighting.

andrew pern quote 2Is training important to you for your young chefs?

I think we are a good stepping stone. We are one of the more well-known places in the area, it’s a good kitchen to come and get a bit of grounding in and see how a professional kitchen works. We have a lot of connections in the industry so they can then go on to places like the Square, Le Manoir, Le Gavroche- it looks good on their CVs without them having to travel a million miles. It’s also been great to see people who have come through the ranks like James MacKenzie and Paul Welburn go on to gain their own star.

Having had The Star Inn since you were 25, you must have seen the food scene in the north change dramatically?

It’s great, I’m one of the Food and Wine ambassadors for Welcome to Yorkshire and it’s easy to fly the flag because of the fantastic pantry of food we have. To be honest the suppliers do the hard work rearing it, we do the easy bit throwing it in a pan and putting it on a plate.

Do you have a signature dish?

The foie gras and black pudding is a rich man, poor man’s dish which has been on for 17 years. It’s the signature dish and the title of my first book. A lot of our food is like that; we can get a saddle of hare that costs us nothing – we put a hare Rossini on with yellow chanterelles and truffle so the customer gets a great experience from a dish using both cheap and luxurious ingredients.

You have a kitchen garden, do you grow a lot of your own produce?

What we do here is garnish stuff really, things which are more unusual – there is no real bulk of anything. But if we are stuck for an idea it’s great just to go and walk around – all of a sudden you come back with a dozen things to go on the menu.

Bransdale Moor Heather-roast Grouse with Liquorice-poached Brambles, Spiced Bread Pudding, Elderberry Wine Jelly and Giblet Juices

Bransdale

Moor Heather-roast Grouse 

You have a hunting lodge alongside The Star Inn, game season must be a good time of year for you and your menu then?

Yes, the location of where we are, right on the edge of the moors and there are two shoots actually in the village. You’ll come back and there will be 70 hares lined up outside the kitchen – it’s great for the GP! If we want something like woodcock we can call someone up and they will go and shoot what we need. It’s nice to have that old fashioned connection.

You’ve been in the industry for 30 years, what’s your secret to success?

I don’t know. It’s a hobby to me really so that’s probably why The Star Inn is so successful – it’s just a way of life. There’s worse jobs to have and hospitality is not difficult, it’s not rocket science – just keep a smile on your face and do a half decent job. If you love what you do and you’re passionate about what you do that comes through.

Do you have future plans for The Star Inn?

No, we’ve found what works for us now and we won’t be changing that – we don’t want to go through the trauma of Michelin again. But I would like to work with my kids, I don’t know if they will come into the business or not but that would top it all I think.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th January 2016

Andrew Pern, chef patron, The Star Inn at Harome