Nigel Haworth, Northcote, Lancashire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2014

In 2015 Nigel Haworth will be celebrating 30 years at Northcote, a haven of local British culinary excellence.

Way ahead of his time on issues of seasonality, locality and home-grown produce, Nigel is a true legend of British cooking. The Staff canteen caught up with him to find out three decades at the helm have treated him.   

Nigel Haworth
Nigel Haworth

Next year will be your 30th anniversary at Northcote, how did it all start?

Returning back to my roots in Lancashire, following time spent cooking in Switzerland, I was disappointed to see the lack of quality and interesting restaurants in the area. Looking for my next job was hard, trying to find something that would engage me as much as the restaurants had in Europe. 

Then by chance through a relative I met Craig Bancroft, now my business partner of 30 years. Craig and I worked together as general manager and head chef at Northcote to begin with. We immediately knew we could turn Northcote into something very special and the rest is history.

Now of course the North West food scene has come on leaps and bounds; how does that feel to have been here and see that develop?

I think it’s brilliant because the future of British cookery  relies on young chefs coming through and developing their skills’ It’s a job where success doesn’t come easy so to see the area blossom over the last 30 years is very rewarding. It’s great to see that British cooking is much more recognised now for its quality and its consistency than it was 20 or 30 years ago. A lot of the Franglais food has disappeared which always irritated me a little bit. 

Venison, Sweetbread, Anchovy Cream
Venison, Sweetbread, Anchovy Cream

We’ve got some very innovative people now working in the UK and that will only strengthen over time. It’s great to see the North West developing as part of that and developing at quite a rapid rate, so we’re going to train more and more chefs who can carry on the future of British cuisine.

Your new cookery school opened in April; can you tell us a bit about that?

It’s something people have asked me to do for a long time in terms of hands on cookery classes. I will be involved in the cookery school but Michael Vanheste who is a brilliant young chef who has worked his way through top kitchens, became Head Tutor of Betty’s Cookery School in Harrogate for over eight years, will be developing the school. The cookery school is doubling up as a chef’s table as well, it’s right in the middle of the kitchen so it’s absolutely buzzing with atmosphere.  

You’ve always been a champion of home grown produce and locality and seasonality; do you think it’s just a fad with other chefs or is it here to stay?

Provenance and seasonality are the most important part of the renaissance of British food, it will always have pride of place on the British culinary table. It is incredibly important that we use the best of local and regional produce; there is no point in using second best it has to be the best quality produce available.  

Top five restaurant meals
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Paris
Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal
The Fat Duck, Bray
Noma, Copenhagen
Viajante, London

Most influential chefs
Michael Quinn MBE, former head chef at The Ritz
Phil Howard, The Square
Heston Blumenthal
Joël Robuchon
Peter Moore, formerly of Hotel Mont Cervin, Zermatt, Switzerland
Thomas Keller  

Top five comfort foods  
Lancashire hot pot My wife’s spicy lentil and tomato soup Goats cheese mash with ratatouille and sea bass
Fish pie
Anything with trotters

You’re well known as having a very strong team and family atmosphere at Northcote; is that something that just happened or something you strove very consciously towards? 

I think it’s because I’ve worked with Craig Bancroft now for 30 years and we’ve always worked at Northcote as a team so that permeates through the business. You still have your odd hiccup where people don’t get on but in any family that happens. We’ve always tried to be genuinely inclusive and close to our staff. Sometimes that might mean that you’re more demanding and I think probably I’m more demanding than most bosses, but ultimately I’m trying to get the best for the customer.  

How does it feel to have someone like Lisa Allen there long term that could quite possibly go out and get a Michelin star in her own right? 

It’s great that Lisa has planted her feet down and her future is with us because she’s like my adopted daughter. She’s come through the ranks over 12 years now and has developed into an incredible cook. Lisa has everything so it gives me great satisfaction that she’s worked the bulk of her career here.

Another 30 years?

I won’t retire because when you’ve been as busy as I have been, I don’t think retirement would come easy, however I won’t do another 30! but I think another 10 or 20 might be on the cards!  

Always at Northcote?

Northcote Cookery School
Northcote Cookery School

Who knows what the future holds; I’ve got my son and daughter who are both in the industry that I might one day want to do something with. Kirk’s in Australia at the moment so he might want to come back at some point in the next couple of years.

My daughter’s in London and she’s a marketing and Business manager for contract caterers, so we’re all now involved with food and hospitality. At the moment the focus is very much on refining and developing Northcote to a level where I feel comfortable that we’re attaining the standard that we’re capable of

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2014

Nigel Haworth, Northcote, Lancashire