Paul Heathcote MBE Longridge Restaurant Preston

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th July 2011
Paul Heathcote MBE runs The Longridge, his flagship restaurant in Preston. He also owns Heathcotes Grill and Bar in Clitheroe and the restaurants Olive Press and Heathcotes Brasserie, both in Preston. He opened the restaurant, then eponymously named, in 1990 at the age of 29. Within two years he had been awarded Michelin and Egon Ronay stars, as well as The Good Food Guide’s ‘Restaurant of the Year’. It won a second Michelin star in 1994, and was renamed Longridge in 2003. His interest in cooking began in his early teens, when he would experiment and add things to the meals his mother would leave his dad and him to reheat. After studying at Bolton Catering College, he worked his way up through a number of restaurants under people such as Francis Coulson and Brian Sack at Sharrow Bay hotel, Michel Bourdin at London’s Connaught hotel and Raymond Blanc at his Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Paul has been awarded three Honorary Fellowships from Liverpool John Moores University, Lancashire University & his home town Bolton University in recognition of his achievements in catering. He was also awarded an MBE for his services to the hospitality industry in 2009. So Paul. Phenomenal to meet you. Let's start here at Longridge. 20 years I think you've been here now is that right? 21. 21. Now back in the early days there's a fire and you've got to reopen very, very quickly. It's obviously a major passion of yours how important is it to have good people working for you and having a good team underneath you? We had a fire after 9 days and yes, it was a disaster - you had spent everything, all your savings, opened your dream restaurant and then see it go up in flames - literally.  I rallied a lot of people around who had worked for me in the past and we got the place back within 48 hours.  It still smelt of smoke mind you.  It is obviously important to have good people around you even now.  After 21 years in business and 14 before that in kitchens, I want to do things differently.  I don't want to be in the kitchen all the time - I don't mind being called in if the chef gives me the call or says can you do the pass tomorrow.  I am delighted to do it but I do think you have to have one boss in the place otherwise the rest of the brigade do not know who to look too and if you pick good people who are as passionate as you then you should be able to run the kitchen between you. Let's talk about your other businesses. Where are you involved at the moment? Well we've got Heathcotes Grill and Bar in Clitheroe. We've had the Olive Press in Preston for about 15 or 16 years now and we have just opened Heathcotes Brasserie in Preston on Winckley Square, a mixture of British and French which it was when we did it 15.years ago. We've come out of one of the biggest and worst, whatever term you want to call it, economic downturns over the last two or three years has it been tough trading? Oh yeah it's been a real challenge some of the things we've done I would never have imagined we would have done, you know, discounting just to make sure you've got people coming through the door. We've had to cut staff and things so it's been a real challenge. And do you feel now that we're out of the woods so to speak in terms of the economic climate? Are you starting to see green shoots of recovery? Is business starting to grow for you? You mentioned you're reopening in Preston so is that a sign that you feel we're on the up or are you just taking a big gamble? Well there is a bit of a gamble in it. There's got to be hasn't there? Yeah. I think when we opened"¦I mean I opened in a recession in 1990. I didn't know the recession was coming but it came pretty quickly after opening but I think that we had such a phenomenal rise I suppose within those first four years from 1990 to 94 we won two Michelin stars and we couldn't do anything wrong the reviews we had was why the hell do you open in a place like Longridge in the middle of a recession? Well I didn't know the recession was coming I wasn't that clever and every review was great, every year or every six months we were getting a new award, even small ones. So we rode the recession out in a very different way, we've been 21 years established as you've said. So coming through that recession has been tough and we're still not through it. I think we've another probably another 18 months to go. I think that London is different, tourism helps, the pound stretches a lot further for foreign visitors and London has a lot more to offer in terms of what you can do in the day. So driving out to the Ribble Valley or to Preston is slightly different I think and until the banks start lending we won't be out of the recession. That I think is the difficulty. How's Longridge changed in that 21 years? Longridge is a very different place. People know the Ribble Valley and it's certainly become a place that has more to offer. Absolutely. There's some great places around here isn't there? I was at the Freemasons yesterday and there's some wonderful little"¦ Oh yeah you've got Northcote and the pubs that they own around here. The Inn at White Well was here 20 years ago. Which must be good for the area because it brings people to the area as well doesn't it? Oh yeah we're not short of good eating places, absolutely, and I think it would be very easy just to say that and think actually there's one or two. I think we've got a big clutch of places that are well worth eating at. It's a great area and of course all the produce that we've got in the area, Lancashire cheese has been back in fashion, things like the geese and ducks and chickens from Goosnargh, suckling pigs from Pughs, there's just a whole long list of ingredients here that weren't really around 20 years ago. In that period of time you've obviously seen a lot of food fashions and food trends come and go, you've still got your black pudding on, you've still got your bread and butter pudding on do you think we've kind of gone full cycle now and people are expecting almost food as it says on the tin as opposed to everything being with foam and a hot jelly, or micro herbs on everything? Yeah I think that there is an expectation, I think it has changed. I mean we put black pudding on 92, some19 years ago? Nobody had it on a menu, even Gary Rhodes didn't. I remember I'd been asked to go and cook in France for a load of champagne owners along with Nigel Howarth, and few others. We were asked to  put poulet de Bresse, foie gras, caviar, all this kind of stuff on the menu and I'm saying, "What a load of bloody rubbish, why the hell should we go over to France and cook all this when there's a lot of great produce around?" So they said, "So what are you going to do then Heathcote, black pudding?" and I said, "Yeah I'll do black pudding," I went through a lot of old recipes, cooked them all and every single one of them was not good and it made me think, "˜Why is this not good? What is wrong with British cooking? What is wrong with this kind of dish?' They were either too dry, too fatty, so eventually took out what I thought was wrong, stuck in some other things which I thought was right and we took a lot of fat out put sultanas in which are dried concentrated fruits, we soaked them in vinegar which made them swell and we dried them back out again which made them dried, sweet and sour and sweet and sour is used with probably the two predominant fatty foods that the Chinese cookery use which is duck and pork but what I didn't know, which was pure fluke was that that particular ingredient went brilliantly with some of the champagnes. So that was just a stroke of luck was it? Well it was a bit of luck; everybody needs a bit of fortune now and again. Absolutely. So I recreated a dish but it happened to go with the champagne. So when we got to France and were cooking all these dishes and I'd got this young upstart who's just got his Michelin star and he wants to serve black pudding with all this fantastic champagne, there were 50 champagnes represented there and of course it was a great story for the journalists. So the journalists all wrote about this young British upstart serving black pudding to go with fantastic champagne but strangely enough it just happened to work. So I got about seven reviews in France and of course as all journalists know they like a good story and they all copied the story and we ended up with a shed load of reviews in England about it. So a bit of fortune and a little bit of hard work prior to it and taking a gamble on I wanted to serve black pudding in champagne. No I mean I think if you go back to the late 80s early 90s there were some great places to eat but they were very Franco-style weren't they? We were importing chickens from Bresse, Anjou pigeons whatever and I think people like yourself, Gary Rhodes and that were probably some of the first people to start to really champion local British food and I think to a degree that was probably the start of a movement to look at what was good in and around your area, do you think we sometimes get too focused on buying locally and we should still maybe look at what's best rather than it must come from the farmer next door? I used to say we always cooked off our doorstep and we probably still do, back in 1990 when you're in the middle of a recession and you've spent every bean that you've got you do it for that reason because you can't afford anything else. So a lot of it came out of necessity, when you work for a guy like Raymond Blanc and I'd left the Manoir three years earlier and all this passion that he had about his great produce is fantastic but we couldn't afford an £8 chicken so I had to go and find a different way of dealing with it, and that story's been well told but if Reg's chickens hadn't been right I would have bought them from somewhere else, So I think you should always have your mind open otherwise you're just like a racehorse that has blinkers on and you just keep heading in one direction. So take the blinkers off and there's a lot of things that are left and right and I think you've got to be prepared to look for ingredients  but I think it's good for a chef to cook off his doorstep first. Absolutely and again like you said out of a recession came necessity to use the lesser cuts, I think also that championed that movement as well didn't it? Suddenly everyone was using pork belly, lamb belly, you know, and a lot of these things that everyone went, "What's that?" I remember back in"¦I bet it was 93 Anthony Worrell Thompson opened the place in Soho that had three different layers of restaurant and I ate on what was considered his more fine dining restaurant because there was a bistro underneath and then a coffee shop on the ground floor and I had this new sensation of a dish which I'd not seen on any other menu which was called lamb shank and he was the first person, you know, maybe he'd copied it from somebody else I don't know I've no idea but I had lamb shank I think probably for the first time and I thought, "˜Wow, what a fantastic cut of meat.' And now you can get that in every pub can't you? You can get it in a banquet or anywhere, you know. So yeah we used those cuts and there was nothing wrong with lamb shank it's a great piece of meat but nobody would have touched it before and it was used for mince or something. So 21 years on then Paul what does the next 21 years hold for you as Paul Heathcote and Longridge and the rest of your businesses? Well Longridge definitely needs its Michelin star back, that's an absolute goal, there's no question about that. Is that something you're working towards? Oh yeah it's something we're very focused on making the standards higher and higher and there's still work to be done but I think with a strong team in the kitchen and good front of house with passionate people we can do it. What do you need to do differently then? What do you feel you need to do? I think we need to do more of what we're doing now and I think if you'd asked me two years ago the question we needed to improve there's always room for improvement. Of course. Is it a personal thing Paul having a star? Absolutely. Or is there a business decision behind it? Both but it's more personal as much as anything. No fair comment. And as far as I would be concerned whether it was Hywel or Chris Bell or whoever else in the kitchen for me they would have as much credit for that because as I said before I'm not in that kitchen all the time but I would sit down and influence the dishes but I do believe that this kitchen, you know, the person who's working in that kitchen gets that star. For me personally being an owner of it it's an absolute must. I somehow feel that I've not fulfilled my potential if we haven't got it. Okay. And the rest of your businesses can we see more of Heathcotes? I think I've chosen ((laughingly)) I've chosen to have a less is more. I think"¦ Do you think at one time you had too much? Yeah, I don't think that I was enjoying myself I mean, you know, we got up to 15 restaurants at one stage and I spent my life in the car and that wasn't any fun. I still have a big involvement in our outside catering and I enjoy that but I have a team underneath and I've been a lot better at delegating to that team and letting them get on than I probably was with the restaurants and I take the restaurants a bit more personally. So going back to the reasons for the star and having that it is personal but I don't think you'll see Paul Heathcote roll out a shed load of more restaurants, I don't think that's what I want to do. Well look it's great to talk to you today and I really, really appreciate your time. It is fantastic to come and meet you. I've enjoyed it. Pleasure Paul thank you so much.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th July 2011

Paul Heathcote MBE Longridge Restaurant Preston